Utah’s 5 Browns tackle Stravinsky masterpiece and Carnegie Hall
By david burger
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Sep 11 2013 05:57PM
On May 29, 1913, Stravinsky’s "The Rite of Spring" premiered at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris. The piece was so controversial and daring at the time — with its dissonant chords, violent rhythms and shocking subject matter — that it inspired a riot inside the theater.
Earlier this year, on the 100th anniversary of that historical event, The 5 Browns recorded a five-piano arrangement of "The Rite of Spring" at the Arthur Zankel Music Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
The famed composition is the centerpiece of the Utah ensemble’s first live album, which will be released on Oct. 29.
"It was a dream project," said Deondra Brown of recording Stravinsky on the monumental date. "The stars aligned."
"The Rite of Spring — The 5 Browns: Live at Arthur Zankel Music Center" also features five-piano arrangements of three movements from Holst’s "The Planets" and the Saint-Saëns tone poem "Danse Macabre."
The new album isn’t the only exciting event for the siblings. The pianists will make their Carnegie Hall debut on Oct. 18.
It’s " a bucket-list year for us," said Gregory Brown.
The 5 Browns — who also include Desirae, Melody and Ryan — will perform closer to home this weekend, with a Saturday performance at the Draper Amphitheater. The siblings, who were raised in Alpine, will play five Steinway grand pianos shipped from New York City.
The program includes the first part of "The Rite of Spring," called "The Adoration of the Earth," among other favorites.
The Stravinsky arrangement marks a turning point for The 5 Browns. While their recent recordings largely have focused on reimagined renditions of Hollywood scores and Broadway showtunes, the new album shows that the siblings — who honed their skills at The Juilliard School — are serious musicians.
"It was still intimidating, even though it was written 100 years ago," said Deondra about the first time they considered tackling "The Rite of Spring." Adding to the difficulty was Brigham Young University piano professor Jeffrey Shumway’s arrangement, which called for the siblings to play five pianos at once. In the past, most of their recordings featured solos, duets and trios — but rarely five pianos.
While performing "The Rite of Spring" is a musical milestone — akin to Bob Dylan playing an electric guitar for the first time — Gregory admitted he had never heard it until college.
"The first time I heard it was relatively late," he said. "I was a freshman at Juilliard in music history class."
The piece floored him.
"It was so intense," he said. "It was one of the coolest things I had ever heard in my life."
There were similar emotions when the siblings recorded the composition in May,
"When we play it," Gregory said, "we feel like we’re rioting."