All of nine, pianist Ayaan Deshpande has performed at prestigious concert venues, including Vienna’s historic halls where great composers such as Brahms, Bruckner, and Mahler once performed.
Having no family background in Western classical music, his entry in the field was somewhat unexpected. He began learning Hindustani classical vocal music at five, but his interest in Western classical music developed when he started playing the keyboard during the Covid-19 lockdown. In May 2021, his parents enrolled him in the piano course at the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) Music Academy housed in the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA). Since then, Ayaan has had a phenomenal journey as a concert pianist and composer.
Born in Tokyo and brought up in Mumbai, Ayaan had his first public performance in November 2021 at the NCPA, accompanied by the SOI Chamber Orchestra. Around the same time, he had his first solo recital, performing pieces by Mozart, Chopin, Debussy, and some of his own compositions.
Pianist Aida Bisengalieva, who has taught Ayaan over the last couple of years, says that he possesses a level of maturity and deep understanding of music that is unusual for someone his age.
“I have been teaching the piano for 40 years, and he is my first student of such calibre. I have seen a lot of talented, good students. But they are in one group. Ayaan is in a league of his own. What other children do in one week, he does in 10 minutes,” says Bisengalieva, noting that the boy approaches music with a level of depth and intelligence that is remarkable.
“When I practise with him, I am surprised by how he absorbs everything.”
Ayaan’s Austria tour earlier this year followed his selection in the Golden Key Music Festival, held annually in New York and Vienna for student musicians.
He has performed at the historic Ehrbar Hall, a mesmerising 19th-century performance space, and Mozarthaus, where Mozart lived in the 1780s. “Ayaan was the youngest among 25 participants in Vienna. Everybody liked his playing, phrasing, and conception of pieces,” says Bisengalieva.
The boy has come a long way in a short span of time. “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.
His father, Tanmay, who is an associate professor of mathematics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), adds: “We have been homeschooling Ayaan since April last year so that he gets more time for music without compromising on his play time.”
“He is passionate and intelligent and we believe that he will do well in whatever field he may choose. He likes mathematics and history, and loves to learn about animals and wildlife.”
In addition to his piano skills, Ayaan has also composed several pieces, including a piano quintet, a sonata, a nocturne, and a waltz.
The Deshpande family, who primarily speak Marathi at home, live on the TIFR campus in Colaba, Mumbai, and have flexible work hours to accommodate Ayaan’s busy schedule.