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American flutist excels in Hindustani music

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American flutist excels in Hindustani music

The Economic Times, December 4, 1988

What sort of a flute solo would a Westerner give in Hindustani music? I asked this question to myself as I plodded my way to the Dadar-Matunga Cultural Centre, in central Bombay, last week-end.

The artiste wasa Lyon Leifer, a middle-aged American, based in Chicago. No less eager, no less curious was the compact audience that had gathered at the venue to listen to the visiting foreigner.

But it was not long before Leifer came to us as a discovery. Simply dressed in kurta pyjamaas, with a neatly folded uparna over his shoulders in South Indian style, he made us stare in admiration as he proceeded to render melody after melody with the quite confidence of a seasoned performer. He played them with uncanny warmth and feeling, with no hint of impressionism whatever in his effort.

Leifer’s fare covered vilambit and drut compositions each in Puriya Dhanashree (in jhaptaal and teentaal), Jhinjoti (in rupaktaal and teentaal) and Bageshree (in ektaal and teentaal). The depictions were brief. But brevity simply did not matter, because the flutist revealed a tasteful design, grace of expression and authenticity of tone, style and rhythm – all of which blended so beautifully in giving us what emerged as fine portraitures ins sculptured sound.

What also compelled our attention was the high sense of classicism that suffused Leifer’s creative effort. While the vilambits came in for serene, reposeful exploration, the druts were striking for their elegance and raciness.

Sadanand Naimpalli’s comradeship with Leifer on the tabla looked proverbial. His sangat was not only adroit and skilful, but in intimate accord with the flutist’s ideas and intuitions.

This was Leifer’s first visit to India in 18 years. He had a sojourn earlier in this country for five years form 1965 as a Fullbright scholar to study Hindustani music. Being basically a Western woodwind virtuoso, he sought tutelage with the renowned flute veteran, Devendra Murdeshwar the outstanding disciple (and son-in-law) of the late maestro Pannalal Ghosh..

The grooming was predictably arduous and rewarding, too, for it enabled the Westerner to acquire a winsome command of technique and a deep insight into the aesthetics of presentation. Which is possibly why this covetable shagirdi, which he has backed up with relentless riyaz since his return home, has stood him in good stead.

What is more, it redounds to his credit that Leifer, whose main advocation is performing and teaching Western music, has so marvelously managed to retain the innate Indianness of our music whenever he chooses to wield the hallowed bansuri for the delectation of Hindustani rasikas.

A unique achievement this, by any standard, which can be fairly summed up as symbolic of Western involvement in Indian music. Kalavardhini deserves unstinted praise for its thoughtfulness in sponsoring this concert.


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