Mumbai’s Musical Prodigy: 9-Year-Old Pianist Unlocks the Keys to Vienna’s Prestigious Legacy

Bythu lita

Dec 20, 2023


to feature in a series of concerts, some of which will be held in historic halls where iconic composers of Western classical music, including Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler, used to perform. Despite his tender age, Ayaan Deshpande is not only a concert pianist, with a steady performance schedule, but also, like Mozart

“I have been teaching the piano for 40 years, and I can say he is my first student of such calibre. I have seen a lot of talented, good students. But they are in one group. And Ayaan is in a league of his own. What other children do in one week, he does in just 10 minutes,” says pianist Aida Bisengalieva, who has taught Ayaan over the last couple of years.
The boy’s Austria tour follows his selection in the Golden Key Music Festival, which is held annually in New York and Vienna for student musicians, and gives children who show promise an early exposure into performing with renowned musicians at some of the world’s most prestigious concert stages. Ayaan’s venues include the historic Ehrbar Hall, a mesmerising 19th century performance space, and Mozarthaus, where Mozart lived in the 1780s.
“On Tuesday, Ayaan played in Vienna among 25 participants, and he was the youngest, the smallest. Everybody liked his playing, his phrasing, his conception of pieces,” says Bisengalieva.

Mumbai's Mozart: 9-year-old piano prodigy unlocks keys to Vienna

The son of a mathematician and a software engineer, Ayaan came into Western classical music almost by chance. Born in 2013 in Tokyo, where his father was pursuing postdoctoral studies, he moved with his parents to Mumbai two years later. At five, he started learning Hindustani classical vocal music with a friend’s father, but when Covid struck and the lockdown began, he took to playing the keyboard at home. “He started learning with the help of an app and online videos, without any prodding,” says his mother, Ashwini, who is a programmer with an AI-powered healthcare firm.

Seeing his surprising prowess, his parents, finding out about the SOI Music Academy at the NCPA, enrolled him in the piano course there in May 2021. “No one in our family was into Western classical music,” says his father, Tanmay, who is an associate professor of mathematics at the TIFR.
Ayaan had his inaugural public performance in November 2021 at the NCPA, accompanied by the SOI Chamber Orchestra under the violin virtuoso Marat Bisengaliev, who is also the music director of SOI (Symphony Orchestra of India). His first recital as a soloist was in July last year, again at the NCPA, where he performed Mozart, Chopin, Debussy and one of his own compositions. Encouraged by his enthusiastic reception by audiences, he performed in Pune under the aegis of the prestigious Poona Music Society a month later. He is now a fixture at Mumbai’s concert venues, including the Russian Centre for Science & Culture at Pedder Road, where in late April he astonished an erudite gathering by dishing out Prokofiev. Ayaan followed that up with a tour, on invitation, from Almaty, Kazakhstan. As if being an under-10 pianist weren’t enough of an achievement, in just two years, he has also composed several pieces, including a piano quintet, a sonata, a nocturne and a waltz.
“We are homeschooling Ayaan since April last year, so that he gets more time for music without compromising on his playing time with friends,” says Tanmay. “He is passionate and intelligent and we believe that he would do well in whatever field he may choose. He likes mathematics and history, and loves to learn about animals and wildlife.”
The Deshpandes, who primarily speak Marathi at home, live on campus at the TIFR in Colaba. “Fortunately, neither of us have to commute to work. My wife works remotely from home and I work on campus, the same place where we live,” says Tanmay. “But it is certainly challenging to manage our daily schedule because Ayaan has music lessons at the NCPA almost every day. Luckily, our work hours are flexible, which helps in managing our time.”
Bisengalieva says the boy is like a normal child physically, but like a mature adult mentally. “When I practise with him, I’m surprised by how he absorbs everything. Not like a child at all. He just looks like a child, but he is deep, and that is very unusual for someone his age. It is time for Mumbai to know that it has a diamond hidden in its midst.”

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