Sahil Vasudeva’s hair is ringed in a halo of light. His fingers caress the Yamaha grand as his sneakers hold down the pedal. Only the truly gifted can make the piano sound like a booming drum and still seek out lyrical filigrees. Onstage, the 33-year-old is a flamboyant rockstar; the music bubbling and flowing. Offstage, he is austere and meditative. And both times, all he asks is that we listen — as he navigates his musical journey to the shore in his debut album, Qinara.
The Delhi-based pianist has been playing since the age of eight, but not until he was 25 did he pursue music full time. By then, his life had followed an unusual trajectory. His childhood in the Capital had been an unceasing round of music, theatre and sport culminating in a degree from Denison University, Ohio and a banker’s job in New York. But the music of the piano that he honed with Irina Biryukova and John Raphael at the Delhi School of Music was to be his calling.
“I had had enough of white picket fences and the American dream. I quit my job and returned to India to work in the development sector. Three years later it was the piano that won,” says Vasudeva in a phone interview, adding, “It has been a lonely journey as pursuing the arts independently is; more so, because of the nature of the instrument.”
In the beginning, he threw in theatre, mixed media and film photography in his style of presenting classical music. “Playing the piano is the happiest part of my life, but I had no clue how to convert it into a career. Pianists tend to be loners, especially those who pursue classical. It is hours of work with a very niche audience. So I decided to take it beyond the rigidity of concert halls, beyond suits and ties and questions as to when to clap and when not to. Beyond the trope of a white man at the keys.”
Vasudeva also realised that there was so much to offer his audience in terms of original piano music from India. After reimagining the works of influential composers like the American Philip Glass who said he composed to “explore a variety of tempi, textures, and piano techniques to become a better player”, he decided to launch Qinara. The album was to be recorded after it saw a well-received run at the Oddbird Theatre late last year. But with the Covid-19 pandemic playing spoilsport, he is now releasing the live concerts as a series on YouTube. “The album will still see a release later; for now there will be release on YouTube every week.”
‘Qinara’, ‘Immaterial’ and ‘Erocticadence’ flow the fine line between classical and contemporary sound. “This will be amongst the first neo-classical releases by an Indian pianist,” says Sahil.
The music is minimalistic in terms of how Vasudeva caresses the keys, but extravagant in terms of sound. With an average length of eight minutes, each piece tumbles gently like autumn leaves, charging like cavaliers on a battlefield in some sections. The melodies leap over a chasm, letting Indian and western tunes meet in a manner that is pleasing to the ear. He explores the dense complexities of modern sound with airy oscillations and repetitions. The music is rightly aimed at 20 to 40-year-olds who live in a digital landscape, and its narrative decided by light, floral notes and verses that rise and fall gently like a personal message.