Pianist Lara Downes of Davis will perform music from her new album, "13 Ways of Looking at the Goldbergs: Bach Reimagined," in concerts Saturday night and Sunday morning at the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre at the Mondavi Center. Courtesy photo


Lara Downes comes home to perform music from her new album

By From page A9 | November 09, 2011


Who: Pianist Lara Downes

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts

Tickets: $37 general, $18.50 students; www.mondaviarts.org, (530) 754-2787

Lara Downes’ new album — “13 Ways of Looking at the Goldbergs: Bach Reimagined” — was released in September. Since that time, she’s given piano concerts featuring music from the album in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Portland.

On Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, Downes, a longtime Davis resident, will perform this same music in the Mondavi Center’s Vanderhoef Studio Theatre for a local audience that undoubtedly will include family and friends.

Downes said she’s enjoyed traveling the country to draw attention to the new album, and the trips have yielded some rather unusual opportunities.

“When I was in Chicago, I played on a live broadcast on classical station WFMT — they are one of the few stations that does that sort of thing — and I also gave a midnight concert at part of the International Beethoven Project’s annual festival,” she said.

Ordinarily, just about the only time that classical performers give concerts at midnight is on New Year’s Eve, or perhaps as part of a thematic festival like last year’s “Music and Madness” series at the Mondavi Center.

“It was my first time doing a midnight concert,” Downes acknowledged. “The concert went very well, but the part that wasn’t fun was that my flight home was at 6 a.m. So when the concert ended around 2 a.m., I had to go out to O’Hare Airport and camp out until it was time to board the plane.”

Downes performed in San Francisco as part of the Classical Revolution series.

“That was so much fun,” she said. “The concert was in an art space on Market Street downtown, and I played on this amazing 1933 Bösendorfer Imperial” — a large instrument that has more keys in the keyboard (97 total, covering eight full octaves) than the industry standard 88-key Steinway concert grand.

When Downes played in Portland, she appeared in a wine bar. In New York, she appeared at the Cornelia Street Café, a Greenwich Village landmark. She also held a CD release party at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.

The album begins with the aria that opens J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” followed by modern variations, some quite challenging, written by 13 contemporary American composers as part of a project by the Irving Gilmore International Keyboard Festival.

As  an added bonus, there are also  Bach-inspired works by jazz legend Dave Brubeck and the late Lukas Foss. Tracks from the album have been “getting airplay on lots of NPR affiliates around the country, including NPR’s Sunday Baroque program,” Downes said.

The reviews of the album have been good. A critic writing for Fanfare Magazine said, “This certainly isn’t your father’s ‘Goldberg Variations.’ … There is no question that (Downes) is a sensitive and well-skilled pianist, able to cope with not only the technical demands of each piece.”

Downes will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Mondavi Center’s Vanderhoef Studio Theatre. Tickets are $37 general, $18.50 for students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or (530) 754-2787.

Copies of Downes’ new album also will be available for sale.

After this weekend’s pair of serious concerts featuring Bach and modern Bach-inspired variations, Downes will change artistic gears in a big way, and present several family-oriented concerts at the Mondavi Center on Dec. 11-13. The family concerts will draw on the classic book for children by Dr. Seuss, “Green Eggs and Ham.”

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 754-2787.

Jeff Hudson

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