Siblings -- but without the rivalry

BY LAWRENCE TOPPMAN

 

Siblings — but without the rivalry

 

They’re all in their 30s, they all went through Juilliard as pianists — after starting before elementary school — and they’ve toured for 13 years as the world’s most famous ensemble of classical siblings. (They’ll roar into Halton Theater Jan. 18 to play Mozart, Rachmaninov, John Williams, Chopin and more.)

 

By now, you might expect one of the 5 Browns to 1) Shut a sibling’s fingers in a piano lid 2) Hide in the studio permanently like Glenn Gould or 3) Take up the pennywhistle to avoid listening eternally to 440 keys.

 

But no.

 

“We did have a violin, a flute and a guitar in the house growing up,” says eldest sibling Desirae Brown. “We figured the natural course of events would lead somebody to another instrument. But if you begin piano at 3 and get fairly proficient at 5, you don’t want to start over when you can express yourself musically. We don’t even have instruments on the side that we play for fun. My husband’s a violinist who can just pick up other strings, but we love the piano.”

 

And each other. Maybe they maintain harmonies onstage and offstage because they have different strengths. And of course, they play certain numbers as solos or duets amid the all-out pieces.

 

“I’m kind of a lyrical player; I have tiny hands, and the others often give me melodies to play,” she says. “Deondra’s a very rhythmic player, and she and I have done duets our whole lives. Gregory’s a tall guy with super big hands, so he’s into a lot of virtuosic playing. Melody’s a poet, an instinctive player who loses herself in a piece. Ryan’s charismatic, a guy who makes you feel he’s having a great time, and he composes.” (His solo “The Factory” is on this program, with a structure based on repeated movement.)

 

The novelty and success of the quintet depend partly on being “The 5 Browns,” five talented individuals who sublimate egos to summon up a huge, well-articulated sound. “The Browns” doesn’t have the same ring, pianistically or marketing-wise. So what happens on the day one becomes injured, sick of the road or devoted to jazz?

 

“Good question. We keep adjusting the parameters of the group to keep everybody happy, whether that’s rehearsals or the touring schedule. I have had two children, my sister has had a baby, I have had surgery. We’ve had subs come in but have stayed intact.

 

“As all of us get married and start families, I guess we’ll have to take that as it comes. But if we ever did go down to four players, we’d have to rewrite our entire ensemble repertoire!”

 

Charlotte Concerts presents The 5 Browns at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at Halton Theater, 1206 Elizabeth Ave. To read more about the concert or buy tickets, go here.

 

To learn more about The 5 Browns, go here.

 

What happens if you rearrange Mozart for five pianos? Find out at the show or here.

 

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