When sibling sensations The 5 Browns perform, the physical spectacle is already arresting. Picture it: five Steinway concert grand pianos, five strikingly charismatic performers, five distinct styles of showmanship. Now picture this spectacle taking place on one of the most revered stages the world has ever known. And now you might—might—have a hint of what’s in store for the lucky audience who will be in attendance on October 18, when Steinway Artists The 5 Browns make their long-anticipated debut at Carnegie Hall.
The Carnegie performance coincides with October’s release of the Browns’ sixth album, a live performance of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The album will be released digitally October 1 and will be available on CD October 29. The Carnegie debut—a dream come true for a young quintet from Utah—will fall just between these dates, on October 18.
Autumn Brings Rite of Spring
With five studio albums under their belts, The 5 Browns are not newcomers to the record business. But making the new album was a completely different experience, says big sister Deondra, who is second-oldest of the siblings. The Rite of Spring captures The 5 Browns’ electric performance of Stravinsky’s legendary composition on May 29, 2013—exactly one hundred years from the day of its riotous debut in Paris. Produced by Grammy-winner Adam Abeshouse, the performance was recorded live at the Helen Filene Ladd Concert Hall, Arthur Zankel Music Center at Skidmore College in a show presented by SaratogaArtsFest. In addition to the Stravinsky piece, the album also features five-piano arrangements of three movements from Gustav Holst’s The Planets and Danse Macabre, a tone poem by Camille Saint-Saëns.
“This was our first opportunity to do a live recording, and we were thrilled that we did The Rite of Spring,” says Deondra “It’s pretty amazing on any day, and to play it on the 100th anniversary of the debut in Paris was extraordinary.”
The dynamic is different in a live performance, she says, which makes for a stirring experience not just for the performers and the audience, but for the recording as well. “We were nervous, sure. But I think nerves actually help the performance when you are playing live. There is so much more energy. When recording an album in a studio you sort of have to amp yourself up,” Deondra says. “But when you are live, feeling the support and joy of the audience—it’s hard to describe. It’s very exciting.”
The Rite of Spring release will add The 5 Browns to the ranks of a diverse range of renowned classical, modern, jazz, and popular piano artists who have recorded on the Steinway & Sons label, which highlights exceptional pianists from the Steinway Artist roster performing on Steinway grand pianos.
Could We Be Here One Day?
They may be seasoned recording professionals today, but The 5 Browns, with an average age of 30, are still young artists, still wide-eyed at the prospect of playing Carnegie Hall next month. They first visited the legendary venue as teenagers, when the prospect of a debut there was little more than a fantasy. After all, Carnegie Hall had hosted performances of nearly every iconic figure of classical piano for the last century: from the historic performance by Tchaikovsky on opening night in 1891 to recent shows by Lang Lang, Jeremy Denk, and Mitsuko Uchida. Not to mention all the performers in between: Rachmaninoff, Rubenstein, Horowitz, Van Cliburn—the list goes on.
“I have a very strong memory of the first time we went to Carnegie Hall,” says Melody. “We managed to get tickets on the stage for a solo recital by Evgeny Kissin. He was like a movie star to us. We were awestruck. The whole time we were thinking, could we be here one day? Could we make it? And here we are 15 years later, having our debut on that stage in Carnegie Hall. We’re so excited.”
When they arrive at Carnegie, the stage will be set with five Steinway Model D grand pianos. But don’t expect to see the siblings settle in for the evening on their benches. When performing live, The 5 Browns give a new meaning to the term “musical chairs.”
“We change pianos every single piece,” says Ryan. “We work with amazing arrangers—Greg Anderson and Jeffrey Shumway—and they name the parts for us, design the changes. It’s great for us to mix it up, and it’s better for the audience, because they don’t have to stare at the same Brown all night,” he adds, laughing.
It’s the Steinways, he says, that provide the reliability and consistency the Browns need to ensure a perfect performance all the way around the stage.
“We’ve been enthralled by Steinway pianos all our lives. At one point when we were growing up we had five in the house,” Melody says. (“We even had one in the garage,” Gregory interjects. “But it was an air-conditioned garage,” Melody shoots back.) She laughs. “OK, yes—there were pianos everywhere: various grands and an upright as well. And whoever got up first had their pick of which one to practice on. So there was some incentive to be an early riser.”
What’s next for The 5 Browns? “It’s hard to think about what’s next when there is so much on the immediate table,” says Gregory. “After Carnegie we’ll get back to performing new material, and we think we’ll take on a new five-piano arrangement of Mily Balakirev’s composition, Islamey. We just want to continue to challenge ourselves.”
But wherever they go and whatever they do, one thing is sure: The 5 Browns will continue to make quite an impression: five dynamic young performers traveling with a semi-truck full of Steinway pianos, courtesy of piano movers Keyboard Express. The Browns laugh, acknowledging the spectacle.
“We are so grateful for our relationship with Steinway,” Desirae says. “They take care of us. We know our pianos will be there at every venue. We feel like we are part of an elite club, playing these fine pianos.”
Her brothers and sisters agree. “A few years ago we did a mini concert for staff at the Steinway & Sons factory,” Melody says. “We looked at the people listening and we realized: these are the technicians who have worked on the concert grands we play. These craftsmen train for 20 years and more. The time they have invested in perfecting their craft is about as long as we have been playing. There was a mutual respect there—a camaraderie among artists.”
Can’t Miss: Preview PBS special The 5 Browns in Concert.
About The 5 Browns
The 5 Browns—Desirae, Deondra, Gregory, Melody, and Ryan—all attended New York’s Juilliard School. The quintet enjoyed their first wave of critical attention in February 2002 when People magazine dubbed them the “Fab Five” at about the same time they were featured on Oprah and 60 Minutes. The 5 Browns have released 3 CDs with Sony Classics that each went to #1 on Billboard Magazine’s Classical Album Chart. The 5 Browns tour extensively and have performed in numerous venues including the Grand National Theater in China, Suntory Hall in Japan and, in the United States, The Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, Symphony Hall in Chicago and Alice Tully Hall in New York City. Individually and collaboratively, they have soloed with orchestras around the world, including the National Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony, the San Antonio Symphony, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre de chambre de Paris. Their book, Life Between the Keys, a lighthearted collection of personal stories, was published by Phoenix Books in March 2009. Sisters Desirae and Deondra are the creators of The Foundation for Survivors of Abuse, a non-profit organization dedicated to working to remove the statute of limitations for crimes of sexual abuse. To learn more about the Foundation, visit www.survivingabuse.org. The 5 Browns are exclusive Steinway Artists. www.the5browns.com.