Piano quintet kicks off UNLV season

The 5 Browns, a quintet of sibling pianists from Utah, breezed through classical and more contemporary works Monday in the opening concert of the Charles Vanda Master Series at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Ryan, Melody, Gregory, Deondra and Desirae, all in their 20s, are bright and upbeat, adept and charming. Each has a similar but distinct style: different combinations of leaning into the pianos, bobbing with the music, nodding, sometimes arching the back before climactic passages. Yet all reflect the same intensity, concentrating on each others’ work and their own, melding melodies and harmonies that switch around and about during individual offerings. The result is layered and complex.

The Browns also performed singly, in duets and in a trio.

In addition to a vivid offering of the familiar Beethoven’s "Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67" and a bold-toned "Grande Tarantelle, Op. posth. 67" by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the evening included generally brief selections from more than a dozen composers.

Leonard Bernstein’s "Scenes from ‘West Side Story,’ " which seemed to be enjoyable for the performers and audience alike, began with 10 sets of snapping fingers before lively snippets of "Cool," "Mambo" and a lavish "Tonight," among others.

Gregory played the most distinct piece of the evening, "Superstar Etude, No. 1," by Aaron Jay Kernis. The work, a tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis, calls for extraordinary slides up and down the keys, as well as playing with the elbows, arms and the left foot. He carried it off with aplomb, down to the required "Wow!" at the end.

The performers’ instruments include two concert-size grand pianos and three smaller grands, two parallel to the edge of the stage and three in a semi-circle behind them. The siblings moved from piano to piano throughout the evening, but there was never an opportunity to view the hands of those in the rear. A massive turntable or, more realistically, some large mirrors at the rear of the stage would have allowed the audience to enjoy the five sets of handiwork more completely.

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