Whether you've heard the name or not, Lola Astanova, the Soviet-born virtuoso pianist, is stunning audiences around the world with both a sculpturally ornate presence as well as deeply intimate performances. Exposing the genre of classical music in a way not quite experienced before, Lola's emotive playing paired with a magnetic sense of style brings a contemporary edge to one of music's most historic genres. Read the exclusive interview with Lola below to learn where she looks for fashion inspiration and what she listens to when she's not performing.
JustLuxe: Do you come from a musical background? How did music play a part in your childhood and what influenced you to begin your own musical career?
Lola Astanova: Well, my mom is a piano teacher and she was actually against me playing piano, because she thought it was a challenging profession. My dad encouraged her to show me to a piano teacher, he actually insisted, rather, that she bring me to this very, very well-regarded teacher, Tamara Popovich, and I started with him. I would say I had quite an unusual childhood because of that. I did not get to spend as much time playing outside, or I don't know, soccer or whatever. Practicing the piano and also traveling since I was very littleóin a lot of ways that made me more responsible and made me grow up faster. So I donít think I missed out, I think I actually gained, quite a lot from it.
JL: Do you feel the classical musical training you had in Russia provided a different type of influence on your playing than what is found in the rest of the classical music world?
LA: Well I was very fortunate to have amazing teachers, and one of them is Lev Naumov, who is considered to be the ďGodfather of the Russian piano school.Ē Just to hear him talk about music, being in his studio was an experience I am so grateful for because every pianist I can think of, in one way or another, was associated with him. In Russia, itís a tradition that is instilled in you from the time you are born, and I think it influenced the kind of artist I am and type of person I am as well.
JL: Do you compose your own music? Is that something you would like to do eventually, or is it more about the connection you have with music and not necessarily about creating your own original pieces.
LA: Sometimes I toy with the idea of doing transcriptions. I have a few on YouTube. It was something that has been very popular. Back in the 19th century, Paganini would do transcriptions of popular tunes if he could, so that tradition goes way back. I did some of that, and I do enjoy pop music and house music, so I always keep my mind open. I donít like to play with limitations in terms of music. I do compose a little bit, and I may expand and explore certain collaborations and genres in the future
JL: In your own words, how do you describe your musical style?
LA: I guess I do really get into it when I play, and I am very passionate about the music I play. All of the pieces that I choose to play are very personal and have a personal meaning to me and I think thatís very important because when you feel that, your audience will feel that, and it will translate. In a live performance thatís an exciting element. Right now I really enjoy playing romantic music, Chopin, Rachmaninoffóthis is the phase that Iím going through. Itís very emotional music and you wear your heart on your sleeve. This is something that is very close to me. Iím sure in the future Iíll be going through different phases, but this is where I am right now.
JL: Is there any piece of music that holds particular meaning to you, or do you have a favorite musical piece to perform?
LA: Well, thereís more than one, and it changes all the time. It depends on what I am working on at the moment, but obviously the concerto Iím playing this Thursday, are among my favorites. Everything by Rachmaninoff is very dear to my heart and living in the US right now, I do have that very strong link to Russian music obviously, so music by Russian composers holds a very special place in my heart.
JL: What has been your greatest musical challengeóa musical piece? A new style of playing?
LA: The biggest challenge is always to be objective about yourself and not fall in love with your own ideas because you have to always look at yourself critically and try to improve. I canít think of any particular challenge; in general, being a classical musician in todayís world is not the easiest. It takes a lot of determination, it takes a lot of persistence and believing in yourself and itís not always easy, but if you really love it and know that this is what makes you happy youíre going to work through it. Being on stage and seeing the people in the end makes it all worth it.
JL: Do you think young musicians are choosing not to go into classical music?
LA: I think the world is changing and weíre competing now whether we like it or not, with pop music or what I call the entertainment dollar. You can choose to go to a classical concert you can choose to go to the movie theater, you can choose to go to, I donít know, a rock band, there are a lot more options, nowadays, so itís a challenge but at the same time is an opportunity to explore what can be done.
JL: How do your fashion choices reflect your persona as a performer? Does your style serve as an extension of what you are performing, or is it simply a reflection of your own personal style?
LA: Itís both. I do view fashion as a way to express yourself creatively. Itís not the material aspect of it, itís the artistic and creative aspect of it and the piece that Iím playing, the venue, the city, I consider everything before I choose to wear a certain outfit. I would say it is the extension of myself with everything that entails, I like fashion and I do believe it is interesting for people to see whenever a performer goes on stage. I do believe the moment you walk out on stage, the performance started, before you even touch the piano. So itís something that I enjoy and have fun with.
JL: Who or where do you look to for fashion inspiration?
LA: I feel like the style of Sex in The City, Carrie Bradshaw, so Iím definitely a fan, also traveling, you see how fashion differs from city to city or country to country and thatís exciting too. When you walk on the street [in New York] Soho, or 5th avenue, you get ideas just looking at people. Looking at the window displays during Christmas time. I think itís more about expressing yourself, not keeping up with the trends or with a certain brand, everybody is unique and itís just to play up your individuality by dressing a certain way.
JL: Do other types of music influence your classical playing in any way?
LA: Well, Iím sure it does because I always listen to different genres, whatever it would be. My dad loves jazz, or my brother, heís always listening to something. Heís always sending me songs that heís stumbled upon, so I do like to be open to any particular genre. I do have my favorites, like house music or pop music. So Iím sure it does. Actually I get ideas sometimes when I play on the piano and I apply it toówell, itís hard to explain, but Iím sure it influences and vice versa.
JL: What type of music do you like to listen to when youíre not performing?
LA: I like house music and pop music and club music because itís such a different energy. I feel like itís the opposite end of spectrum from classical and I love that contrastóitís fascinating, and the energy. After I play a classical concert I almost feel the need to hear a house track or electronic music. After classical concert you feel like youíre depleted of energy and have nothing left and this justóitís a whole different world. Takes your mind off of things, and itís something I find fascinating and exciting.
After the privilege of meeting with Lola and listening to a preview of the Rachmaninoff concerto she would be performing at the San Diego Summer Pops Concert Series, I took a trip down to the waterfront venue myself to listen to Lola perform alongside the San Diego Symphony directed by Conductor Jahja Ling. The warm summer evening was complimented perfectly by some of San Diego's finest musicians as well as Lola herself, who delivered, as promised, a kinetic performance.