Honored as 2022 Classical Woman of the Year by Performance Today, American pianist Lara Downes has been called “a musical ray of hope” by NBC News and “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 soloist, a Billboard Chart-topping recording artist, a producer, curator, arts activist and advocate positions her as a cultural visionary on the national arts scene. Lara’s musical roadmap seeks inspiration from the legacies of history, family, and collective memory, excavating a broad landscape of 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.
Lara’s recent and upcoming onstage adventures include guest appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Pops, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Louisville Orchestra, and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, with recitals and residencies at Lincoln Center, Ravinia, the Gilmore Festival, Carolina Performing Arts, Washington Performing Arts, Caramoor, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the Cabrillo Festival, and Oregon Bach Festival, among others.
Lara enjoys creative collaborations with an eclectic range of artists including folk icon Judy Collins, musical multi-hyphenate Rhiannon Giddens, the Miró Quartet, pianist Simone Dinnerstein, former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, Broadway legend Brian Stokes Mitchell, author John McWhorter, baritone Thomas Hampson, and violinist Daniel Hope. Her close partnerships with prominent composers span genres and generations, with premieres and commissions coming from Arturo O’Farrill, Adolphus Hailstork, Jennifer Higdon, Billy Childs, Paola Prestini, Jimmy Lopez-Bellido, Teddy Abrams, Clarice Assad, and many others.
Lara’s adventurous approach to concept and curation have created a unique series of acclaimed recordings, including her 2023 release Love at Last on the Pentatone label, which reached #1 on the Billboard Classical Chart and was featured as an NPR Tiny Desk Concert. In 2022, Reflections: Scott Joplin Reconsidered, also reached the top of the Billboard chart and was featured in the New York Times and on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Other recent albums include Florence Price: Piano Discoveries, a world-premiere recording of recently discovered piano works by that groundbreaking composer; and Some of These Days, a collection of freedom songs and spirituals reflecting on social justice, progress and equality. In 2019 For Love Of You marked Lara’s concerto recording debut, celebrating the 200th birthday of the great pianist and composer Clara Schumann. In 2017, her Sony Classical release For Lenny was awarded the Classical Recording Foundation Award, and America Again was selected by NPR as one of “10 Albums that Saved 2016.”
Lara is a highly visible media presence in her role as the creator and host of AMPLIFY with Lara Downes, an NPR Music series now in its third season, featuring intimate, profoundly personal video conversations with visionary Black artists and cultural leaders who are shaping our creative present and future. She is a frequent guest on national programs including NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, City Lights and Performance Today, and she serves as Resident Artist for Classical KDFC in San Francisco and Classical KUSC in Los Angeles. Her work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sphinx Venture Fund, and the Center for Cultural Innovation, among others.
Lara is the creator and curator of Rising Sun Music, a recording series that shines 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, Will Liverman, Nicole Cabell and Regina Carter.
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.
Photo credit to Max Barrett.