Born in Havana in 1939, Brouwer began his instrumental studies with Cuban guitar school founder Isaac Nicola, yet pursued composition on his own. After publishing several works for guitar in 1956, he was accepted into the music department of the University of Hartford and at the Juilliard School, where he studied with Isadora Freed, J. Diemente, Joseph Iadone, Persichetti and Wolpe.
His interest in film music led to the appointment as head of the department of music at the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC) in 1960. Over the years, Brouwer has composed the scores for over 60 films, including the music for the 1993 acclaimed film Like Water for Chocolate.
From 1960 to 1961 he served as music advisor to the National Radio and Television Company in Havana, and taught counterpoint, harmony and composition at the Conservatorio Municipal in Havana (1961-67). In 1969, Brouwer helped to establish the Grupo de Experimentación Sonora at ICAIC, where he has taught and mentored many contemporary figures in Cuban music.
As a conductor, Brouwer has served as general director of the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra for ten years and has conducted the Córdoba Orchestra in Spain since 1992. Other appointments include guest conducting positions with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Scottish National Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Mexico National Symphony Orchestra, among others.
Brouwer’s compositional style can be divided into three phases. Earlier works are often described as nationalistic, utilizing traditional classical forms and the prevailing use of tonality. During the 1960s, Brouwer took an interest in the avant-garde and began to integrate modern techniques and aleatoric elements into his compositions. Brouwer describes his third phase as a return to his Afro-Cuban roots. In recent years, his compositions reflect neo-Romantic, minimalist and newly tonal elements.
In addition to his many film scores, Brouwer has also composed numerous symphonic, chamber and instrumental works. In 2010, the Havana String Quartet’s recording of Brouwer’s string quartets and string trio won the Latin Grammy for Best Classical Recording. His Double Concerto (Book of Signs), the latest in a series of concertos for guitar, was premiered by John Williams and Costas Cotsiolis on 27 January 2004 at the Megaron in Athens.
In 1987 Brouwer was selected, along with Isaac Stern and Alan Danielou, to be an honorable member of UNESCO in recognition for his music career. In 1998 Brouwer was awarded the Manuel de Falla prize and he has also been the recipient of the Orden Félix Varela, the highest honor granted by the Cuban state for culture.