As a three-year-old boy growing up in Mexico, Antonio Castillo de la Gala discovered his love for playing the piano with the help of his grandmother. “She became my first piano teacher,” he recalls. And, the young protégé proved to be a quick study.
Merely two years later, still too young to enter school, Castillo de la Gala became so good at playing that he performed on a local radio station in his hometown. One year later, he performed his first recital. It was a love and talent uncovered before his life really even began, and he continued playing and learning throughout his school days.
“Eventually, after high school, I moved to Mexico City and enrolled in the National Conservatory of Music where I earned my degree as a concert pianist,” he explains. It was in Mexico where he began playing concert halls and hotel lobbies, entertaining crowds of music aficionados and fun-seeking travelers alike. And, it was not long until his talents brought him to the United States.
Travelers to Los Angeles have reaped the benefits of Castillo de la Gala’s move for the last 12 years. For many of those years he could be seen and heard tickling the ivories in the lobby of the Hotel Bel-Air. Nowadays, he’s performing at The Peninsula Beverly Hills, a move necessitated when the Hotel Bel-Air closed for remodeling last fall. Now at The Peninsula, Castillo de la Gala says, “I feel very fortunate to be able to play at this fabulous place.”
After 10 months in The Living Room at The Peninsula Beverly Hills, Castillo de la Gala says he’s trying to establish himself at his new hotel. “I want to make the Living Room here the place to go,” he says. What he’s found is that many of his followers from the Hotel Bel-Air have begun to show up at The Peninsula.
Being a hotel pianist might seem like a far cry from a bigger stage, but Castillo de la Gala has played on those bigger stages as well, having performed in concert halls in Mexico and the United States. He admits that when he started out he wanted to be a concert pianist. “It’s very difficult, it’s like being an actor in L.A.—one out of million will make it,” he says. “But, fortunately, I was always interested in international music. I was very familiar with Broadway, movies, films, Gershwin, Cole Porter. It paid off because I can use my knowledge to play requests. I get requests from Chopin to The Beatles to Elton John.
He says playing in a hotel lobby makes for a very unique stage. In this day and age, just being a piano player in a hotel lobby has become a unique position. “Supper clubs have all but disappeared; fortunately there is a place like The Peninsula to play.”
After many years of sitting at the piano in hotels, Castillo de la Gala has seen a lot of things and met a lot of different types of people from around the world. He admits it’s a different type of crowd in a hotel lobby than in a concert hall, and that has made for many interesting nights. “[The audience] gives you a complete menagerie of songs to play, which is very, very diverse. In a concert hall you stick to strictly classical music,” he says.
From his nightly vantage point, he says he sees many people at The Peninsula Beverly Hills that he finds interesting. “There are a lot of movie stars, sports figures, and political figures there all the time,” he says, “but there are so many travelers from around the world on a nightly basis that it makes for a very diverse and interesting evening.”