Pianist Lara Downes of Davis has a new album on the Steinway and Sons label, titled “Exiles’ Café.” The official release date was Feb. 26.
“This album’s inspiration — and title track — is American composer Michael Sahl’s ‘Tango from the Exiles’ Café,’ ” Downes writes in the album’s notes. “I began to fantasize about this café as a place both real and metaphorical, a place where individuals gather from all over the world to find a home away from home. It is filled with dream-chasers: travelers, nomads, explorers, gypsies and vagabonds — as well as refugees thrust on journeys undesired.”
The album features 21 miniatures for the piano by composers such as:
* Béla Bartók, who was forced to leave Hungary in 1940 to escape the Nazi occupation, and settled into life in exile in New York;
* Frédéric Chopin, born in Poland, who carried a cup full of soil from his homeland when he embarked on a major tour, and was never able to return home after a failed rebellion while he was out of the country; and
* Sergei Prokofiev, who left Russia after the Soviet Revolution of 1917, lived in Paris for two decades, and then returned to the Soviet Union in 1936, finding that his homeland had become a very different place under the rule of Josef Stalin.
Music by other Russian emigres like Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff is also featured on the album, as well as music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who left Vienna and settled in Hollywood, where he earned fame and fortune writing movie scores, but mourned his lost career in Europe as a composer of music for concert halls.
Other composers on the album include William Grant Still, an African-American who tried to imagine the music of ancestral Africa, and Paul Bowles, an American writer and composer who spent much of his life in the deserts of North Africa.
There is also a piece by Darius Milhaud, a French composer who could not go home during the Nazi occupation; Milhaud was fascinated when he heard American jazz in Harlem nightspots. Milhaud ultimately taught at Mills College in the San Francisco Bay Area; his students included Dave Brubeck. Milhaud’s Symphony No. 12 (“La rurale”) was commissioned in 1961 for the dedication of Freeborn Hall on the UC Davis campus.
Samples of the music can be heard on Downes’ website, www.laradownes.com, and the album is available as a CD or as a download.
Downes will be appearing in concert at the Mondavi Center, performing with the band Build, at 8 p.m. March 23 and 2 p.m. March 24. Then, she will embark on a tour that includes dates at Steinway Hall in New York, April 4; the Tom Lee Music Hall in Vancouver, British Columbia, April 10; Steinway Grand Pianos in Seattle, April 12; Classic Pianos in Portland, Ore., April 13; Reed College in Portland, Ore., April 14; Yoshi’s in San Francisco, April 24; the Steinway Piano Gallery in Northbrook, Ill., April 26; and Meridian Music in Carmel, Ind., April 28.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at email@example.com or 530-747-8055.