Lara Downes celebrates Lenny’s 100th
In this anniversary year – the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth – many record labels are releasing new performances of his music, as well as his own discography. Many of them are of his music: West Side Story, Mass, and other major pieces. Pianist Lara Downes took a more intimate approach in her disc. Lara’s subtitle is “An intimate portrait to Leonard Bernstein and his American legacy”. It’s not only descriptive, but appropriate, as Downes illustrates on her disc portraits written by Bernstein of his friends (Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss, Stephen Sondheim); and here, Downes has asked some of these very people to “respond” to Lenny with new pieces (the disc totals seven world premieres). The result is a conversation (as I describe it to Lara in our online recorded chat) between Bernstein and the artists who were colleagues, pupils, and friends in his life.
Lara shows us a quieter side to the man who made such an impact on people throughout the world, through much of the 20th century. Lara sees this as a way to introduce Bernstein to a new generation, by including contemporary artists such as Kevin “K.O.” Olusola (of Pentatonics), clarinetist Javier Morales-Martinez, and blues singer, Rhiannon Giddens. She also brought in former Bernstein mentor, Thomas Hampson, to sing “A Simple Song”. Lara’s collection makes one feel that they have walked into a New York apartment, with Bernstein and his friends gathered around a piano, with a window view of the city, a drink nearby, laughter, and quiet conversation.