With five pianos, sibling sensations Ryan, Melody, Gregory, Deondra and Desirae Brown—popularly known as The 5 Browns—more than delivered during their May 12 performance at Jones Hall, from the Society for the Performing Arts.
With pieces ranging from an original song called “The Factory” to classical favorites from Mozart and Chopin, the musicians brought glamour and down-to-earth charm to the stage as they chatted with the audience, explaining the pieces they were performing and giving glimpses of their close relationships as family members and artists. Their mastery of the piano is exceptional, but what makes them different is their seemingly effortless color and style, their energy, and the grace they bring to the stage. Often, they seem in a reverie, so taken with the music they’re performing.
Their positive rapport with the audience was equally impressive. Timing is everything, and from the opening number (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) to the encore, the music was enthralling—and their standing ovation inside Jones Hall extended and enthusiastic.
The 5 Browns never completely abandon the classical tradition, yet they aren’t afraid to have fun and innovate. The evening included challenging works such as Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” as well as the lush and romantic sounds of Chopin. A two-piano sonata by Mozart felt fresh and original, and the arrangements the group used truly emphasized the collaborative nature of their artistry. This kind of performance really does have to be witnessed to be fully appreciated: the puzzle-piece configuration of the pianos, the trance-like state of the performers during certain pieces, the zeal and energy each sibling brings to the keys.
All the Browns were born in Houston, and they seemed excited to be back. I found it particularly moving to watch the ensemble knowing the trauma the family has endured. They are still moving forward, mesmerizing audiences with a range of pieces that never ceases to astonish. Deondra and Desirae have channeled their energies into their Foundation for Survivors of Abuse.
The siblings have not only toured internationally with each other, but also individually with orchestras far and wide. They are also authors—of Life Between the Keys, a collection of autobiographical pieces—and are no strangers to The Oprah Winfrey Show and 60 Minutes.
The evening’s highlight was the three sisters sitting at one piano playing a memorable arrangement of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” a piano interpretation of a Paul Verlaine poem. This dreamy, moving music, which I thought was so familiar, seemed otherworldly and ethereal under the women’s artistry. The image of them playing together with such sprezzatura will stay with me for a long time.
If they come back to Houston, don’t miss these five fantastic musicians. You won’t regret it.