Musician Extraordinaire, Antonio Castillo de la Gala

He’s played for kings and presidents. In fact, this man has a unique regal presence.

A few miles from Coldwater Canyon, Antonio Castillo de la Gala comfortably sits at his baby grand at The Peninsula Beverly Hills’ intimate Living Room, with elegant couches and comfy chairs. But it took a lifetime of hard work and dedication to get there.

Castillo de la Gala only had one week’s vacation, after a 12-year gig at The Bel-Air Hotel’s Champagne Barr came to a halt when the hotel closed for a two-year renovation, last fall.

“For a boy from Veracruz to come to be here and mingle with the people that I do, is amazing,” said Castillo de la Gala.

With modest beginnings – no television, no car and no phone – the musician’s grandmother taught him to play the piano when he was three. At five, he performed on the radio.

Ultimately, he received a Ph.D from the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City, where he later became a professor. He studied with Angelica Morales von Sauer, wife of Emil Sauer, Franz Liszt’s last pupil. His credits: a pianist with the National Ballet Company and professor of piano at the National School of Music. He has assumed his place as heir to the Liszt legacy.

The musician’s most recent album (he has four) includes a solo piano recording, Date Night, featuring songs by New York Times best-selling author, John Lescroart. The composer/arranger/ musical director’s 2,000 memorized tunes include those from the masters, Broadway, and films. Within a moment’s notice, he can play anything from Gershwin, Porter, Kern, Chopin, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, to the tune from Al Pacino’s scene stealing tango, “Por Unas Cabeza” from Scent of a Woman.

As scholarly as he is, this is a man who picked up English by watching Woody Allen films.

While playing at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Polo Lounge, he started to allure those from the showbiz world. When the hotel closed for renovations, he moved to L’Orangerie and ultimately, The Bel Air.

“Music is an international language,” he says. “Sometimes, words are not needed.”

Charlize Theron, a fan for years, brought friends the night we stopped in. We noticed Luis Miguel sat with a couple and a very blonde Saudi Arabian Princess, known as Ms. Mimi, with bodyguard in tow. (She employed the bodyguard, not Miguel!)

There is no cover charge. We munched on seafood/chicken dim sum and their specialty, Chocolate Dim Sum – both white chocolate and dark. Chocolate lovers, as well as music lovers, will be in heaven.

“I play music to fall in love with.” Indeed he did. A few years ago, Kathryn Tran randomly requested several classical tunes from Pachelbel, Puccini and Rachmaninoff. She asked for his business card. Shortly after, they became engaged.

When Robert Goulet popped in, Castillo de la Gala played “The Impossible Dream.” Goulet sang along. Another time, Michael Jackson sat quietly in the audience.

It was kismet when two Americans spotted the pianist in Puerto Vallarta and offered him a deal he couldn’t refuse. They sponsored him as an immigrant to perform at their Tucson restaurant. These days, Arizona laws are more difficult.

Castillo de la Gala plays Tuesdays through Saturdays. Reservations are recommended.

Sue Facter writes about all things A-List. Her credits include USA Today, People, the Los Angeles Times, TV Guide and publications worldwide.

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