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Lara Downes Q&A with San Francisco Classical Voice

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Pianist Lara Downes leaves no room for doubt. Given the choice as a professional musician to rant about male composers' dominance in music history, the repertoire of orchestras, chamber ensembles and soloists, and jazz, pop, funk, R&B, folk, and other playlists, or to rave about brilliant, overlooked women composers, Downes chooses the latter.

Sacramento-based Downes's new album released in early March, Holes in the Sky, celebrates a multigenerational, cross-genre collection of female composers and musicians. Among the 22 tracks are works written or performed by 20th century composer Florence Price, songwriter Judy Collins, violinist Rachel Barton Pine, instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens, cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing, composers/performers Meredith Monk, Clarice Assad, Lil Hardin Armstrong, and more. A world premiere by Jennifer Higdon, Notes of Gratitude, extends the sonic range in a six-minute work featuring unconventional harmonies, percussive plucking inside the instrument, and lush, "proper" piano passages.

"You can write a lot of notes," Downes says, "but what makes great writing is transforming the instrument. To create color takes a gift. Jennifer is prolific, with a range as a composer that's vast. She sent me this piece and it felt like it had a home here, in terms of rounding out the sound world. It's a fascinating piece that lets me do things with the piano that's outside of the rest of the record."

Downes spoke to us about the new CD, balance she finds in her busy personal and professional lives, and the purpose that today - more than ever before - compels her musicianship.

READ THE San Francisco Classical Voice Q&A