Sono Luminus Releases
Lara Downes, piano
Worldwide Release Date: October 28, 2016
Music by Duke Ellington, Lou Harrison, Morton Gould, Amy Beach, George Gershwin, Angélica Negrón, Dan Visconti, Leonard Bernstein, Scott Joplin, Irving Berlin, Florence Price, Aaron Copland, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, George Walker, and more
“A unique blend of musicianship and showmanship” —NPR
“A balletic keyboard reverie, rendered with nuance and drama” —The Washington Post
Lara Downes’ Concert Schedule: www.laradownes.com/on-the-road
Pianist Lara Downes will release her next solo album, America Again, worldwide on Sono Luminus on October 28, 2016. The album’s title is taken from Langston Hughes’ poem, Let America Be America Again, written in 1938. America Again features twenty pieces selected by Downes that explore the elusive but essential American dream, written by composers including Duke Ellington, Lou Harrison, Morton Gould, Amy Beach, George Gershwin, Angélica Negrón, Dan Visconti, Leonard Bernstein, Scott Joplin, Irving Berlin, Florence Price, Aaron Copland, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, George Walker, and more.
Lara Downes is a 2016 Laureate of the Sphinx Organization Medals of Excellence Award, recognizing her influence as an extraordinary artist of her generation, and her role as a leader in expanding audiences for classical music. Born in San Francisco and raised in Europe, Downes’ musical outlook reflects the diversity of her personal heritage and extensive travels. Her interest in connecting music to a wide and inclusive breadth of human experience mines her own mixed Jamaican-American and Jewish-Eastern European background. This exploration has led to a wide range of creative projects for Downes – from an exploration of the music of Jewish composers in exile to a centenary tribute to Billie Holiday, from an intimate portrait of the marriage of Robert and Clara Schumann to a sweeping look at the musical breakthroughs of the American 20th century, all captured with timeless relevance and a deeply personal style that the Huffington Post has called, “addicting – Downes plays with an open, honest heart.”
Downes’ 2016 album, America Again, explores music that expresses different facets of the American dream – its hope, its impossibility, and its necessity. Lara Downes conceived of the album in June 2015, in response to the Charleston, SC shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. She recorded the album in March 2016 at Sono Luminus’ studio in Boyce, VA. Downes writes of the meaning in the album, “Today, as I write these words, we are living again in troubled times. For too many Americans, circumstance and skin color still keep the promise out of reach, the dream deferred. The hard-won rights and long-sought justice for which our parents and grandparents fought are too easily slipping away. The rifts and rivalries that divide us as a nation seem to run deeper than ever. But still, we dreamers keep dreaming our dream. This music is a tribute to the generations of Americans who dream the impossible: black and white, men and women, immigrants and pioneers. It tells the story of their journeys, their loves and longings, their hardships and their hopes. American music is made of everything we are, coming from so many different people and places, expressing so many different dreams.”
Highlights from America Again include:
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Deep River, a traditional African American Spiritual famously sung by Marian Anderson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, that tells the long story of black America’s dream of freedom and equality, from the days of slavery to our own time.
George Gershwin’s I Loves you Porgy in Nina Simone’s arrangement, which Downes describes as a “moment of perfect convergence – a true American original bringing to a great American classic everything she knew about singing the Blues, about Bach (listen to the opening riff!), being a woman, being black, and about being strong and powerless, all at the same time.”
Variations on a Kentucky Folk Song by George Walker, the first black musician to graduate from the Curtis Institute and the first black composer to win the Pulitzer Prize. Now 94, Walker is an inspiration to Downes. She says, “These variations are so sweet and intimate, with an authentically American sound that evokes a collective nostalgia for a more perfect version of our past and our continuing hopes for the future.”
Morton Gould’s American Caprice, a mix of everything that is capricious about the American spirit, from a composer who lived the American Dream in music, starting out as a teenage piano player in Depression-era movie theaters and building a long and varied career that won him the nation’s highest cultural honors.
Angélica Negrón’s Sueno Recurrente, written in 2002, which brings together the composer’s Puerto Rican heritage with notes from the place she now calls home, Brooklyn. Downes says, “This meditative piece speaks to me of the recurring dreams of freedom, safety, hope, and happiness that call generations of immigrants to American shores.”
America Again | Lara Downes, piano | Sono Luminus | Release Date: October 28, 2016
1. Morton Gould: American Caprice
2. Lou Harrison: New York Waltzes
3. Traditional: Shenandoah
4. Amy Beach: From Blackbird Hills
5. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Deep River
6. Dan Visconti: Lonesome Roads
7. Ernest Bloch: At Sea
8. George Gershwin: I Loves you Porgy (arr. Nina Simone)
9. Angélica Negrón: Sueno Recurrente
10. Leonard Bernstein: Anniversary for Stephen Sondheim
11. David Sanford: Promise
12. Howard Hanson: Slumber Song
13. Scott Joplin: Gladiolus Rag
14. Irving Berlin: Blue Skies (arr. Art Tatum)
15. Florence Price: Fantasie Negre
16. Aaron Copland: Sentimental Melody
17. Duke Ellington: Melancholia
18. Roy Harris: Li’l Boy Named David
19. George Walker: Variations on a Kentucky Folk Song
20. Harold Arlen: Over the Rainbow
About Lara Downes: American pianist Lara Downes is known for her eclectic presentations of the piano repertoire – from iconic favorites to newly-commissioned works – her performances bridge musical genres and traditions, and engage a wide range of audiences with what San Francisco Classical Voice has called “an elegant example of how accessibility and a breezy relevance can exist, organically, in a classical music concert.”
Lara Downes’ training under Hans Graf and Rudolf Buchbinder led to early debuts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall London, the Vienna Konzerthaus and the Salle Gaveau Paris. She has since won over audiences at diverse venues ranging from Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center to Le Poisson Rouge and Classical Revolution. Recent performances include Bargemusic, San Francisco Performances, the Montreal Chamber Music Festival, Portland Piano International and the University of Washington World Series, among many others. Downes’ musical collaborations include partnerships with artists including cellist Zuill Bailey, the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet, the Musical Art Quintet, and composers Mohammed Fairouz, David Sanford, Daniel Felsenfeld and Daniel Bernard Roumain. Her original solo performance projects have received support from prominent organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition, the Center for Cultural Innovation and American Public Media.
Lara Downes’ solo recordings have met tremendous critical and popular acclaim. Exiles’ Café (Steinway & Sons, 2013) topped the bestseller charts and was called “ravishing” by Fanfare magazine. Some Other Time (Steinway & Sons, 2014), a duo recording with cellist Zuill Bailey, debuted in the Billboard Top 10 and was called “luscious, moody and dreamy” by the The New York Times. Her recent chart-topping release, A Billie Holiday Songbook, has been embraced by both jazz and classical critics and listeners, called “possibly the most intriguing Holiday tribute” of this centenary year by Jazz Weekly.
Downes’ live performances and recordings are heard regularly on national radio programs with features including NPR Music, Marketplace, Performance Today, Sirius XM Symphony Hall, WNYC’s New Sounds, and WFMT’s Impromptu. She is the producer and host of The Green Room, a radio show about the lives of classical musicians, distributed nationally by the WFMT Network. Her writing has been published in Listen Magazine, The Rumpus, Arts Journal and San Francisco Classical Voice. She is the founder and director of The Artist Sessions, a pop-up concert series featuring international soloists and ensembles at the forward edges of classical music. Lara Downes serves as Artist in Residence at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis where she mentors the next generation of young musicians as Director of the Mondavi Center National Young Artists Program. She is the Founder and President of the 88 KEYS Foundation, supporting arts education experiences in California public schools through instrument donations and teaching artist presentations. She is a Steinway Concert and Recording Artist.
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