UC Davis, California pianist Lara Downes just got a bit of financial help for her work and her career.

Pianist Lara Downes, a longtime Davis resident and director of the Mondavi Center Young Artists Competition, has been awarded a 2016 Sphinx Medal of Excellence and a $50,000 career development grant by the Sphinx Organization of Detroit, which supports classical artists with African American and/or Latino heritage.


Sphinx said in a news release that Downes was being recognized as “one of the most imaginative pianists on today’s concert scene … (her) musical outlook reflects the diversity of her personal heritage and her transatlantic upbringing, and her performances engage a wide range of audiences with repertoire from Bach to Billie Holiday.”


Downes told The Enterprise that “I’m planning to use my prize money from Sphinx to support a couple of projects that are aligned with Sphinx’s mission and vision,” including Downes’ upcoming album “America Again,” due for release next fall on the Sono Luminus label.


“It is music inspired by Langston Hughes’ poem ‘Let America Be America Again’ … music of a dream deferred, the dream of equality and opportunity that passes from one American generation to the next. Music by Ellington, Copland, Gershwin, Margaret Bonds, Amy Beach, Dave Brubeck, Marion Bauer, Harold Arlen, Bill Evans — a range of American voices ‘beyond category,’ ” Downes said.


“I’m also planning a series of radio shows profiling artists of color who represent the changing face of classical music in America as reflected among the ranks of leading soloists, conductors, chamber ensembles and orchestral musicians,” she continued. “These will be distributed to radio stations nationwide by the WFMT Radio Network, and will be available as podcasts through iTunes, Soundcloud, etc.


Downes is also planning the Mondavi Center’s 2016 Young Artists Competition, to be held March 18-20. The competition will include a March 18 concert featuring past winners that will be recorded for national broadcast on the public radio series “From The Top,” hosted by pianist Christopher O’Reilly.

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