The Rise of a Musical Prodigy: Ayaan Deshpande’s Journey to the Golden Key of Vienna Music Festival

All of nine years, Ayaan Deshpande from the SOI Music Academy has performed with the SOI Chamber Orchestra, given solo piano recitals and is all set to give his next in the land of Mozart as the winner of the Golden Key of Vienna Music Festival. The prodigy is being carefully nurtured by the SOI Music Director and teachers to share his gift with the world.

Celebrations are in order as Ayaan Deshpande, a student of the SOI Music Academy, has been chosen as the winner of the Golden Key of Vienna Music Festival this year. After receiving his diploma and medal, he will be performing at the Winners’ Gala Concert held at the majestic Ehrbar Hall in Palais Ehrbar in August. The concert hall has witnessed performances by the greats of Western classical music, including Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler. In addition to the Gala Concert, Deshpande has been invited to perform in a public recital dedicated to Mozart at the Bӧsendorfer Hall in Mozarthaus. Having also won the second prize in the composition category, he will perform at the World Composers’ Concert in addition to taking masterclasses with professors from the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts.

The news comes as testament to something that those in the Western classical music community at the NCPA knew all along: Deshpande has a gift and it ought to be shared with the world. The nine-year-old wunderkind’s love for music began at the tender age of five when he started learning vocal Indian classical music. It was only in 2020 that his natural flair for the piano was discovered. Through the many lockdowns induced by the pandemic, he developed an interest in learning to play the instrument and started off with a 61-key keyboard. Amazed by his grasp of music and the sheer desire to play, his parents—Tanmay and Ashwini Deshpande—were compelled to enrol him on a music education programme that could give him wings.

Deshpande joined the SOI Music Academy in May 2021 and has been learning the piano under the nurturing tutelage of Aida Bisengalieva since. Although their first meeting had to be a virtual one, Bisengalieva recalls noticing even then that he was different. He learned musical grammar in no time and his repertoire now includes composers like Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Chopin.

“He has a good pitch and brilliant memory with a natural command of the instrument. These are all pieces of a puzzle that when put together make the portrait of a good pianist. Kids get tired sooner and can often be distracted, but Ayaan displays profound interest and attention. He has the simplicity of a child and the seriousness and strength of a grown-up. It is very rare,” Bisengalieva tells us.

Their unique student-teacher relationship has also broadened his horizons as a musician. Deshpande knows his taste in composers and has already composed a sonata, a waltz, a nocturne and a few other pieces. “I have been teaching piano for 40 years, and with experience, I know that only kind words and patience can help kids grow. With Ayaan, my role is to support him and make him believe that he is exceptional,” Bisengalieva elaborates.

Bisengalieva does not fail to commend the devotion and commitment of the little pianist’s parents. Prioritising his music education is a part of the smallest of their decisions. They homeschool him so that he can focus on his training within flexible hours. Their overwhelming support is also felt in their attendance at the many concerts and recitals at the NCPA. “After every concert, I can see him all inspired. Listening to new music and compositions encourages new ideas in him, so we make sure we take him to every concert,” says Ashwini.

With a quiet demeanour and gentle fingers on the keys, his commanding presence onstage is nothing like his delicate frame. His first public performance was at the Tata Theatre in November 2021, with the SOI Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Marat Bisengaliev. In July 2022, Deshpande gave his first solo piano recital in an intimate set-up on the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre stage with the audience seated around him. He performed works of Mozart, Chopin, Debussy and one of his own compositions, leaving the listeners stunned, even emotional. His subsequent recital at the Poona Music Society in August, where he performed the diverse programme to a packed hall, was met with love and thunderous applause.

Speaking about Deshpande’s prowess, Bisengaliev says, “I’m always shocked at how he plays all the octaves with his tiny fingers. What distinguishes him from other prodigies is that he is the music.” It is this belief in his musicality that reflects in the SOI Music Director and academy founder’s encouragement of the budding pianist through performance opportunities and enabling of masterclasses with renowned international pianists.

Deshpande’s debut on the prestigious stages of Vienna is, therefore, not only a matter of pride but a step forward in showcasing the growth of Western classical music education in the country. His audition, where he played Impromptu No. 1, Op. 29 by Chopin, was unanimously appreciated by the jury. “You are a very gifted young musician who is also perfectly educated. You exposed a great palette of dynamic and agogic nuances, beautiful tone colours, singing legato, and very impressive phrasing for the melody, especially via the middle section…” reads the invitation congratulating him.

Mr. Khushroo N. Suntook, Chairman, NCPA and co-founder of the SOI, speaks of the importance of the delicate handling of such talent. “Young Ayaan is a formidable talent. His innate musicianship and interest in classical music is in itself a great contributor to his present abilities. It is sincerely hoped that he will be led wisely and not too quickly so that the full bloom of his maturity emerges at the right time.”

This piece was originally published by the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, in the March 2023 issue of ON Stage – their monthly arts magazine.