Listen to 11-year-old prodigy perform blindfolded on Mumbai Piano Day

Sep 30, 2017, 11:40 IST | Krutika Behrawala and Shunashir Sen

As Mumbai witnesses the second edition of Mumbai Piano Day tonight, here's a look at four bright sparks, who can brew up a musical storm with their nimble fingers

While the World Piano Day is celebrated in March, on the 88th day of the year denoting the number of keys in a piano, Mumbai witnesses its own piano day in September. A concept initiated by India's leading jazz pianist Louiz Banks last year, the second edition of Mumbai Piano Day will be held tonight at the NCPA. "March isn't a good month to hold concerts, being the financial year-ender. Also, the concert season in India begins from September. The idea behind the celebration is to offer a viable platform to talented pianists from across the country, be it aspiring or established artistes," he reasons.

Lydian Nadhaswaram plays Flight of the Bumblebee blindfolded
Lydian Nadhaswaram plays Flight of the Bumblebee blindfolded

Banks has roped in 10 piano and keyboard players, including composer Zubin Balaporia and keyboardists Stephen Devassy and Harmeet Manseta, who will regale the audience with Western classical, jazz, rock, Latin, R 'n' B, soul, funk, and fusion sounds. The line-up also includes teenagers Aalia Maskati, Rehan Bhat, Urvi Binjrajka and Rohini Sharma, along with 12-year-old Lydian Nadhaswaram.

He tells us that fortunately, the piano still holds a strong appeal among the younger generation. "For practical purposes, it is being represented in different avatars. For instance, these days, you hear less of acoustic piano and more of keyboards, mainly because the acoustic piano is not available at clubs, recording studios or at concert halls. Nevertheless, the piano legacy continues to grow in Bollywood and the indie music scene. Acoustic piano sounds are being incorporated in digital piano and synthesisers, and they are being used extensively across music spheres."

With AR Rahman
With AR Rahman

In a YouTube video, then nine-year-old Lydian Nadhaswaram seems dwarfed by a giant 88-key piano. But the keys meekly obey his little fingers, as he begins to play Flight of The Bumblebee. Composed by Russian maestro Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, the complex score is notable for its frenetic tempo but the little musician plays it perfectly, not a key out of tune.

Louiz Banks

"I practised for three days, looking up online videos, to perfect the notes," says the Chennai-based child prodigy, who turned 12 this month, and can now play this composition blindfolded. And that's exactly what he will do at the Mumbai Piano Day showcase. He will also perform a Hungarian Rhapsody by Franz Liszt and a jazz piece. "While I enjoy Western classical music, jazz is freestyle, so it gives me scope to improvise," shares Lydian, who began playing drums when he was all of two. By eight, he had also mastered the mridangam and tabla, thanks to his music composer-father Varshan. He would also play at his ad film music recordings. "Then, he came across a video of Chinese pianist Tsung Tsung and got curious about the piano. So, we brought home a second-hand piano and began his training," recollects Varshan, who has chosen to home-school his son.

Having grasped over 30 Western classical compositions, Lydian also pens original scores. While he learnt to read notation sheets from his father, he is undergoing formal musical training with various teachers. These include senior music director Augustine Paul, who helped him complete the Grade 8 exam of Trinity College London last year, and virtuosic pianist Surojeet Chatterji, who heads the Russian Piano Studio at AR Rahman's KM Conservatory. "Rahman sir has offered Lydian a scholarship to train at the institute. They first met four years ago at an event where Lydian was invited to play a drum solo," says Varshan over a call, as Lydian interjects, "We also met recently. Thanks to him, I tried filter coffee for the first time."

From Melbourne to Miami and New York, the pre-teen has travelled to various cities to perform. One such trip was to a music salon where he met a New York businessman, who gifted him a Steinway piano, made by the legendary American-German company, which costs roughly '85 lakh.

And what keeps Lydian going besides music? "Reading books on dinosaurs and playing with toy cars."

An early starter
Anurag Naidu's journey as pianist started when he was six. He's from Jamshedpur and had come to Mumbai, when Hariharan heard him play the keyboard. "He told me that I had a strong left hand and should play the piano. Soon after, I met Kalyanji [of Kalyanji-Anandji fame] and his granddaughter, who used to play the piano.

That's the first time I saw the instrument." He continues, "Next, I moved to Mumbai when I was 18 and learnt the instrument for another six years, later going to Paris to study at the Bill Evans Piano Academy." Now, the 28-year-old plies his craft with names as big as AR Rahman and Zakir Hussain, apart from Hariharan, the man who helped him start his journey.

A late bloomer
Jayakrishnan Unnithan, 29, started playing the piano relatively late, at the age of 15. Education and work brought the Keralite to Mumbai, and away from music for a while.

"But I quit my job when I was 25 to start teaching music," he says. In the process, his own proficiency increased to the extent that it got him Bollywood gigs, apart from offers to collaborate with indie legends like Ranjit Barot, Baiju Dharmarajan and Gino Banks.

His musical route might have taken a different course had he not accidentally hurt his little finger as a child. Unnithan had initially picked up the violin. But the injury led him to switch to the piano in his teens.

A constant student
Rahul Wadhwani grew up in Yavatmal near Nagpur where, in his own words, 'there was no music'. "So I picked up a toy keyboard and started playing for myself, eventually moving to Mumbai to learn from Sanjay Divecha. Later, I got a scholarship to study music at the University of Vienna, and I returned to the city once I'd finished my course," he says.

This was about a year ago, and Mumbai, says the 26-year-old, has treated him well. "If you know what you do, there are lots of opportunities here," he feels. But, he adds, the process of learning the piano never ends. "When I play with Sanjay Divecha now, I don't look at myself as a collaborator, because he is still my teacher."

On: Tonight, 7 pm
At: Tata Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.
Call: 66223737
Cost: '300 onwards

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