The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Will Lola Astanova outstrip Yuja Wang as the sexiest pianist? Will Lola or Yuja become The Lady Gaga of Classical Music?

January 21, 2012
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ALERT: This week’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” will feature the Kat Trio (the violin, clarinet and piano trio,  below, is in residence this year at Wisconsin Public Radio) in larger works by Milhaud and Menotti as well as smaller works by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Ginastera and others. The concert is free from 12:30 to 2 p.m. and will be broadcast live over WPR. For more information, visit www.thekattrio.net.

By Jacob Stockinger

Is Lola Astanova about to upstage Yuja Wang as The Lady Gaga of Classical Music? (Both women say they admire Lady Gaga.)

Maybe you thought things has calmed down about Yuja Wang and her ruffling some concertgoer’s feathers with her red micro-skirts and her black, thigh-high slit black gown when she performs (below top, at Hollywood Bowl and below bottom, in a photo by Ruby Washington of The New York Times, at her Carnegie Hall debut this fall):

Well, think again.

Along comes the 26-year-old, Uzbekistan-born pianist Lola Astanova, clad in skimpy black and lots of skin, to up the ante on the sexy dress quotient in classical music.

She got quite the photo (below) and write-up preview in The New York Times this past Thursday, the morning before her concert. It all concerns her performing Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin (I don’t know the specific pieces, but she is billing it as an homage to her favorite pianist Vladimir Horowitz, so I expect it will be some of the same famous pieces by those composers that Horowitz often performed.)

You would also have to go pretty far and to extreme excess to top her own website for self-promotion. Here is a link, so you can check out the fashion shows she combines with concerts and her other promotional entries. Curiously, I still don’t see the repertoire listed.

http://www.lolaastanova.com/latest.cfm

Her performance served as her Carnegie Hall debut. But – here is the unusual part — it took place as part of a gala fundraiser the American Cancer Society featuring Donald Trump and Julie Andrews.

Here is a link to the preview story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/19/arts/music/lola-astanova-julie-andrews-and-donald-trump-at-carnegie.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=arts

And here are links to an equally skimpy review:

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/lovely-lola-astanova-wows-crowd-piano-carnegie-hall-article-1.1009125?localLinksEnabled=false

And here is 2010 story with some great vintage quotes about her attitudes:

http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/03/10/tweeting-free-recordings-bare-midriffs-lola-astanova-shakes-up-classical-world/

It is interesting to read about Astanova (below), who sees fashion as an expression and extension of her creativity and artistry, and to learn how her musical training went at Rice University with Jon Kimura Parker and others.

It will also be extremely interesting to see what kind of review she garners at other events — where she may not be wearing $850,000 in jewelry from Tiffany and Company or playing Horowitz’s own special Steinway.

But this much is certain: She sure knows how to attract the media and hype.

Will it help her career?

Maybe it already has – at least a bit. But she will have to sustain with substance, and not just flair. She will have to deliver the goods – and I mean the musical goods.

After all, I suspect that the brouhaha about Yuja Wang would not amount to much if she had failed to make a deep musical impression. But Yuja – who is younger and already records for a major label (Deutsche Grammophon) and has two Grammy nominations to her name — has the real stuff, the unquestionable musical talent to get away with a lot.

We have yet to see if it will be the same for Lola.

One way to judge may be from the plentiful videos she has on YouTUBE, where she seems to be following the path of Valentina Lisitsa (below) to alternative media fame with both mainstream repertoire and unusual pieces. (See just one example, a la Christopher O’Riley and his transcriptions of Radiohead songs, with more than one million hits, at the bottom).

So, who is the better pianist?

Yuja or Lola?

And who is the more striking fashion plate?

Yuja or Lola?

Who will be The Lady Gaga of Classical Music?

Yuja or Lola?

Is there a better way to attract young audiences or garner publicity?

The Ear wants to hear.


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