The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Reviews of pianist Lola Astanova don’t sparkle as brightly as her Tiffany jewels. She played Vladimir Horowitz’s concert grand, but she is no Vladimir Horowitz. | January 28, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

You may recall that last weekend, I posted a preview and early review of the concert that the striking looking, 26-year-old, Uzbekistan-born pianist Lola Astanova (below) gave a week ago Thursday.

It was her Carnegie Hall debut, but took place within the unusual context of a gala fundraiser for the American Cancer Society that featured celebrities Donald Trump and Julie Andrews. (What do you think The Donald and The Julie said to The Lola?)

Well, you can look up some of Astanova’s recording on YouTUBE and decide about her playing for yourself.

But in the meantime, here is a sampling of various reviews of her concert that was reported on prominently because of her penchant for cutting-edge, skin-revealing, S&M-like fashion along with some $850,000 of jewelry by Tiffany. (Think she borrowed any of it from Callista Gingrich? Nah, it’s needed too much on the Florida campaign trail to attract the Republican base.)

An admirer of the great flamboyant virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz, for her “Tribute to Horowitz” Astanova also managed to perform her recital on Horowitz’ vintage and souped up Steinway concert grand that has toured the country several times for promotional purposes. (Many years ago, The Ear even got to play some Chopin, Scarlatti and Scriabin on it when it stopped in Madison.)

Her program was also classic Horowitz (below, in a portrait by Richard Avedon): One big work (Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 “Funeral March” – such an fitting choice for an uplifting cancer event, NOT); one medium piece; (Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor); and several smaller works, by Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin.

But the various reviewers seem to agree on this much: Lola Astanova is no Vladimir Horowitz, who also received his share of negative and disparaging reviews as well as raves. Still, bow ties do seem more tasteful, if less sensational, than leather or vinyl. And his paling was truly distinctive, and one of a kind.

Most of the major critics found her playing mediocre, or at least not especially outstanding – nothing faintly comparable to say the playing of that other fashion maven Yuja Wang or Valentina Lisitsa to Jonathan Biss or Jeremy Denk to pick four other very promising young piano talents.

True, some critics allowed more for the unusual nature and laudable goal of the event than others.

But nothing in any of the reviews sounds like a major label will soon sign Lola Astanova (below, after the recital). And I wouldn’t expect to see her soon of PBS’ “Great Performances” or “Live From Lincoln Center.”

But who can tell? The media can be funny about these things.

Anyway, you can read the reviews and decide for yourself.

Here is the review by freelancer Zachary Woolfe (below) for The New York Times:

Here is a more positive review:

Famed for his crankiness and chummyness with celebrities, Brit critic Norman Lebrecht (below) also weighed in. Be sure to read the comments from readers:

And here is a review that seems to focus on the whole happening as more of a charity event than a musical event:

So what is your verdict?

Do the reviews makes you sorry you weren’t in the audience to hear Lola Astanova?

Or just as happy that you missed it?

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Classical music snobs preoccupied with their own biases will never give Lola her due because of their visceral prejudice. Her beauty and exhibitionism ruffles their sensibilities and they’ll always find a reason to ignore that she’s a phenomenal, world-class player.

    Comment by Hose A — May 21, 2020 @ 8:28 pm

    • Couldn’t agree with you more. You know what they say about critics being like eunuchs: “They know how it’s done, they see it done, but they can’t do it themselves”. If Ms. Astanova had played for Barack Obama instead of Donald Trump, this “article” would have had a totally different content.

      Comment by Dammiam — June 29, 2020 @ 7:53 pm

      • I agree – if it were Obama she’d be hailed as supernatural, pictures of her and Obama would be on every magazine.

        Comment by Remo Williams — October 24, 2021 @ 3:21 am

  2. I love watching and listening to Lola Astanova?
    I would love the hell out of playing like she does!

    Comment by L — May 1, 2019 @ 12:21 pm

  3. I think she is very talented and a beautiful looking Lady

    Comment by Anonimous — January 12, 2018 @ 1:29 am

  4. Here is to the money-fashion hype….all that matters in current culture.

    Comment by Alexander Benesov — June 2, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

    • I assume you would prefer her with hairy legs combat boots and some old farmers dress stained from hours in the kitchen.

      Comment by Remo Williams — October 24, 2021 @ 3:23 am

  5. As classical music sinks furthur into the background, we can be lucky to hear too much for the future … commercial tv/radio music and popular music are now a fixture in the entrainment of a throughly commercial popular syndrome like based-culture.

    Thank goodness there is some attempt at bringing good music back…despite reviews…Everyone is welcome to take piano lessons for 20 years to attempt Carnegie..(my guest) .if talent or even a gift allows. Lola plays well … the only thing one can really say is that their fashion statement comments … Now in due course, everyone can say they play the piano. Current culture says everyone has talent– Critical we can be … there are more and more gifted people falling out of the profession…But noted after 1,000 hearings of young pianistic artists (especially from America), there are getting less and less, the culture not allowing talents to blossom or even get a foothold … maybe if we quit bashing the talent, it might have a chance. Maybe tomorrow we might applaud silence as being the greatest gift closed conservatories can give us, this or the multi billion dollar marketing tour of some Internet videos, but not art….

    Comment by Alexander Benesov — June 2, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

    • I totally agree with your assessments. I think we can all be guilty of passing judgement on others on what we perceive as models of performance at the expense of allowing performers to express art in what they view as their own stamp of expression.

      Comment by Tony Bautista — June 3, 2018 @ 11:30 am

  6. People at the concert were NOT experienced concert goers – quite the opposite, which was very easy to determine – most of them applauded at the end of each movement of Chopin Sonata.

    No, not from enthusiasm. The audience simply was not informed that the end of a movement is not the end of the piece. Many of them attended a classical concert for the first time, all for different reasons – relation to Cancer Society, celebrity names involved, etc.

    A lot of people left at the intermission – a fact that was mentioned by few reviewers and newspapers. The concert was listed as “sold out” at the day of performance – but large amount of tickets was just given out as an invitation, with purpose to fill out the hall.

    There is an artificial and extremely aggressive attempt to impose this particular pianist as a “star” – even though she does not have any previous credits to put on her bio – no competitions, no significant public performances ( the one with Gergiev was private initiative), no trace of any professional music management company interested or involved. To give a credit to the girl, I must say that she definitely has personality and courage. Her behavior on stage was, indeed, provocative – yet it had very little connection with what was played at the moment. But she does not SOUND like someone who is interested in music – bling seems to be much more important, and some piano skills just come to serve this goal.

    Carnegie Hall can be rented for various purposes, especially for a benefit concert like that. Money can push media exposure. It can even hire a group of people writing good reviews – not in major newspapers like The New York Times, of course. It takes Horowitz to make a piano sound like Horowitz piano, you know.

    Comment by Igor — February 1, 2012 @ 10:26 pm

    • You must be a very sad person.

      Comment by Remo Williams — October 24, 2021 @ 3:27 am

  7. Jake, first of all, I always enjoy reading your blog because you always try to be fair (even if you have a strong opinion), and always leave the decision up to your readers. I respect that.

    So I have to say something about this Astanova concert, and all the negative reviews that you mentioned. I attended the concert, and here is what bothers me about these reviews:

    First of all, nobody mentioned that Astanova received a standing ovation from nearly 3,000 people in attendance and was called back on stage 3 times. A relevant piece of information when measuring how successful a concert went, wouldn’t you say? Especially in New York, where people are experienced (and even spoiled) concert goers.

    Secondly, nobody mentioned that among other famous names the concert was attended by Byron Janis, who stayed until the very end (I was sitting two rows behind him), and was applauding standing up when Astanova finished. I think it is fair to assume that Mr. Janis knows about the piano and understands this music no less than your average critic, wouldn’t you agree? Unless one is willing to dismiss Mr. Janis’ opinion as dilettante.

    Thirdly, while Astanova does seem to put a lot of thought into her outfits (she changed her dress for the second part), she did not wear anything even REMOTELY as revealing at that orange Yuja Wang number. Astanova wore two long gowns that showed very little skin. With that said, I think you’d have to agree that she could wear a long overcoat with neck-high boots, and people would still say that she was “pushing sex”. Let’s be honest, if she looked like a boy and weighted 200 lbs. nobody would say a word about her outfits even if she’d play in lace lingerie.

    Finally, I understand that no two people are alike and opinions differ. No argument there. But I was at Carnegie Hall that night, and Astanova’s performance was very solid, and to dismiss it as “mediocre” makes me question the professionalism and objectivity of the reviewers who make such claim. Particularly given their omission of the above mentioned information.

    You know, promotion and marketing only go so far. Promotion can get people into a hall (maybe), but it can’t make them love a concert. And like it or not, but 3,000 people at Carnegie Hall loved her. And, frankly, the amount of heated discussions that Astanova generates only further confirms that she is anything, but mediocre. I personally don’t like everything she does, but I think it’s great for classical music to finally produce a star that has mainstream appeal, and can get more people excited about classical repertoire. That is good for everyone.

    Comment by Alexander G — January 28, 2012 @ 11:40 pm

    • Hi Alexander,
      Thank you for the kind words about my blog and its balance.
      But thank you especially for the long, detailed and firsthand account of Lola Astanova’s recital. You obviously put a lot of effort and thought into your reply.
      It provides such a fine contrast with so many other reviews.
      People should also know that Byron Janis studied with Horowitz.
      You make very good points and back them up with facts and “why”s.
      Your account deserves to more widely read and taken seriously.

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 29, 2012 @ 9:43 am

  8. Well, since we’re scrutinizing the new pianists,
    here’s my favorite of the week:

    (the singing is a bonus!).

    Comment by Dan Shea — January 28, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

  9. Well, if she doesn’t make it as a concert pianist, she can always model. She’s got the legs and the pout.

    Comment by Kathy O — January 28, 2012 @ 7:45 am

    • Hi Kathy,
      Oooo — I like that.
      Indeed she does.
      Good quip.
      And maybe she wouldn’t mind since she thinks fashion is such a part of creativity.
      We’ll just have to see what happens with either career choice.

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 28, 2012 @ 9:36 am

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