The 5 Browns: Asphalt makes them giddy
The 5 Browns: Asphalt makes them giddy

The 5 Browns

One great thing about classical music is that it can take the wan populism of Oprah, the decaffeinated blandness of Good Morning America, and the incessant pablum of Jay Leno — and render them all irrelevant. When the Utah sibling piano quintet the 5 Browns appear on these shows (armed with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, George Gershwin, or Igor Stravinsky) the music takes over. Yes, the "kids" (their ages range from twenty to 27) work the wholesome gimmick, and that's what made them darlings of mainstream television in the first place. Their emotive bouncing and gesturing in the video for "Firebird Suite" is a bit much, but these awkward attempts at showmanship can be forgiven. A fat contract with the revered RCA Red Seal label means that you've got to sell albums, and to do that you've got to grab some attention.

The good news is that the repertoire, arrangements, and interpretation — the stuff that really matters — remain intact. As one amateur reviewer on put it, after listening to the "Firebird Suite," "I had chills down my spine." In fact the visionary musical architect Stravinsky built the goosebumps right into the suite, but it still takes talent to extract them from the composition. The Browns, with their deep understanding of the composers and their works, harness the massive power of their five Steinway pianos to create a heart-pounding experience.

From the Eighties' Hooked on Classics series to the more recent Andrea Bocelli phenomenon, the labels' marketing philosophy du jour has been mincing classical repertoire into flavorless forcemeat and shoving it into pop music casings. Now finally, with the perfect balance between mass appeal and genuine artistry, the 5 Browns are giving real classical music its next great popular boom.


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