Nancy Ellison Photography
750 B Street, San Diego
Lola Astanova plays Transcendental etude No. 10 in F-minor by Liszt
As I descended the dimly lit stairwell, I could hear that someone was playing the piano. I walked out onto the stage of The Jacobs Music Center and there was Lola Astanova — practicing.
Ms. Astanova is visiting San Diego to share some music with us alongside the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. Astanova brings high fashion along with her formidable piano skills. She is constantly striving to reach new audiences and uses a variety of avenues to accomplish her mission.
We figured out where to sit for our chat, she on the piano bench and me in the concert master’s chair — blasphemy.
San Diego Reader: We know a lot about what you do and how you do it but I think people are interested in why you do music. Why music? Why should people be interested in your music?
Lola Astanova: Well, music is the only life I know. I started when I was little and then around 15 or 16 I made a conscious decision. I decided that this is really important to me and to pursue it. Obviously a lot goes into it. A lot of work, a lot of discipline and I really enjoy it and can’t live without it. That makes it worth it.
SDR: I’ve spoken with several musicians, mainly opera singers...
LA: I love opera.
SDR: Me too! When I’ve spoken to singers, many of them say that music saved them in some way when they were younger.
LA: I think I would say that I express myself best through music. In person you would have to know me really well to get a sense of what I’m like or what my personality is because I’m kind of reserved. I don’t say a lot. I’m quiet — but when I hear the music or when I’m playing the music it’s like a switch goes off and a different person is born. There are very few things that have that effect on me, if any actually. Music might be the only thing that does that.
SDR: Absolutely. Music can do that to us. If we allow ourselves to go there.
LA: Or it’s something that is innate. I don’t know. Maybe it’s something that can’t be taught. Maybe you just react a certain way when you hear music.
SDR: It’s a feeling, isn’t it? I’ve stopped trying to figure out what Mozart meant when he wrote a string quartet.
LA: Oh, I’m so happy you said that. I think we’ll never find out what he meant. There are certain people that speak on behalf of Beethoven but we don’t really know what they [composers] were thinking. I think we just have to do our best and use our score and use our own instincts to interpret what this music means to us — as performers. I think the music lives through us. It’s okay for interpretations to be different. I think that there is more than one way to play Mozart or Chopin. I think that Chopin always encouraged his students to play the way they felt and not just be imitating him. This is something that I believe. It is so individual. When I listen to Beethoven’s Fifth I may hear something that the another person wouldn’t and that’s the beauty of it. I think that’s why somebody like Horowitz would get criticized and the sentiment was people saying, “Well we’re not hearing Rachmaninoff, we’re hearing Horowitz,” when he played Rachmaninoff. But isn’t that what you want? You want to hear this person, this artist, offer his point of view and what this music means to him. Otherwise, let’s just come up with an example and we’ll all follow that perfect recording and all just play the same.
SDR: There is a sharing that happens between performers and audience members — and the composer — who has maybe been dead for 200 years. The composer is resurrected.
LA: Of course. They live through us and I think they would get a kick out of hearing different interpretations. As long as you make it [the interpretation] convincing. I remember my piano teacher. When he disagreed with my choices he would say, “Hmm, I wouldn’t play it this way but as long as you make it convincing I’ll let it slide.”
SDR: So would you say that your potential for exploring music is unlimited?
LA: I would like to think so because there are a lot of things that interest me when it comes to music. It can be orchestral music, opera, pop music, electronica. I think that an artist today has to be daring — non-dogmatic. You have to explore and not be afraid of taking risks and chances.