Keynote Session

(Information Subject to Change)

Lara Downes
Sunday, March 26
9:15–10:15 a.m.

Pianist Lara Downes has been called “an explorer whose imagination is fired by bringing notice to the underrepresented and forgotten” (The Log Journal). An iconoclast and trailblazer, her dynamic work as a sought-after performer, a Billboard Chart-topping recording artist, a producer, curator, activist, and arts advocate positions her as a cultural visionary on the national arts scene. Ms. Downes’ musical roadmap seeks inspiration from the legacies of history, family, and collective memory, excavating the broad landscape of American music to create a series of acclaimed performance and recording projects that serve as gathering spaces for her listeners to find common ground and shared experience. Ms. Downes’ artistry has been called “a musical ray of hope” by NBC News, "luscious, moody and dreamy” by the New York Times, and "addicting" by the Huffington Post. She is equally at home on major stages including the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Boston Symphony Hall, the Ravinia Festival, Tanglewood, and Washington Performing Arts, and in clubs and intimate venues including Joe’s Pub, National Sawdust, and Le Poisson Rouge.

Lara Downes’ forays into the broad landscape of American music have created a series of acclaimed recordings, including her newest release Reflections: Scott Joplin Reconsidered, which debuted at the top of the Billboard chart and has been featured in the New York Times and on NPR’s Morning Edition. Her recent albums include New Day Begun; Florence Price: Piano Discoveries, a world-premiere recording of recently discovered piano works by the groundbreaking African-American composer; and Some of These Days, a collection of freedom songs and spirituals that reflect on social justice, progress and equality. In 2019 For Love Of You, released at #1 on the Billboard Classical chart, marking Downes’s concerto recording debut and celebrating the 200th birthday of the great pianist and composer Clara Schumann. Her Sony Classical debut release For Lenny was awarded the 2017 Classical Recording Foundation Award, and her Sono Luminus release America Again was selected by NPR as one of “10 Albums that Saved 2016,” and hailed as “a balm for a country riven by disunion” by the Boston Globe.

Ms. Downes enjoys creative collaborations with a range of leading artists, including folk icon Judy Collins, pianist Simone Dinnerstein, multi- instrumentalist/composer/singer Rhiannon Giddens, former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, baritone Thomas Hampson, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Her close partnerships with prominent composers span genres and generations, with premieres and commissions coming from Jon Batiste, Adolphus Hailstork, Carlos Simon, John Corigliano, Jennifer Higdon, Billy Childs, Paola Prestini, Timo Andres, Teddy Abrams, Clarice Assad, and many others.

She is the creator and curator of Rising Sun Music, a recording series that sheds light on the music and stories of Black composers over the past 200 years, featuring her collaborations with a wide range of leading instrumentalists and vocalists, including Davóne Tines, Nicole Cabell and Regina Carter.

Lara is the creator and host of AMPLIFY with Lara Downes, a video series for NPR Music. She serves as Resident Artist for Classical KDFC in San Francisco and Classical KUSC in Los Angeles. She is a recipient of the Sphinx Organization’s MPower Artist Grant. Her work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sphinx Venture Fund, the Classical Recording Foundation Award, and the Center for Cultural Innovation, among others.

Lara’s fierce commitment to activism and advocacy brings her working with organizations including the ACLU, Feeding America, and Headcount, a non-partisan organization that uses the power of music to register voters and promote participation in democracy.

In the 2021–2022 season, Lara’s concert schedule includes performances and residencies with the Boston Pops, Washington Performing Arts, the Ravinia Festival, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the Clarice Smith Center at University of Maryland, the Oregon Bach Festival, and many others.