Lara Downes ~ On Exiles’ Café and Related Things


Pianist Lara Downes once again has come to The Glass to talk about her latest recording, Exiles Cafe, featuring some great performances of music by Rachaminov, Chopin, Stravinsky, and Mohammed Fairouz. She visits us via Skype.

CM: Enjoying the new album! Basically, this record is supposed to be about exiles in general–You’ve sort of made it more metaphorical, but you’re tying it in with the composers of the first half of the 20th century that were either exiles of wartime or of their country from Nazism or Communism, all those things…

Lara: Yeah, all those fun things! The 20th century was kind of a mess, wasn’t it? [laughs] Yeah, that’s a good thumbnail! I actually think the process of putting it together just made me think so much of how change happens, and how evolutions happened–It all happens because of moving about and unexpected reversals of fortune.

CM: That’s basically what I do when I try to get away from things is I go to music. I let my mind wander when I’m listening, or I sort of make my own mind movie as I listen, and that’s what makes us so creative to be able to do that. So, was that the whole purpose to making the record was that you wanted to tie those things together?

Lara: Yeah, and it’s funny that you say “movie” because to me there’s so much about the music and the narrative around the music, it’s very cinematic. I never know, as this very moment when this record is going out into the world, and I have this very clear understanding of what it means, but you never know how others are going to receive it, whether it’s going to say the same thing to them that it does to you, but my hope is that it creates some kind of story or movie, or however you process emotion. But that is the pervasive feeling that you get from listening to the music.

CM: I would say 80 some odd % of the album is intimate sounding, depending on composers, it completely separates their solo piano music from their symphonic music. The Chopin Mazurkas you chose, like the F minor one, I always used to get creeped out by that one as it always gave me this haunted feeling when I heard it. But getting back to the general sense of the record, it does have mostly that kind of music, and then there’s the Korngold Sonata, which is much more boisterous and grandiose in style. Was that something you thought about, or did you just let the music be as varied as possible?

[Photo courtesy of Adrian Mendoza]
laradownesoutsidepianoLara: No, you know what was kind of challenging, and it’s a weird situation, is that when you go into a project with a story in mind, then you find yourself having to edit choices because the story is one thing, but then once you get into the music, and you’re putting the music together on an album, there needs to be a certain consistency, or a certain continuity of mood as well, you can’t just fall all over the place, and so as time went on, I found myself getting more and more centered A) in one core period of time, and B) in one core atmosphere.

The word intimate is perfect, it got intimate, it got romantic, and all of a sudden there were a lot of composers that had pieces that were interesting that couldn’t really fit in with the others, so I think it did go to a very introspective place–Then I started looking at that as kind of another definition of this experience of exile and I liked this idea that these pieces that are all kind of like miniatures, more like postcards of exile rather than letters or journals. They’re just like snapshot visions of what might be happening in a person’s life, in a situation like that.

CM: Mohammed Fairouz’s piece is what you used to close the album. Was this a new piece or was it pre-existing?

Lara: This one was already existing, and then I also recorded his 11th Miniature for solo piano, and that’s going to be released separately digitally.
Momo and I are having this fabulous, completely non-sexual love story [laughs]–We just found each other in the course of this project. It was one of those times that it seems that everything is destined to come together, so I actually knew of his music, but I haven’t looked at it as a pianist. I was just about to leave town to go into these recording sessions, and somebody emailed me and said “you know, you should really look at this sonata of Momo’s called “Reflections of Exile”–Obviously it’s a great fit for what you are doing,” and I said “Well, I’m leaving in 3 days to go into the studio” and then I just reached out to him and said “I wish I had known about this piece earlier, would you mind sending me a score?”, and he also sent me these miniatures which were quick to learn, and so I put them on the record. Now I’m learning the sonata as well, and he also wants to write me a piano concerto. Our ideas are so aligned and our interests are so aligned, and I just love it that he came into my musical life in the middle of this project.

Click here to buy/stream Lara’s CD Exile’s Cafe



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