Renowned pianist and Sacramento resident Lara Downes is giving the world a series of sneak previews in anticipation of her upcoming album, For Lenny. Early yesterday morning, Downes tweeted out a 75-second video with insight into what to expect from the new recording, due out in February.
This tweet led me down the rabbit hole, so to speak. It turns out this teaser video is just the beginning. Downes is giving us twelve weekly "episodes" at her website featuring tracks from the album, a short podcast about Bernstein and his music, and behind the scenes videos as an extended pre-release.
Downes considers Bernstein as one of her most significant influences saying, "I think the person that teaches me the most of what a musician can be..., has got to be Leonard Bernstein." She continues, "Bernstein did so many things that were ahead of his time. He was so brave and adventurous in his many musical endeavors."
It's Bernstein's adventurousness as well as his love for music and life that inspires this 100th-anniversary album. "This tribute comes back at him with so much love," Downes said. The recording centers around Bernstein's Anniversaries for Piano, musical portraits he composed for family and friends. Other works featured on the album are dedications to the legendary composer and conductor by friends, Stephen Sondheim, John Corigliano, Ned Rorem, and others.
If this first pre-release is any indication, Downes, much like her musical hero Bernstein, is thinking outside-the-box for this new album. The episode features Downes alongside rapper, beatboxer, and Pentatonix member Kevin "K.O." Olusola in an innovative revision of "Something's Coming" from West Side Story. Olusola shows off his beatboxing talent which, you'll see, is surprisingly effective. In addition to Olusola, Downes is joined by a wide range of musicians on the album including operatic baritone Thomas Hampson; classically trained folk and bluegrass star Rhiannon Giddens; and more.
For Lenny comes out February 9, 2018, a little more than six months before Bernstein's centennial. In the meantime, take a peek into the heart of the project with Downes's weekly episodes.
You can find the first episode featuring Olusola at Downes's website. Below is the video of Downes and Olusola hard at work.