2022 Classical Woman of the Year: Lara Downes
Performance Today has selected acclaimed pianist, producer, curator, storyteller, cultural visionary and arts advocate Lara Downes as the 2022 Classical Woman of the Year. This annual award recognizes women who have made significant contributions to the classical music art form and have inspired our listeners.
With her wide-ranging talent, and her open spirit of musical connection and collaboration, Downes is at home on major global stages such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center. She has played in intimate and nontraditional classical music venues, including clubs, galleries, schools and anywhere people gather to share the arts.
As she says, her goal is not just to create and perform music, but to “tell stories, open hearts and share beauty.”
Downes’ comprehensive exploration of American music has led to a series of more than 20 acclaimed recordings, including her most recent release, Reflections, Scott Joplin Reconsidered, which debuted at the top of the Billboard chart. Her recent recordings elevate the works of groundbreaking Black composer Florence Price and 19th-century master Clara Schumann, and celebrate freedom songs and spirituals.
She is the creator and curator of Rising Sun Music, a recording series focusing on music and stories of Black composers of the past two centuries. She also is the creator and host of AMPLIFY with Lara Downes, a series of video conversations for NPR Music. She’s resident artist for Classical KDFC in San Francisco and Classical KUSC in Los Angeles. She is the recipient of many prestigious awards, fellowships and grants from major arts institutions around the world.
“I’m over the moon that Lara Downes is our 2022 Classical Woman of the Year,” said Fred Child, host and senior editor of Performance Today. “She is a true artist among pianists, with a keen ear for curating fascinating concert programs. She brings her vision and passion to a vast range of activities that touch the lives and cultural conversations of music lovers everywhere. Her steadfast commitment to broadening our understanding and appreciation for composers from all walks of life creates a world in which our art form and our communities are richer, more creative, and in the end both more human and humane. It’s with great pleasure that we recognize Lara with this well-deserved award.”
Downes was selected by the staff of Performance Today based on listener nominations, submitted in March. Praise for her in these nominations include:
“A superb pianist, she promotes marginalized classical voices. Downes envisions an artistically vibrant world where classical music is egalitarian and accessible to all. Her artistry and that bold vision are why she deserves this title.” — Michael, Denton, Texas
“In addition to her excellence as a musician, she has a gift for teaching.” Carol, Eugene, Oregon
“From even her earliest recordings, Lara has consistently sought music of under-represented composers to share with her audience. In recent years, Lara has been in the forefront in raising awareness and appreciation of the music and music-making of Black Americans. She has been a true leader in this.” — James, Spokane, Washington
“[I’m touched by] her piano artistry, her ‘at home’ concerts during the COVID shutdown, and her national and local classical music broadcasts!” Marty, San Diego
“Lara's efforts to promote, support and encourage young Black performers and composers, as well as her dedication to performing the work of forgotten composers are important contributions to the music scene. She should be recognized for her determination, virtuosity and verve!” — Nancy, Windham, Vermont
Downes will be recognized on the March 30 episode of Performance Today, including a conversation with Child about her extensive career and accomplishments.