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Classical 19/10/2023

American Pianist Lara Downes' Rhapsody In Blue Reimagined Reflects On A Century Of Immigration And Transformation (January 19)

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American Pianist Lara Downes' Rhapsody In Blue Reimagined Reflects On A Century Of Immigration And Transformation (January 19)
New York, NY (Top40 Charts) In February 1924, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was premiered in New York City, capturing the exuberant essence of what Gershwin called "a musical kaleidoscope of America." 100 years later, iconoclastic American pianist Lara Downes reimagines Gershwin's masterpiece to reflect on a century of immigration and transformation. Downes has commissioned a radical new arrangement of Rhapsody In Blue by Puerto Rican composer Edmar Colón that reverberates with the multicultural, kaleidoscopic sounds of America today. Rhapsody In Blue Reimagined, featuring Downes at the piano, will be released on January 19, 2024, on the Pentatone label. It will also be featured on a forthcoming full album entitled This Land, a reflection on diverse American journeys that includes works by Arturo O'Farrill, Kian Ravaei, Jake Heggie and Margaret Bonds, to be released on Pentatone in fall of 2024.

The World Premiere of this adventurous new work will take place October 21 in San Francisco, featuring Downes and the future-forward ensemble of dynamic young musicians in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Orchestra, led by conductor Edwin Outwater. More information on the premiere can be found now, and the performance will be also livestreamed on October 21 at 7:30PM Pacific here:

Downes, the orchestra and Outwater will record the piece that same weekend with Grammy award-winning producer Adam Abeshouse. Downes believes that centering young musicians in this project is one of its most important attributes: the next generation finding something brand new in something a century old.

Downes' mission for Rhapsody In Blue at 100 is to celebrate the waves upon waves of new arrivals to this country over the past century. This new arrangement fills the Rhapsody with the sounds of Downes' own lineage, as well as Colón's. It features Afro-Caribbean rhythms and instruments, and musical elements that represent American journeys from many corners of the globe. Learn more about the project here:

Says Downes: "Rhapsody In Blue holds a special place in my heart as both a musician and a lover of music. It's been a great thrill to reflect on the story of an American century and my own family's journey of immigration and social change, as expressed in Gershwin's music. I think he would be so thrilled to know that this piece is still part of the colorful, beautiful, multicultural musical kaleidoscope of America, now and for generations to come."

Rhapsody in Blue received exuberant praise and helped to usher in the jazz age as America rebounded from the losses of World War I and a global pandemic. Gershwin, who was inspired by the melting pot of America as he composed the original piece, was himself the son of immigrants. The success of Rhapsody In Blue helped to make Gershwin a star; he was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine the following year. The first recording of the piece sold 1 million copies.

1924 was a transformative year: three months after Rhapsody in Blue was first heard, the United States passed an immigration act designed to "preserve the ideal of U.S. homogeneity" and prevent "a stream of alien blood." These federal policies drastically restricted European immigration but coincidentally (and unintentionally) opened a pathway for new arrivals from the British West Indies. In a personal story that brings this project full circle, among these new arrivals were Downes' grandparents, who migrated from Jamaica to Harlem in the 1920's.

Lara Downes has been called "a musical ray of hope" by NBC News, has performed a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR, was recently a NY Times Crossword clue and has topped the Billboard Classical charts with several of her recent releases. She is the creator and host of the acclaimed NPR video series Amplify with Lara Downes, featuring uniquely intimate conversations with trailblazing Black artists and cultural figures - including Rhiannon Giddens, Jon Batiste, Samara Joy and Allison Russell. She has been profiled by the NY Times, is known for her work celebrating composers such as Scott Joplin and Florence Price, and is a frequent guest on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She is the Resident Artist for Classical California KDFC and KUSC.

Her recent and upcoming onstage adventures include guest appearances with The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Pops, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Louisville Orchestra, and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. She is spearheading the creation of a diverse new repertoire for piano and orchestra via the commissions and world premiere performances of concertos written for her by Adolphus Hailstork, Arturo O'Farrill, Christopher Tin, Quinn Mason, Clarice Assad, Viet Cuong, Aldo López-Gavilán, Carlos Simon, and Billy Childs, among others. Current recital and residency engagements include Ravinia, the Gilmore Festival, Carolina Performing Arts, Washington Performing Arts, Caramoor, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and the Cabrillo Festival, among others.

She collaborates with an eclectic range of artists including folk icon Judy Collins, pianist Simone Dinnerstein, musical multi-hyphenate Rhiannon Giddens, former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, author John McWhorter, Broadway legend Brian Stokes Mitchell, bassist Christian McBride, the Miró Quartet, and violinist Daniel Hope.

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