by MICHAEL BOWEN and GREG PRESLEY & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hat has five heads, 10 hands, 50 fingers, and can command 440 musical notes? The Five Browns, of course. Fresh from tours of Mexico and China, this piano-playing quintet -- siblings hailing from Utah -- will be performing at the Fox on Saturday night. Desirae, Deondra, Gregory, Melody and Ryan -- all now in their 20s -- burst onto the international music scene about 10 years ago when all five enrolled at one of the world's most famous music conservatories, New York's Juilliard School. To have five talented pianists from the same family enrolled at the same time was a first for that institution; publicity resulted in numerous requests for the group to play concerts around the country.
The five Browns trained as soloists, but their careers have evolved into what has become an amazing ensemble of pianists, playing pianos in every combination (two, three, four, or all five at one time) in arrangements of jazzy classical music. Their repertoire includes lots of George Gershwin; light classics, such as "The Flight of the Bumblebee"; and arrangements for multiple pianos of works by Franz Liszt, Edvard Grieg, Claude Debussy, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Alberto Ginastera and more.
The spectacle of so many pianos on one stage is visually and aurally exciting in itself, but the musicality of the performers will also please the connoisseur. (One of the joys of watching multiple pianos from the audience is the opportunity of figuring out which player has the melody at any given moment.)
The Browns have made it their mission to bring classical music to new venues, including schools and churches. Their youth, vitality, attractiveness, and lack of stuffiness have attracted many new and young fans, many of whom had never been exposed to classical music before. And all three of their CDs have risen to the top of the classical charts.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & hypothetical question lays bare the kind of classical stratosphere the Browns play in: If two of you went down with the flu, what piano soloists would you select as pinch hitters? Melody calls it "kind of a crazy question," then names Evgeny Kissin and Lang Lang -- "though since they're soloists, they might not work in an ensemble." These kids from Utah are all about teamwork.
Obviously, they memorize the music and practice together incessantly. But do they stay synchronized by reading each other's minds, or what? Gregory says, "Near the end of 'Dives and Lazarus,' by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ryan gives these funny head nods." We'll be on the lookout for those, then. Gregory laughs and says, "He's actually giving cues."
In addition to the Vaughan Williams, says Desirae, in Spokane the Browns will play Gershwin's "An American in Paris," Rachmaninoff's 18th Variation from a Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (you can totally YouTube them performing that), and an arrangement of Igor Stravinsky's Firebird -- which Gregory calls "a real crowd-pleaser. You might expect the more jazzy pieces, or the rock 'n' roll-inspired works, to be more popular. But the Stravinsky relates well to kids."
Gregory plays to the crowd in other ways, too. For his solo shots, he gives listeners a choice between W.C. Handy's "Aunt Hagar's Blues" (from the sibs' third album, Browns in Blue) and "Superstar Etude," which he describes as "a kind of homage to Jerry Lee Lewis." All three sisters will join in an arrangement for six hands by Greg Anderson of Rachmaninoff's "Valse et Romance."
The Browns even play to their audience after their concerts. "When we first started, what we set out to do was try to get more people involved in classical music," Gregory says. "After every concert, we go out into the lobby and meet our audience and sign some things. And at every concert, little kids -- or even older people, or even their grandparents -- will say, 'That was my first classical concert, and I didn't know it could be so much fun.'"
For piano-lovers of all ages in Spokane, this should be a rewarding concert.
The Five Browns will detonate their arpeggios on five Steinways at the Fox on Saturday, June 28, at 8 pm. Tickets: $25-$75. Visit www.spokanesymphony.org or call 624-1200 or 325-SEAT.
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