Call of the bansuri: Flautist maestro Lyon Leifer to perform open 'baithak' in Mumbai
Mumbai, January 23: The bansuri has enchanted the human spirit since time immemorial.
Known as the ‘Adi Vadya’ or primordial instrument, its sonorousness and portability has captivated listeners from around the globe.
The bansuri is known to be the world’s most popular Indian instrument, which has drawn students from diverse nationalities.
One of the most successful exponents of the instrument from beyond India’s boundaries is Lyon Leifer.
Also renowned as a Western classical flautist, the American bridges the gap between the two diverse strains.
Having learnt under renowned maestros like Chicago’s Walfrid Kujala and Julius Baker at New York’s Juilliard School, he began with playing at the St Louis Symphony Orchestra.
After a tryst with Hindustani music, he remains one of the world’s leading bansuri exponents.
It began in New York around 1963, when Leifer was exposed to recordings of Hindustan music, namely Ustad Bismillah Khan’s shehnai, sitar recitals by Ustad Vilayat and Imrat Khan and a few others, which included the bansuri.
After acquiring a USIEF grand, he travelled to India to study under the respected maestro Pandit Devendra Murdeshwar, with whom he developed a close and affectionate rapport.
“He gave me daily taleem in the guru-shiya parampara manner, but in modern terms. He helped get my scholarship extended and renewed by enabling me to perform raga music in a short time, arranging my public performance, getting critics to come and write, all of which made the value of my ongoing study apparent,” Leifer recalls.
Having studied the authentic style of the bansuri’s legendary pioneer Pandit Pannalal Ghosh, Leifer passionately speaks about the maestro’s contribution to the instrument.
“Pannalal ji is the lodestar of the bansuri. Every player agrees. Without him there would be no bansuri as a concert instrument in Hindustani music,” he says.
Pandit Ghosh elevated the bansuri, originally a folk instrument, to the level of concert instruments like sitar or sarod.
He even invented the large bansuri and made hallmark technical innovations to enhance its sound and tonality.
How does Leifer juggle between two very different styles, Western and Hindustani?
“It’s like switching gears,” he smiles, attributing his understanding of the soul of music to his deeply musical background and upbringing.
“Picking up and practising the proper instrument at this point just seems to let me play with a necessary sense of style, and to be expressive in the terms of each genre,” he explains, adding that learning raga music was harder for him, as he wasn’t born in its culture and sound world.
But the patience of his guru and the appreciation of his listeners, he believes, have deeply encouraged him.
Leifer relates to the sound of the bansuri spiritually. He finds the sound deeply affecting.
The flute, he explains, is one of the world’s oldest and most widespread instruments.
In his own words, “I feel a strong connection between what I hear in the greatest players’ music, especially Pannalal ji’s and that of my guru, and my own deepest emotionality and innermost strivings”.
Lyon Leifer will be performing at Mumbai’s prestigious Sangit Mahabharati Conservatoire on January 29 at an open to all ‘baithak’.