Photo © 2013 ManhattanSociety.com by Gregory Partanio
Lola Astanova began playing the piano at the age of six. Her mother, a piano teacher, hesitated at first, but her father insisted. The 28-year-old, who was born in Uzbekistan and moved to Houston, Texas, when she was 17, is now considered one of the most exciting pianists in music.
Astanova, who normally practices three hours a day, is as comfortable playing a pop hit as she is a classical masterpiece. (Watch the YouTube clip of her tackling a version of Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music.”) She appeared with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in January at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall to play Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Wearing a gray dress by Catherine Malandrino and dangerously lofty high heels that somehow failed to slow her feet on the pedals, she riveted the crowd with her signature full-body style and sprinting fingers.
Her upcoming schedule is punctuated by private performances, arts support (she wants to inspire children to be musical) and work on her HD digital series La Musique et L’Ardeur. She will perform George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with the Palm Beach Symphony on March 28 in Palm Beach. A summer European tour is on the books followed by Australia in the fall. We caught up with Astanova to talk music, fashion and future plans.
Q: Some would describe your artistic style as unconventional.
A: I never really thought about it, but since people try to describe it as that I actually take it as a compliment. This is simply the way I happen to feel this music—I think it’s very dramatic, very passionate and sometimes can be very physical. I don’t think about being theatrical. I would have to actually think about not playing the way I do!
Q: Which of your performances have been particularly memorable?
A: Carnegie Hall [where she played last year for the first time] was a very special night for me. The energy was just amazing. I played a tribute to [Vladimir] Horowitz.
Q: Do you remember what you wore?
A: I do remember. I was wearing two gowns. One was by Roberto Cavalli and the other was by Marc Bouwer. I do love fashion. I experiment with it. I think that fashion goes really well with music; Rachmaninoff goes perfectly with Chanel.
Q: You stayed out of competitions throughout your career. Why?
A: I happen to think that there is more than one way of playing. For me it’s more important to be able to express yourself freely and play the way you feel and not be judged by an artificial set of rules that is irrelevant today. It’s not about academia. It’s not about playing the right notes or following the score exactly. You have to obviously know what’s in the score and the rules, but, if you need to, you also need to be able to break the rules.
Q: What do you strive for when you play?
A: I want to make sure that every concert becomes special for the audience and that I put the ultimate effort into it. I don’t want everything to become mechanical. I don’t want to just do it as a job.