The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: Blog reader Igor was also at Lola Astanova’s Carnegie hall recital and says the mainstream critics got it right when they panned it. | February 5, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

You may recall that a couple of week ago, I posted stories about the Carnegie Hall recital debut to benefit the American Cancer Society (with guest celebrities Donald Trump and Julie Andrew) by 28-year-old Uzbekistan-born pianist Lola Astanova (below), who likes to perform in the latest fashions and who is not shy about promoting herself and her good looks to further her concert career. (That is why she also invites comparison to pianist Yuja Wang.)

Here is a link to that first post:

Then a week later, I posted a number of reviews of that recital. Most of the critics said it was so-so, though a couple were more enthusiastic. Here is a link to that second post:

But subsequently I heard from two listeners who each attended the recital and were there on the spot.

Now, of course, we all know how unreliable eyewitnesses can be, thanks to the many death-penalty reversals secured around the U.S. by The Innocence Project. Eyewitness testimony, and “ear-witness” testimony too, has long known to be notoriously unreliable. So have critics’ assessments and reviews.

Add in the subjectivity of the arts and both the person making the art and the person consuming it, and the question of reliability is compounded.

In any case I want to offer two sides, one pro and one con, from two people who both attended the recital.

You can make up your own mind which one is right, or if the truth lies somewhere in between.

Yesterday, I featured Alexander Grey who wrote at length and thoughtfully to the blog, in two installments.

Here is a different and dissenting or disgreeing review, one that backs up the mainstream viewers, form the blog reader Igor:

Igor writes:

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’s “Funeral March” 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 the American 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 (below) was a 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 (below) 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 (below) to make a piano sound like Horowitz piano, you know.


  1. Here is the true reason, according to the blogger
    Alex G, for the negative NY Times review: Zachary Woolfe is a young man – quote –

    “for whom Tiffany’s products are well beyond his means. Yes, I think the latter played an unfortunate role in his review”.

    What is the next step? Will Alex G. personally go after every single negative opinion or comment on youtube?

    Comment by Igor — February 7, 2012 @ 2:50 am

  2. I would like to thank Alex G for few minutes of wholehearted laughter. His assumptions regarding my profession were, indeed, most charming and, in a way, flattering. As far as his even more amusing offer to count the reviews – I just read a couple of them, thanks to Alex – well, the style of these reviews, as well as the sources speak for themselves.

    Alex had mentioned his medical background, so my hope is that he understands that no one goes to evaluate a heart condition problem to a GYN office. A gynecologist still can have a respected opinion on it, but at the end of the day, it seems, a cardiologist is the one that counts.’Broadway World’ field of expertise is Broadway World. Classical musicians are usually reviewed by those with background in classical music, respectively.

    As far as for tone of the comments: I think it is hard not to notice how dismissive Alex G is trying to be towards the critic assigned by the New York Times, (and thus to the newspaper itself) calling him – if I recall correctly -“some average critic” and wondering why it was not reviewed by “respected” ones. Also, seeing how personal is Alex G’s reaction, and given what an amazingly detailed, excessively long and deeply informative essay he provides with lots of insider information – I would not be surprised if he turned out to be one of Ms. Astanova close friends, or an affiliate of her manager. Who else would try to praise,so passionately, every single aspect of the event, and will make an attempt to “put down” any person for having a different opinion, or for simply providing additional – and objective – facts that took place at the same concert?

    Comment by Igor — February 7, 2012 @ 12:53 am

    • Hi Igor,
      It is very interesting to hear you and Aex go after each others heated opinions.
      I am going to stay out of the dispute and let readers make up their own minds and decide for themselves.
      They too can go to YouTube to hear more of Lola Astanova’s playing.
      Hope you understand.
      Thanks for reading and replying at length and thoughtfully.

      Comment by welltemperedear — February 7, 2012 @ 8:15 am

      • Hi Jake,

        I completely understand and agree with you. Initially, I provided the Times review and my personal “earwitness” of the event, but I think at this point the comment thread with Alex G is no use for the readers, and I have no interest in pursuing any more discussion on the matter.

        Thank you for your objectivity and your excellent music blog.


        Comment by Igor — February 7, 2012 @ 10:28 am

      • Hi Igor,
        Thank you for your vote of confidence in my judgment — or lack of it — and for your kind and encouraging words about the blog.

        Comment by welltemperedear — February 7, 2012 @ 10:31 am

  3. I read this with interest. After all, it’s always intriguing who has a completely opposite view and why. And, unfortunately, I’d have to refer people to my comment below this post:

    I’m sorry, but the tone of Igor’s comments (not just critical, but at once patronizing and demeaning) makes me suspect that Igor is a musician whose own career isn’t going so well. Once upon a time one of my professors in medical school used to say, “it’s not just what is being said, but who says it, how they say it and under what circumstances.” I think it holds true to this day, and must be remembered when evaluating the validity of any argument.

    Also, Jake, both in my article and here you put in the title that most “mainstream criticS” panned it. I expressed my doubt about this assessment in my comment, but I see you are sticking to your evaluation. Well, luckily, in this case, it’s easy to determine the truth. All we have to do is count. I actually looked for original (not written off of someone else’s account) mainstream media reviews that came out after the concert. My only criteria was – it had to be by someone who actually attended the concert. Would you say that’s fair?

    Well, here is what I’ve been able to find:



    NY Daily News:

    Broadway World:

    Seattle PI:

    Times Square Chronicles:

    And here is the note I saw today on Pianist Magazine facebook page:


    Zach Wolffe for NYT:

    Norm Lebrecht that you mentioned to actually did not attend, so…

    Am I missing something? If so, I’d like to see those other reviews that I missed. If you can’t show those, I think it is very misleading to say “most mainstream critics panned it”. Judging by the numbers, it looks to be overwhelmingly the other way around. (Unless one considers Mr. Wolffe’s opinion more valuable than all the others combined…in which case you should, probably, say: “…one mainstream critic who panned it”)

    Thank you.

    Comment by Alex G. — February 6, 2012 @ 6:58 pm

    • Hi Alex,
      You make good points and back them up, though I wouldn’t personally be so quick to ascribe psychological or emotional motivations to others.
      But you’re right: I probably should have said not “panned” but hardly as positive as you might expect from a surging newcomer of importance. Some, while not really pans, focused more on the event than the music.
      I also think the reviews that Lola Astanova received can’t begin to compare to the rave reviews that Yuja Wang, to whom she has been compared for her taste for fashion, has received.
      I don’t know if that will modify your opinion or satisfy you, but my overals impression still stands: Most critics do not see her as a major emerging figure in classical music.
      Would you go that far?
      As always, thanks for residing and replying so thoughtfully and thoroughly.

      Comment by welltemperedear — February 6, 2012 @ 7:22 pm

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