The Classical Station’s interview with Lara Downes for Preview!

Interview with Lara Downes
by Bethany Tillerson (photo credit: Shervin Lainez)

Pianist Lara Downes, a recipient of the 2022 Classical Woman of the Year Award, appears on this week’s Preview programming. Lara Downes recently released Love at Last, an exploration of hope, loss, love, and light through a collection of 25 solo piano pieces from around the world. Rob Kennedy discusses the recording’s inspirations with her, as well as her goal in performing music.

KENNEDY: Lara, tell our listeners about the poem Sachki Sachki, the inspiration behind your new release, Love at Last.

DOWNES This poem is the text of a song that we used to sing in the temple when I was a kid. I didn’t know the author until I started researching the origins of the song. When I started researching the text, it turned out that it was by this Ukrainian poet named Shaul Tchernichovsky, who lived from the turn of the 19th century through the middle of the 20th. He died in 1943. The text of the poem is:

Laugh at all my dreams, my dearest/ Laugh and I repeat anew/That I still believe in man as I still believe in you/ Let the time be dark with hatred/I believe in years beyond/Love at last shall bind all peoples in an everlasting bond

So this album is a collection of pieces that express this common shared human vision of a better world and how the construction of that better world is built around our capacity to love each other and care for each other. When I found that poem, it made a container for all these pieces of music and inspired the title of the album and made sense of the whole project.

KENNEDY: Last year you were named 2022’s Classical Woman of the Year by Performance Today. Can you tell a young person listening to this conversation how honors like this are awarded and how important they are in building your brand as a performing artist?

DOWNES: Well, I was thrilled and amazed when I was told about this award. This one is really special because this is a nomination that comes from listeners; it comes from professionals in the field, but also from listeners. It meant so much to me because it’s given in recognition of work that makes an impact.

For young musicians, what I say all the time is that whatever opportunities come to you, what matters is what you do with them. Any kind of recognition, any kind of opportunity, is a chance to do more and better. The big job as a young musician is really to identify your authentic self as a musician and figure out your message and your mission, and then to dedicate all of your efforts and all of your opportunities to furthering that mission. Nothing means anything if you don’t know why you’re making music and you don’t know what you want to say with it. So I always encourage young people to consider this as a lifelong pursuit.

KENNEDY: Of course, nowadays young people have so many opportunities on social media to promote themselves in any way they really want.

DOWNES: But are you promoting yourself or are you promoting a purpose? There’s not much to be said for just promoting yourself unless you have something that you are really trying to share. This was my disconnect with my education as an artist. the purpose to be the best pianist in the world? What does that mean? I don’t think that’s a thing. And, if that was the only goal, then that meant that all of us in all the practice rooms had the same goal. And that doesn’t make any sense. For me, the beauty in my life in music has been that I have discovered things I really want to accomplish. I really want to share music that has been lost. I want to honor voices that haven’t been given their due. I want to bring a world of discovery to listeners. I want to invite a new world of listeners. I really want to shine light on things that I think are important, that haven’t necessarily been centralized in the tradition. That keeps me going every day.

KENNEDY: Lara, you’re one of the busiest musicians I know, on NPR one minute, recording and concertizing the next. How do you manage to do it all and make it seem so effortless?

DOWNES: I’m glad to hear that it looks effortless. I don’t sleep a lot and I intensely love what I do. It’s been a long process for me. I have all these different things that are always calling to me, and it’s been a process of trying to understand how they’re all interconnected. I think finally, in the last few years, I’ve seen that pretty clearly. There seems to be a flow of ideas and energy that makes everything possible and makes it really exciting.

Join us for Lara Downes’ interview on Sunday, July 9th, at 7 p.m. Listen on, on 89.7 FM, or on our app!