Brownlee piece tackles racial issues


By GUY D’ASTOLFO

dastolfo@vindy.com

PHILADELPHIA

Opera singer and Youngstown native Lawrence Brownlee will premiere “Cycles of My Being,” a song cycle that looks at what it means to be a black man in America, tonight.

The new work was commissioned by Brownlee and Opera Philadelphia, which will present the performance at 7:30 p.m. at Perelman Theater. “Cycles” was written by jazz composer and pianist Tyshawn Sorey, with lyrics by poet Terrance Hayes.

The piece is a song cycle – a set of related songs with a unified theme – in six segments that spans 40 minutes. Brownlee also will perform “Cycles” on Thursday at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and April 24 at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Andrew Ousley, a publicist for Brownlee, described “Cycles” as “a unique blend of the three men involved, Larry’s mellifluous tenor, Tyshawn’s genre- and boundary-pushing composition, and Terrance’s timely yet timeless lyrical style.”

Brownlee, a 1991 graduate of East High School in Youngstown, is considered one of the world’s leading bel canto tenors. He last performed in Youngstown in 2012 in an Opera Western Reserve production of “The Barber of Seville” at Stambaugh Auditorium.

A quartet of African-American musicians from the New York Philharmonic and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will accompany Brownlee tonight. They are Randall Mitsuo Goosby (violin), Khari Joyner (cello), Alexander Laing (clarinet) and Kevin J. Miller (piano). For the Chicago and all future performances, Brownlee will be accompanied by pianist Myra Huang.

Tonight’s performance will be followed by a talkback session with Brownlee, Sorey and Hayes.

“In these divided times, we hope to create something that brings people together with mutual respect, understanding, and communication across races and generations,” said Brownlee on his website, in describing the new piece.

As an adviser to Opera Philadelphia, Brownlee’s goal is to bring diversity to the art form. “The idea [for ‘Cycles’] started with the injustices we see on a daily basis,” said Brownlee in an interview with theguardian.com.

The lyrics include political questions for the nation, and lines aimed at those who hate, while the music suggests ways racial prejudice arises in daily life.

“Every day that my feet hit the floor, I have to know that I’m going to encounter some of these small minuscule, minute things,” said Brownlee in a recent interview with The New York Times. “And the decisions you make in an instant can change the course of your life.”

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