WATCH: $1 million prize money for Chennai boy Lydian Nadhaswaram on The World’s Best Season 1
It is true when they say some people are born for greatness. At 13, Chennai’s Lydian Nadhaswaram is already a young star pianist after having done what most people of his age can only dream of. Lydian became an overnight star when a video of him playing a Steinway grand piano at lightning speed on the US talent show The World’s Best went viral. Why so, you may ask? The child prodigy from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu played the piano at 325 beats per minute! His performance left judges, Faith Hill, RuPaul Charles, Drew Barrymore and show host James Corden, absolutely dumbstruck.
Within two weeks of that performance, he appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show and showcased his skills there too by playing the piano blindfolded! Little did he and everybody around him know that it was only just the start because Lydian later also went on to win The World's Best title on March 13, bagging prize money of USD 1 million. We met with a visibly happy Lydian for a chat at KM Music Conservatory, where he was felicitated by none other than AR Rahman. Lydian started by talking about how confident he was on the day of the final performance. He said, “I wasn’t really nervous on stage because I liked performing for the people.” Rahman, who was seated next to him, chips in, saying, “As an artiste, I believe Lydian is very confident because he started at a very young age; therefore he already loves performing. That is a really good sign and I believe he will go on to do greater things,” Rahman adds.
From beats to keys
Lydian's journey started quite early - at the age of two, the Chennai boy says he was immediately drawn towards the drums, however, it was only four years ago that he started playing the piano when he saw his sister play the instrument at home. Counting his elder sister Amirthavarshini and father Varshan as his inspiration, it was not long before he joined AR Rahman’s KM Music Conservatory. “At the Conservatory, I started by playing the tabla but I was always interested in other instruments too and even visiting the sound production room,” says an excited Lydian. Interestingly, Lydian also has a unique story to his name given to him by his father. “When I was born, my dad was attending a music class, where he was learning the Lydian mode scale. So he decided to name me after that,” Lydian tells us. His surname too is inspired by a musical term - a South Indian double-reed wind instrument called nadhaswaram. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the name was actually the start of a long musical journey.
The boy wonder added that he started learning the piano under the tutelage of eminent Indian pianist Surojeet Chatterji at the Russian Piano Studio in the Conservatory. Being home-schooled, Lydian currently spends six hours practising the piano and moves on to playing the mridangam, drums and several other instruments, which are clearly his primary sources of entertainment, because he does not have a television set in his house. Lydian’s tryst with fame started when his father Varshan Satish’s friend moved to CBS, the same television network which broadcasted Season 1 of The World’s Best. Seeing promise in the 13-year-old Lydian, she advised his father to let him audition for the show and the rest, as they say, is history.
Dance of the fingers
While Lydian does play a lot of pieces, he shot to fame playing Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee on The World’s Best. The Mini Maestro (as he is referred to on online platforms) first performed the piece at 150 bpm, before he asked Drew Barrymore to set the metronome (beat recorder) to 208 bpm, which also happens to be the last manual metronome. However, staying true to his skills, he took it up a notch higher to play at a mind-boggling 325 beats per minute, leaving the audience dumbfounded. With fingers moving so fast on the keyboard, we couldn’t help but ask if Lydian does any special finger exercises, to which he simply adds that all he does are the regular finger exercises and we are left amazed! While Lydian has been playing the piano for a while, using the metronome seemed a rather unique addition to the performance for us. However, when we ask him about it, Lydian, shedding light on its use, says that it occurred to him to use the metronome because he used it while playing the drums, as it is used for rhythm instruments and that is how he started practising with it.
Money on the beats
Lydian’s performances are always a joy to watch, and in the three videos that have been circulated online, he has shown exceptional talent, performing some of the toughest pieces for a pianist his age. At the pre-finals, the multi-instrumentalist played Beethoven’s very popular Moonlight Sonata, along with the drums, and clearly left the best performance for the last. Down to the last four, Lydian played Beethoven’s Fur Elise and Chopin’s Étude at the finals on two separate pianos at the same time. which won him the award.
A musician is incomplete without his instruments and that got us eager to know about the magnificent piano he has been practising on for the last few years. “I own a black Steinway piano, which I received as a gift in 2017 from Michael Novogratz from New York,” he says about the billionaire American investor, who must definitely be proud of him now. With an award already in his kitty, Lydian does not intend to slow down. He is currently practising Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu and wants to play it on the bigger stage sometime soon. The performance will hopefully be at 350 bpm, which he tells us he already knows how to play but there are not many pianos which can suit the speed!
Watch his other performances here