Lawrence Brownlee Rocks The Crypt

Myra Huang and Damien Sneed Collaborate

By: - Jul 25, 2018

Events at The Crypt sell out minutes after their announcement. The word is out. An invitation to see and hear great artists up close and personal is irresistible. Under the stone arches, where the sound ricochets and fills the space and your total being, the unique sense of individual performers is omnipresent and thrilling.

Lawrence Brownlee names his performance in July "Up Close and Personal." He is a singer who feels up close and personal on the stages of the world's great opera houses. As we listen to a program which begins the iconic ‘single tear’ from L’Elisir d’Amour of Gaetano Donizetti, we too have "our hot pulses beating," like Adina's, whose tear is addressed. 

Brownlee is spreading his wings to sing music that lies outside his comfort zone in bel canto. Why not, he asks? He answers with an extraordinary interpretation of songs from Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe. They are  based on the lyric poetry of Heinrich Heine.

Brownlee immediately captures the faltering approach to love in “The Wonderful Month of May,” on the face of it joyful, but indeterminate. You are not sure what key you are in. Brownlee leaves himself exposed to ambiguity as he sings songs from this cycle. The profound emotions are overwhelming.

Myra Huang at the piano listens to each phrase she creates responding to harmonies and meaning. Over and over, this extraordinary partner in song is able to intuit rhythms and phrases, and yet match the intuition of her singing partner. How does she do this? She shrugs and smiles: This is why two artists collaborate.  To groove on mutual intuitions.  

Singing of the rose, the lily, the dove and the sun all wrapped up in his love, Brownlee takes the rapid fire pace of the images in humorous stride. Turning to the stentorian and marching notes “In the Rhine, in the holy stream, mirrored in the waves, the Cathedral of Cologne” Brownlee is authoritative. Then he melts into “I bear no grudge,” which is full of ineffable pain.

Huang and Brownlee offer us a hesitant, reflective, powerfully-felt interpretation of these singular songs.

Brownlee then introduces us to  popular music and gospel. He has become completely comfortable in “Nearness of You.” While he expresses the wish to sing  like a crooner and not an opera singer, the large glory of his operatic talents infuses pop songs and makes them very personal and stunning.

Brownlee’s roots are in gospel. He reports singing “Go Tell it On the Mountain" in boyhood dreams. He makes “Amazing Grace” very much his own. Accompanied now by the consummate pianist Damien Sneed, he launches into an edgy take which colors the familiar phrases “a sinner like me” in a harsh tone which helps us feel man’s deep issues with God, and vice versa. This seem particularly apt in the embrace of The Crypt

2018 has been the year of Brownlee’s remarkable Cycles of My Being, which premiered in Philadelphia and was presented throughout the country, finally landing at Carnegie Hall. The cycle was composed by Tyshawn Sorey with text by Terrance Hayes, and the singer. For the first time, we can deeply hear the feelings of black men in America. Brownlee performed a song from the Cycle at The Crypt. As he sings of his love for his country, and then asks of America “Do you love me?”, we begin to glimpse the endemic issues of race in the United States. 

The overall feeling as we listen to Brownlee is one of hope. This special evening at the Crypt was transporting.  Andrew Ousley has again produced a gem.