Posts tagged “rihanna

There’s Something About Lola

Posted on November 5, 2013

Photo: Michael Price

Photo: Michael Price

I profiled Russian-American piano virtuoso Lola Astanova for the November issue of Palm Beach Illustrated. By age 8, Astanova was giving performances alone and with orchestras throughout Europe. By age 13, she was featured in a UNESCO documentary about twentieth-century child prodigies. But her childhood was normal, she says, adding that she even played with friends and Barbie dolls.

Now, Astanova is bringing classical music to a new generation of listeners, thanks in no small part to her penchant for hard work and her social media savvy. She became a YouTube sensation (1.5 million page views and counting) after she infused Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” with a heavy dose of Rachmaninoff-style drama. She has also graced some of the world’s great concert venues, among them Carnegie Hall in New York City. Next week, she’ll perform in Charleston, West Virginia with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

You can find my story about Astanova here, or on newsstands in South Florida. In the meantime, here are a few highlights from our interview:

* Astanova’s mother was a piano teacher and didn’t want her child to pursue a musical career because it was too difficult.
* She studied at the V. Uspensky Specialized School of Music for Gifted Children and enjoyed the competition and rigor that came with learning at such an elite school. To this day, she says “I’m very critical of myself and wish I could change that, but I don’t think I can so it doesn’t make life easier for me.”
* Having said that, it’s worth noting Lola loves reading the philosophical works of Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer wrote that the world was driven by a continually dissatisfied will and was always seeking satisfaction, a belief that must speak to the perfectionist Astanova.
* Astanova moved to Houston in 2000 and studied music at Rice University. But she maintained her ties with her Russian teachers.
* She is a fashionista known for wearing Chanel and Tom Ford. She’s also a self-proclaimed “beauty product junkie.” She justifies her passion for fashion by sharing an anecdote about the time Chopin lamented a pair of fabulous gloves he couldn’t afford. “He was into fashion,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s a sign of respect for the audience.”

Lola Astanova was a really fun interview. I really enjoyed meeting her and learning about how someone has followed their passion successfully and on on their own terms. Definitely catch her in action if she comes to your town. For a taste of what she’s like live, here she is in an exclusive performance for PBI’s YouTube channel:

She also maintains a pretty sassy Twitter feed at @followlola, where she shares her global exploits, hair color changes, fashion adventures and on-stage triumphs with her fans.

The Final Frontier

Posted on November 4, 2013

In a recent article for USA Today, I interviewed some of the men and women who will be among Virgin Galactic’s first commercial space travelers. Some of them are doing it because they remember the excitement of the 1969 moon landing. Others are doing it because they seek the ultimate bucket list moment, or because they want to set an example for their young daughters. Whatever their reasons, when billionaire business magnate Richard Branson announced his goal to take Average Joes into space as frequently and affordably as the average airline, these people scrambled to pay up to $250,000 for the opportunity to float for five minutes above the Earth.


“When I was growing up, going to space was one of those ineffable experiences you could only conceptualize,” Marcia Fiamengo told me in an interview. “I used to dream about it, about floating in zero gravity. Now I can’t wait to get an all-consuming perspective of Earth and the stars. It will be quite a view.”

By the time my article went to press, there was no set date for Virgin Galactic’s first takeoff. But a recent article said that the company has pushed its first launch off until August, 2014, a delay that could cost the state of New Mexico millions. Delays aside, Branson recently reached a deal with NBC to create a reality series called “Space Race,” which would follow contestants competing to win a flight into space with the nascent carrier. No word yet on when that show might air, or when the winner might fly. Under the circumstances, that winner will join a list of nearly 700 customers (among them pop star Rihanna, socialite Paris Hilton and physicist Stephen Hawking) who are eager to take the next small step into space.