November 21, 2011. The pianist Lara Downes‘s ability to communicate with her public is especially evident in her projects such as 13 Ways of looking at the Goldberg. 13 Ways is the re-imagining of Bach’s famous Aria by 13 outstanding composers, among them Lukas Foss, David Del Tredici, William Bolcom, Bright Sheng, and others. Lara Downes takes these stylistically diverse responses to Bach and creates a suite that has integrity all its own. Another of Ms. Downes’s projects, Bodies in Motion, is a concert-length integrated multimedia piece. In it, her performance of music by Kevin Puts, Adam Silverman, and Laurie San Martin is combined with choreography by David Grenke and imaginative video by Glenda Drew. No less inspiring is The Americans, a retrospective of early 20th century American concert music, accompanied by a projected landscape of early American documentary photography.
Not that Ms. Downes eschews more traditional venues. Her 1988 concert debut took her to the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, the Vienna Konzerthaus as soloist with the Wiener Kammerorchester, and at the Salle Gaveau in Paris. Since then she has played at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, the American Academy Rome, San Francisco Performances, the Montreal Chamber Music Festival among many others. Her chamber music appearances include collaborations with violinists Rachel Barton Pine and Lara St. John, cellists Zuill Bailey and Denis Brott, the Miami and Alexander String Quartets, and the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet. Ms. Downes studied with Adolph Baller and Reah Sadowsky in San Francisco and later worked under Hans Graf at the Vienna Hochschule and Rudolph Buchbinder at the Musik Akademie Basel.
13 Ways of looking at the Goldberg was commissioned by the Gilmore Festival and premiered by the great new-music pianist Gilbert Kalish in 2004. The title and the concept were inspired by the poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens, but it’s also reminiscent of Olivier Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus. While the music varies from atonal to neo-romantic, from jazzy to elegiac, Ms. Downes makes it work as a single whole. We’ll hear several pieces; here’s the Aria, the cornerstone of both the original variations and 13 Ways. Fred Lerdahl’s pointillist Chasing Goldberg follows (here). Jennifer Higdon wrote the second piece, called The Gilmore Variation (here). The 20th century American classic, Lukas Foss, wrote an evocative fourth variation and called it Goldmore Variation (here). The young American composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel wrote a jazz-inspired, nervous variation number five, Kontraphunktus (here). David Del Tredici’s piece, My Goldberg (variation number 11) is, as much of Del Tredici’s music, romantic without being mawkish (here).
We have a number of other recordings by Ms. Downes, from Weber and Liszt to Bolcom and Barber. You can find them on her page.
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