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Conversations with creators and organizers of the arts scene in West Michigan, hosted by Cara Lieurance

Lara Downes appears at Gilmore Piano Festival with “Phenomenal Women”

Lara Downes
Max Barrett
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Lara Downes

Performance Today’s 2022 Classical Woman of the Year Lara Downes is one of the most inspired program designers of today. Her concerts feature unexpected connections, like 13 Ways of Looking at the Goldberg, originally commissioned by the Gilmore Piano Festival, which invites modern composers to write companion pieces to Bach’s masterpiece. Her programs also add complexity and context to the accepted history of classical music, as in her concert at the 2022 festival, Phenomenal Women.

Downes, who is bi-racial, has worked to make long-marginalized composers into household names. "All this work of mine started as a search for self and an understanding of my own identity as an artist," says Downes in an interview with Cara Lieurance. "By now it's translated itself into a mission to expose more listeners a sense of personal reflection and connection with this music. Because in the moment that we narrow this music down to that traditional canon, we're excluding so many narratives and so many stories. It's been really gratifying for me to open these doors and create a real sense of welcome."

Downes will be joined by singer Nicole Cabell and guitarist JIJI at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, March 4 at the Dalton Center Recital Hall at Western Michigan University.

She talks about the wide-ranging program, which includes music by friends and colleagues like Clarice Assad and Meredith Monk, and pioneering Black composers like Florence Price and Margaret Bonds. Downes is also the host of Amplify with Lara Downes, an NPR series of conversations with Black artists and cultural leaders.