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Lara Downes is an American pianist who is renowned for her charismatic on-stage presence and her artistry, combining impressively diverse musical styles. As well as being an outstanding concert pianist on some of the world’s most prestigious stages, from Carnegie Hall to the Kennedy Center, she is also a writer, broadcaster, mentor and role model. She is a Steinway Artist and an Artist in Residence at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis.
Lara Downes has been critically acclaimed for her performances. NPR refer to her as a "a delightful artist with a unique blend of musicianship and showmanship". Her playing has been praised in Fanfare magazine as “ravishing” and the New York Times has referred to her music as “luscious, moody and dreamy”. The Huffington Post says “Downes plays with an open, honest heart” and goes as far as to call her playing “addicting”.
Born in San Francisco, to parents of Carribbean and Eastern European lineage, Lara Downes began learning piano at the age of five at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She went on to study with Hans Graf at the Hochschule for Music in Vienna and with Rudolf Buchbinder at the Music Academy in Basel. Back in the USA, she studied with John Perry and Lilian Kallir. 1988 saw two pivotal concert performances as she made her London début at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and her Vienna début at the Vienna Konzerthaus. She made her Carnegie Hall début in 1995.
As a chamber musician, she has collaborated with violinists such as Rachel Barton Pine and Lara St. John, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and eminent chamber ensembles such as the Miami String Quartet and the Kronos Quartet.
Lara Downes released the album America Again on the label Sono Luminus in 2016, drawing on the musical figures that inspire her, as well as American history and American dreams. The album contains many musical gems of Leonard Bernstein, Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington, Amy Beach, Aaron Copland and many others. Downes says of her inspiration for the album: “I’ve travelled all around this country and played for audiences in small towns and big cities. I’ve learned that my music is a bridge to unexpected friendships with people who come from very different versions of America than my own. There is no such thing as a typical American life, and there are millions of American stories. American music has a complicated history, full of contrasts and contradictions, just like my own, and I’ve learned that what is most beautiful about me comes down to my contradictions and contrasts.” In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein, Lara Downes releases the albumFor Lenny. This is yet another album that explores the American imagination and passes on the message of the previously unchartered territories in art music that Leonard Bernstein dared to embrace. This album contains not only the works of Bernstein himself, but also of composers connected to Bernstein and his oeuvre, including Stephen Sondheim, Ned Rorem, John Corigliano and Stephen Schwartz. NPR enthused: “Downes reminds us just who we are, a nation of diverse voices and experiences.... On display here — with all its regret, hope and pride — is America.”
Images: Rik Keller