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Lara Downes set for Mondavi Center / Sacramento Bee

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When pianist Lara Downes performs Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Mondavi Center, regional audiences will have a rare opportunity to hear her play live. Though Downes is an artist in residence at the Mondavi, her schedule of concerts for the next six months has more shows in various New York City performance venues (four) than she has in our region (zero). Downes, a classical pianist, plays a genre-blending repertoire. Her solo piano album "America Again," to be released Friday, Oct. 28, by Sono Luminus, has already generated acclaim.

Downes took her inspiration from the great African American poet Langston Hughes and his prescient, still timely 1935 "Let America Be America Again." She was preparing to make a very different album when nine people were shot dead in a Charleston, S.C., church on June 17, 2015. Downes felt she needed to make something more concerned with our country, the times we live in and her feelings about them. Hughes' poem opens with the lines, "Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be." "I had the poem in my head," Downes said. "I had this basic idea of what I wanted to focus on in the American Dream and the dream deferred."

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