“His artistic presentation, emotional face and unbeatable charm complemented the beautiful tone and amazing range of his voice. Brownlee impressed the audience with his long, high notes, especially at the triumphal ending of the aria. What a great high C!”
“The warmth and vibrancy of his voice fit the needs of the music exquisitely [in the Dichterliebe]…in [Cycles] the singer absolutely commanded the stage and sounded gorgeous even in the most dissonant sections.”
“A new Brownlee emerged as he sung these songs. A brilliant edge was added to the lovely lyricism of the voice we have come to know. Anguish, desperation, and sadness are all painted in his darker tones, often richly textured in the lower registers.”
Internationally acclaimed bel canto tenor Lawrence Brownlee discusses his Black Lives Matter-inspired song cycle called Cycles of My Being. Brownlee collaborated with two other black artists, composer Tyshawn Sorey and poet Terrance Hayes to create the piece.
When tenor Lawrence Brownlee--he of the sweet, cultured tones and ringing high Cs-Ds, and higher--was first asked to put a recital together by Carnegie Hall, he was pretty certain of the centerpiece: Robert Schumann's "Dichterliebe (A Poet's Love)," the elegant 19th century song cycle about rapture, disillusionment and regret.
"Indeed, there may be no better or more agile bel canto tenor on the scene today than Brownlee...the singer commands a stellar technique and honeyed tone that makes his high notes ring with characteristic warmth."
“The cycle’s six songs, which run about 35 minutes altogether, are arranged in three elaborately matched concentric pairs, whose traversal feels like a descent into a maelstrom followed by the emergence out the other side….Brownlee was an ideal interpreter of this music, his bright and unclouded vocal tone allowing access to both the intimacy and public force of the writing.”
The experiences of black men in America today are making their way onto the classical concert stage, thanks to internationally acclaimed tenor Lawrence Brownlee. Brownlee enlisted the help of two other prominent African-American artists, composer Tyshawn Sorey and poetTerrance Hayes.
The three hope that the work, called Cycles of My Being, will open some eyes. Brownlee is touring the song cycle across the U.S. in the coming weeks, including a performance at New York's Carnegie Hall.
On paper, the duo program that tenor Lawrence Brownlee and bass Eric Owens bring to Jordan Hall on April 7 is a fairly typical affair: some operatic highlights from each man’s repertoire in the first half, and a selection of traditional spirituals, popular songs, and gospel numbers in the second.
A curious thing about the program, though, is that, read the right way, it neatly outlines the improbable journey by which Brownlee, an African-American who grew up in a blue-collar family in Youngstown, Ohio, has become one of the most admired bel canto singers of his day.
That journey begins in church, with the gospel songs that close out the concert. It was in the church choir that Brownlee’s father directed, and where his mother was a soloist, that he got his start singing. His talent was apparent early on, and he would later credit the astonishing flexibility of his voice, so crucial in bel canto, to the gospel “riffs or runs” he heard and practiced from an early age.
Brownlee decided to work with Sorey after hearing Bullock sing the Baker suite and checking out his work as an adventurous jazz composer. Confronted by a steady stream of headlines and video of black men being mistreated, he knew he wanted to bring the defiant energy of the Black Lives Matter movement into the concert hall, and with its sudden dynamic shifts and startling harmonic leaps “Being” can be confrontational. But the six-part, 40-minute work is more an invitation than a polemic, hinging on Hayes’ question, “Do you love the air in me as I love the air in you?”
“The first song," he told me by phone from a concert hall in Munich, Germany, "is called 'Inhale. Exhale.' And the question we pose in the lyrics: 'America, do you love the air in me as we love the air in you.'
For the Philadelphia premiere of 'Cycles of My Being', Brownlee was joined by Violinist Randall Mitsuo Goosby, pianist Kevin Miller, cellist Khari Joyner, clarinetist Alexander Laing, and composer Tyshawn Sorey (Courtesy of Opera Philadelphia)
"Myself, I am very patriotic," Brownlee continued. "My father served in the military. I have an uncle who died in the Vietnam war, but the fact is we are treated very differently than other Americans. When the Constitution and the Bill of Rights was written, it didn’t have people like me in mind. And when someone like me is pulled over by a police officer, I will be treated differently than a person with blue eyes and blond hair."
"Rare are the classical singers who use their celebrity cachet to help generate new repertory. One shining example is Lawrence Brownlee, who regards the commissioning of music by living composers and sharing it with audiences around the world an essential part of who he is as a performing artist.
Even so, his involvement with “Cycles of My Being,” the new song cycle he included in his recital Thursday night at the DuSable Museum of African American History, was motivated by something much deeper, something much more personal: Brownlee and his collaborators, composer Tyshawn Sorey and poet Terrance Hayes, wanted to express their feelings, and, crucially, how they are perceived, as African-American men living in a racially divided America."
"Cycles of My Being demonstrates the searching quality that sets Brownlee apart from many of his contemporaries.
Throughout the cycle Brownlee proves himself a keen textual interpreter, performing with a commitment not only to the words and notes but to the ideas behind them.
His artistry is undeniable."
"And then the piece ends suddenly and quietly. Here is an existential question delivered in a small moment, and the sensation of a larger meaning coming into focus with a musical gesture felt startlingly familiar.
It was like Schubert. But of now, and us."
"The poet who wrote the words can be confrontational. The composer is known for cutting-edge jazz. The singer specializes in ornately written operas from another century. Suffice it to say that Cycles of My Being, a new song cycle by poet Terrance Hayes and composer Tyshawn Sorey — prompted by police brutality against African Americans — won’t be anything typical. Or demure.
When Carnegie Hall came calling in 2016, asking the tenor Lawrence Brownlee to plan a recital, he knew he wanted to include a classic German song cycle. Schumann’s “Dichterliebe” was high on his list. But what to perform alongside it?...
“Why don’t I think about doing some type of song cycle, detailing our own perspective of what it is to be a black man in America?” he recently recalled asking himself. The result is “Cycles of My Being,” a 40-minute work in six parts by the composer Tyshawn Sorey and the poet Terrance Hayes.
"I can’t imagine a better singer in today’s opera world for this role. He even managed to hit the famous F over high C in the last act....He sang with perfect bel canto style"
"There are only a few tenors in the world who can sing the complicated role of Arturo, and American tenor Lawrence Brownlee is one of them. He masterly presented extremely long high notes that build into genius pathos and expressive melodic lines."
"Brownlee’s performance was nothing short of a triumph, quite the finest singing of this most taxing tenor role one is likely to hear in any opera house today. His entrance aria was pure vocal gold, while his ardent Arturo dominated the third act with one virtuosic feat of vocalism after another."
"Brownlee handled Arturo’s heroic, fulsomely decorated arias with equal aplomb. His tenor sounded open and largely unforced despite Bellini’s cruelly high registers."