Lola Astanova commands the spotlights. Not only by brilliantly playing the piano but also because she does not look like your typical piano player. Today we are excited to interview her and get to know the woman behind the piano and the looks.
The story began when her mother, a music teacher, gave her the first piano lesson at the age of six. Since then, Lola has fueled her passion for the piano studying it in Tashkent and Moscow and touring the world as a concert pianist. Selected by UNESCO for their documentary “The Prodigies of the Twentieth Century”, Lola is the laureate of the International Chopin competition and her Gershwin documentary received a 2016 EMMY Award.
This talented pianist participated in the Neiman Marcus’ $1.6 million Classic Superstars Fantasy Concert hosted by Regis Philbin, and her Carnegie Hall debut hosted by Julie Andrews was a Tribute to Vladimir Horowitz. Lola has already performed with some of the greatest ensembles such as Kirov and Cleveland Orchestra, the San Diego Symphony and the All-Star Orchestra.
THE INTERVIEW: LOLA ASTANOVA
Congratulations Lola, you just signed with a Berin-Iglesias Art agency. With them, you will be represented in Europe, Russia, Asia, and the Middle East. Tell us about this cooperation and when will you visit Dubai?
Over the years I have been approached by numerous agencies, but I have often found their business outlook or practices lacking. Berin-Iglesias Art operates very differently from most agencies: they are very professional, thorough and they put together incredible events. So, it was a good match. They also have an office in Dubai, so my appearances there are already in the works.
You learned to play the piano by the most famous Russian instrumentalists as Tamara Popovich, Mark Rusak and the Godfather of the Russian piano school, Lev Naumov, who described you as “rare and truly ingenious”. To what extent the Russian school of classical music contributed to the formation of your artistic personality?
Thank you for this question, because the people you mentioned had a truly profound influence on me not just as an artist, but as a human being. They developed my character and will, they instilled in me professional standards and the drive to be the best I can be, they taught me how to stay grounded and how to never stop growing. If it wasn’t for those people and their lessons, I would, probably, be a completely different person and would never be where I am today.
A CHOPIN FAN
Chopin style is unique and technically distinct, and his pieces are often tied to its own high-sensitivity and smoothness. Tell us about your love story with Chopin.
In my mind Chopin equals piano. Sometimes it even feels like the piano was invented specifically for his music. In some ways, Chopin’s compositions are the epitome of the piano repertoire.
You played in many famous concerts with the greatest orchestras as Neiman Marcus Classical Superstars Fantasy Concert and Carnegie Hall, can you talk to us about this experience?
I decided very early in my career that I would never do “routine” or “boring” concerts and that every performance would be special and memorable. The Classical Superstars Fantasy Concert was unique because it had brought Tchaikovsky’s music into mainstream American media for the first time in decades and made the holidays more enchanting. As for my Carnegie Hall concert – it was emotional on so many levels: it was my debut on the biggest classical stage, I played on Vladimir Horowitz’s own piano, and the evening was hosted by the Academy Award winner and the future President of the United States. It was the night of extraordinary pressure, but also of the highest gratification.
ON CHANGING COUNTRIES
Why do you choose to move to the USA? Tell us about the challenge of getting out of your comfort zone.
I moved to the United States because I wanted to pursue my professional career and there was no other country in the world that could have given me such opportunities. It doesn’t mean that the road has been easy, but in America, if you are willing to work hard – you will eventually get your chances. After all, it is the country that was built by talented immigrants from all over the world and to me, that is what America is all about – a true melting pot of cultures and the land of opportunity.
SHE´S GOT THE LOOKS…AND SO MUCH MORE!
While some of the community elite and famous musicians were praising your talent, you surprised the audience with a delightfully modern and attractive appearance that broke the boring style of classical music. What a big audacity! How did people react? Did you get criticism?
When you read about the great virtuosi of the past like Liszt or Chopin, Paderewski or Rachmaninoff you quickly realize that they followed fashion and were known as real dandies. So, it is bizarre that classical music has come to mean something so restrictive, dark and sad that wearing a modern dress can be viewed by some as offensive. Although, even in their day, the masters I mentioned had been called “vulgar” and “sensationalist” by the previous generations of loud self-proclaimed experts.
Still, history has put everything in its place, and nobody even remembers the names of those critics. As for me, I deal with a living art form – not a museum piece. It has a pulse, breath, instincts, feelings, and I am very glad that my performances and style touch and inspire many people.
You share a lot of your performances on social media. You want to bring classical music to younger audiences. Why is this mission important to you? Do you think classical musicians today are interested in sharing their work in the media or are still conservative and a bit closed?
I use social media because it is an excellent way to communicate with the audience and to share what is, essentially, our mutual love – great music! For me, it is not as some “mission” that I have to “fulfill”. It’s just a normal modern way of interacting. I am aware that some in the classical world still seem bothered by it, but it is their problem. When cars first appeared, some attacked them and opted to continue riding horses in defense of “traditionalism”, but these days we don’t see too many horses on the road and yet life continues.
ON ELECTRONIC AND CLASSICAL MUSIC
You love electronic music. Some may see it as a contradiction, but for you, there is a point of contact between classical and electronic music. Have you succeeded in expressing this connection?
I am working on exciting new material. There, I believe, this connection will be fully explored and expressed. I can’t wait to release it!
Away from the classical and electronic music What is your favorite genre of music?
Genres are just one of many conventions in life, but I don’t perceive music that way. To me, music is one infinite space and if the melody is good – it can be in any style from folk and country to rock-n-roll, to hip-hop, to classical and everything in between. For instance, lately, I have been obsessed with Elvis Costello’s recording of “She”. I think it’s a perfect recording of a timeless song that has never been fully appreciated by the public. But I love it.
SHOWS TO REMEMBER
What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? and which one you are most proud of?
When the audience walks away from a concert feeling touched on a personal level and yearning for more. That is the sign of a good live performance to me. Beyond that, I have my own standards that might be too technical to go into. In honesty, I always set the bar high because, as I said earlier, each concert must be special and memorable. I don’t do “routine” performances.
Do you ever feel stressed in front of a crowd when playing? How do you deal with it?
There is always pre-concert excitement, but I would not call it stress. Being on stage feels natural and exhilarating for me, and I love to feel the energy from the audience.
What has been the most difficult piece of music you’ve mastered thus far?
There are many pieces in my repertoire that are considered “difficult”. Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes, for instance. But I think the most technically demanding piece is Rachmaninoff’s 3rd concerto. Someone calculated that there are over 29,000 notes in it, in only 40 minutes.
MUSIC UNITES US
In your opinion, Does the classical music audience have a single taste, or it varies from country to country or generation to generation?
It varies a bit as some compositions are better known or admired in some corners of the world than others. But for the most part, I find that people respond to great music and passionate performances no matter how old they are or what language they speak.
Who is your favorite musician and what do you especially like about performing with him?
I have been fortunate to perform with some of the greatest musicians in the world. Each is so brilliant in his or her own way that it is hard to pick just one. But I can tell you which collaboration I would very much like to do. I would love to work with Brian May and Queen. Their songs had a huge impact. Brian has the most amazing feel for music. His guitar parts are always so pure and perfect! It would be an exciting and powerful collaboration indeed.
WHEN YOU LIVE MUSIC LIKE THIS
What do you enjoy most about concerts and performances?
The energy that I get from the audience. For me, a concert resembles a passionate love affair. So I always leave a part of my heart with the audience and keep a part of them with me.
What’s the hardest and the best perks of being a pianist?
Being a professional musician is, in many ways, like being a professional athlete. You must stay in your best shape in order to give your best performances. And every professional will tell you that it takes hard work to make it look easy. As for my perks, I think it is the unique places that I get to visit and the extraordinary people that I get to meet and work with.
What’s the best compliment you have ever received?
The biggest compliment for me is when I feel that the audience is taken with my performance. You know when they are afraid to miss a note, and when something is happening in their internal world. That kind of reaction speaks louder than any words.
ABOUT THE FUTURE
Are you thinking about teaching piano in the future? and What big career goal do you still hope to achieve?
I think I may be one expensive piano teacher at this point (Laughs). But in seriousness, down the road, I plan to release a series of videos with “tricks of the trade”. Things that I have learned and that have worked well for me over the years. As for big professional plans – there are still so many, and I am working on them every day. Some of those projects you will start seeing soon and that will give us a good reason to chat again.
ON HELPING OTHERS
We would love that. I want to mention your support for various charities. Please tell us what topics touch your heart and how these organizations are helping.
I worry about our environment, the condition of our air and oceans, and about wildlife and endangered creatures. So, I support initiatives and organizations that seek to find innovative solutions and educate the public on these matters. One organization that I also want to mention is the Andrea Bocelli Foundation. They are doing very real work on the ground to empower young people and communities in places affected by natural disasters, poverty, and social instability. Andrea’s name also inspires many people, gives them hope and the will to succeed.
Thank you, Lola. Can you tell our readers how can they get in touch with you? (Social media links, website…)
Thank you for this conversation. Your readers can always keep in touch with me via my Instagram,my Facebook and my website LolaAstanova.com
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