Pianist Lara Downes is known for her fusing of rare pianistic sensitivity and evocative, thought-provoking concepts. Her latest album, Exiles’ Café — released on the Steinway & Sons label  — is the result of a moment of inspiration after hearing a lovely little piece entitled Tango from the Exiles’ Café. Downes fantasized about this café and created a narrative around it, which she describes as “both real and metaphorical.” This album captures the pain, nostalgia, and freedom that are indelibly tied to this state of being—in exile. Featuring miniature works by composers such as Chopin, Milhaud, Bartok, Weill, and including a premiere work by Mohammed Fairouz, Exiles’ Café goes beyond an examination of what is to be in exile, to consider the inspiration exiled composers drew from the musical communities they found in their new homes. Because in this sense, the exiles cafes were actual places — there were indeed such locations throughout history to which composers and musicians gravitated and found each other, and they and their music were influenced accordingly.
Recorded with producer Dan Merceruio at Sono Luminus, this album is a focused exploration of musical miniatures created by composers who were prevented from returning to their homeland. Listening to this album, one is almost transported back to the cafes, to the restaurants, sitting with the composers and their circles, lamenting their homes now lost, celebrating their freedoms.
“Here is technique so good you’re not even aware of it — and yet she never flouts it, never gets in the way of the music. You’re only aware that you want to move…” — Fanfare Magazine on Lara Downes
This album includes works new and old—Chopin’s Mazurka in F minor, Rachmaninov’s Preludes and Fragments, a tango by Stravinsky and Hungarian Dances by Bartok, a gorgeous tune by Kurt Weill (arranged by Jed Distler) and a brand new work by the rising star Mohammed Fairouz. William Grant Still’s yearning piece “Africa” and Paul Bowles’ Preludes for Piano are also featured on this intriguing release. These and the other featured composers have exile in common, but there are different kinds of exile. Chopin could never return to Poland, Weill, Bartok, Milhaud and Prokofiev were all displaced by wars, and some, including Fairouz, simply long for an abstract home.
Exiles’ Café features 21 tracks; and there will be a digital-only release of Korngold’s complete second piano sonata.
Lara Downes is herself no stranger to the nomadic life of the exile—she was born, of Caribbean and Russian heritage, in San Francisco and after studying with Maria Cisyk and Adolph Baller, she spent a decade traveling around Europe with her sisters, performing and studying in what she describes as a “gypsy-like existence.” Her teachers and mentors during these years included Hans Graf, Olivier Gardon and Rudolph Buchbinder. Lara made early debuts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall London, the Vienna Konzerthaus and the Salle Gaveau Paris and has always been as happy performing in traditional venues such as Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center as at alternative spaces like Le Poisson Rouge and Classical Revolution. She has been acclaimed as one of the leading innovators in reinventing the chamber and solo piano show (benchmark successes have included “Long Time Coming” — a multimedia examination at the way Duke Ellington’s music gave hope to other musicians and to Depression-era America, and “Thirteen Ways of Looking At Goldberg” where twelve contemporary composers wrote their own Goldberg Variations to sit alongside one of Bach’s) and is heard regularly on national radio programs including NPR Music, APM’s Performance Today, WNYC’s New Sounds and WFMT’s Impromptu. Lara Downes is a Steinway Artist, Artist-In-Residence at UC Davis and has just been announced as Artistic Director of the performance series “The Artist Sessions” at the prestigious Yoshi’s Café venue in San Francisco.
About Steinway & Sons
Since its founding in New York in 1853, Steinway & Sons has been considered the world's premier piano manufacturer. Known for their exceptional craftsmanship, Steinway & Sons pianos are built in one of two company-owned and operated factories: Astoria, New York and Hamburg, Germany. Steinway & Sons pianos are still constructed primarily by hand, using many of the techniques developed over 160 years ago. Today, Steinway & Sons also offers the Boston and Essex piano lines, Listen, a magazine for music and culture lovers, and the Steinway & Sons record label. For more information, visit www.steinway.com.
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