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Lara Downes: Tiny Desk Concert

Most Tiny Desk artists roll into our office space with a suitcase or two because they're on tour. But when pianist Lara Downes arrived for this springtime performance, she unpacked an entire suitcase stuffed with imitation flowers, ivy and butterflies. Our job? Decorate the piano.

Downes knows how to mix and match music. She's an indefatigable concert pianist and recording artist who also hosts her own radio show on KUSC, and her own interview video series, Amplify. Her theme here is renewal, the possibilities that come with change and the power of community.

An arrangement of Schubert's song "Belief in Spring" opens, with a yearning melody in the right hand and a comforting, swaying bassline in the left. Contemporary music follows in Clarice Assad's "World of Change," which percolates with rhythmic and harmonic fluctuations. Then another gear shift back in time to J.S. Bach and the beloved "Sleepers Awake," his own alteration of an old hymn that served as a beacon of light in troubled times.

Downes has her ears wide open for new composers. She found Hooshyar Khayam online; they met in Montreal, and now the Iranian composer is writing a concerto for her. "Jazz On Her Lips," Downes says, is his paean to "the women of Iran in their quest for freedom." That quest also resounds in what Downes calls a song about second chances, an arrangement of the traditional hymn "Amazing Grace" by Shawn Okpebholo, a young Black composer on the rise. It is by turns elegant and soulful.

This is Downes at her best, reminding us of our shared struggles and dreams, through carefully curated pieces and refined performances.

SET LIST

  • Schubert (arr. Horn): "Frühlingsglaube"
  • Clarice Assad: "World of Change"
  • J.S. Bach (arr. Friedman): "Sleepers Awake"
  • Hooshyar Khayam: "Jazz On Her Lips"
  • Trad (arr. Okpebholo): "Amazing Grace"
  • MUSICIANS

  • Lara Downes: piano
  • TINY DESK TEAM

  • Producer: Tom Huizenga
  • Director/Editor: Joshua Bryant
  • Audio Engineer: Neil Tevault
  • Creative Director: Bob Boilen
  • Series Producer: Bobby Carter
  • Videographers: Joshua Bryant, Kara Frame
  • Audio Mix: Josh Rogosin
  • Audio Assistant: Brian Jarboe
  • Tiny Desk Team: Suraya Mohamed, Maia Stern, Jill Britton, Marissa Lorusso, Hazel Cills, Sofia Seidel, Ashley Pointer, Pilar Galván
  • VP, Visuals and Music: Keith Jenkins
  • Senior VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.
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