Sunday, September 8, 2019 Downes visits Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Sept. 14-16

Lara Downes
(Jiyang Chen)

Her family teases that Lara Downes can't sit still -- never could -- unless she was sitting on a piano bench. Even when she was 3 years old -- "I know I was 3, because I started piano lessons at 4" -- Downes "could not fathom" why anyone wouldn't sit still at the piano. "It's where I've always felt centered and grounded."

Downes, who is considered one of the foremost American pianists of her generation, says she came by her passion for music naturally. Genealogy work done by her mother points to a great-uncle "back in the old country" who was a violinist, she says with a laugh. But more important was her father, who died when she was 9. He loved nothing more than to share his collection of vinyl albums with her, and those are among her favorite early memories.

Lara Downes:
‘Holes in the Sky’

Sept. 14: Gallery Conversation on Georgia O’Keeffe, 1 p.m.
Sept. 15: Van Cliburn Concert Series performance, 3 p.m.
Sept. 16: Piano workshop; call for information

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville

Tickets for the Sept. 15 performance are $10 for students, $45 for adults


‘Holes in the Sky’

Lara Downes’ album is available at

It was Downes' mother, she adds, who taught her by example that women could be strong, resilient leaders. "If you grow up with a single mom, you grow up understanding women run the world," she says with another chuckle.

Like most youngsters, however, Downes had moments when she resisted her destiny. For awhile, fascinated by Greek and Roman history and mythology, she wanted to be an archaeologist -- but thought it would require too much patience. She also went through a period of wanting to act. But those two things, along with her father's heart for music and her mother's head -- she's an attorney -- came together for Downes in the piano.

"I am still a huge nerd," she says, laughing. "I love finding hidden treasures in piano repertoire, and interpreting music requires a huge amount of character and drama. So I feel like this is it; I've always been happy doing this."

When Downes visits Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Sept. 14-16, she'll share not just her joy at the piano but her interest in the visual arts, particularly the work of American artist Georgia O'Keeffe. 

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