Chart-topping pianist Lara Downes, hailed as "A musical ray of hope" by NBC News, reflects on the music of American innovator Scott Joplin through a 21st-century lens, revealing its many layers of genre-blurring subtlety and nuance.
Iconoclastic pianist Lara Downes takes a fresh look at the music of Scott Joplin on her album Reflections: Scott Joplin Reconsidered, featuring the Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn Youth Chorus and Grammy-nominated baritone Will Liverman as special guests, and produced by Grammy award-winning producer Adam Abeshouse. This recording looks back through a modern lens to explore the many layers of Joplin’s creative vision, as well as the complexities of his American experience. Now, half a century after the Joplin revival of the 1970s, Ms. Downes reintroduces audiences to Joplin through works that range from his early ballad "A Picture Of Her Face," in a world-premiere recording with baritone Will Liverman, to selections from Joplin’s opera Treemonisha, and his most beloved rags, reimagined in kaleidoscopic arrangements by Ms. Downes and other writers. In contrast to many Black composers of his era, Joplin is familiar to mainstream listeners, but while his ragtime compositions are celebrated for their importance to American music, the full scope and depth of his artistry remain little appreciated.
In Lara’s words:
“Joplin’s music is an extraordinary reflection of many disparate influences: his father’s plantation melodies; his piano teacher’s sonatas and fantasies; decorous parlor waltzes in the homes his mother cleaned; boisterous “jig-piano” tunes in the saloons and brothels where he played in his youth. … Joplin’s music is a total embrace of everything he was made of, and a vision of making something new.”
The album is book-ended by selections from Joplin’s 1911 opera Treemonisha, opening with a solo piano arrangement by Ms. Downes of the "Prelude to Treemonisha," and closing with the opera’s finale "A Real Slow Drag," featuring the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.
Ms. Downes’ effervescent arrangements include Joplin’s greatest hit, "Maple Leaf Rag," and his final published composition, the forward-looking "Magnetic Rag." "Chrysanthemum" and "Bethena: A Concert Waltz" are placed side by side, both written for Joplin’s wife Freddie, who died just ten weeks after their wedding. These pieces serve as testament to the composer’s remarkable lyricism, as does the title track, "Reflection Rag." "The Entertainer" is reimagined as a piano/mandolin duet and "Solace" is given an atmospheric accompaniment on vihuela. Ms. Downes takes a solo turn in performances of numerous Joplin works, bringing her perspective as a musical innovator and cultural investigator to this music in an effort to reveal the essence of Joplin’s broad vision and remarkable legacy.