Pianist Lara Downes, Performance Today’s 2022 “Classical Woman of the Year,” and eight-time GRAMMY Award-winning composer, bassist, and National Public Radio (NPR) host Christian McBride surprised students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) by dropping in after their Roots, Jazz, and American Music (RJAM) concert and playing host to a question-and-answer session—and late-night pizza party—afterwards.
“The appearance capped a significant week for Downes. Her latest album, Love At Last—her first on the SFCM-owned label Pentatone—was released on April 21, debuting in the top five on the Billboard Chart. She appeared on NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concerts” the same day. Both projects were infused with Downes’ characteristic penchant for creativity and taking audiences on deep, often unexpected journeys with music, musicians, and the emotions they evoke.
As Downes shared with students, she traveled to the NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. with her own Californian “super bloom”: a suitcase full of artificial flowers and butterflies. They brought a vibrant, environmentally inspired visual appeal to the piano wedged into the office of Bob Boilen, host of “Tiny Desk,” where the series is recorded.
A spirit of renewal weaves throughout the recorded concert and new album, which includes arrangements of Schubert’s “Belief in Spring” and J.S. Bach’s tribute to communal hope and light in troubled times, “Sleepers Awake,” as well as works by a group of thoughtfully curated contemporary composers whose contributions to the evolving canon traverse generations, continents, and cultures.“
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