Nobuyuki Tsujii – 8th Wonder of the World!

I heard about Nobuyuki at the same time I heard the shocking news that NO Russian pianists took prizes during the 2009 Van Cliburn Competition.  Really?  Sad me… what about our unbeatable Russian piano schools?  How was it possible?  If not Russians, then WHO WERE THEY?

And THEY were three fantastic Asians.  Thanks to Arts San Antonio, who presented all three winners in concerts in San Antonio, I was given the opportunity to hear them live and I can confirm there was no anti-Russian conspiracy involved in selecting the winners.  I was very much impressed with the silver medalist Yeol Eum Son from South Korea, who took second place in the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow last summer as well.  The first prize went to Haochen Zhang from China.  He was the youngest of the three and despite his age, was a mature, sensitive musician.  I very much enjoyed his recital in San Antonio.

The grand prize winner, Nobuyuki Tsujii, does not fit into any existing criteria known to humanity.  It is a total wonder that he can play as well as he does being completely blind.  He was born blind, meaning he has no common concept like the rest of us about what things are (e.g. the piano keys and music notation).  He bypasses all the attributes of human language and gets directly to the sound.  His playing delivers no incorrect (or even slightly missing) notes.  Believe me, I was listening with closed eyes so I heard everything, secretly hoping to catch the slightest imperfection and… there was NOT ONE wrong note…I can testify to that.

His interpretations of Mozart offered a stereo effect.  It sounded like I was sitting in a room with four speakers in different corners of the room and each of them were playing a separate musical line at the same time.  He is 23 years old and has a long and fabulous career ahead of him.  I am sure with age and maturity there will be more lyricism and soulfulness in his phrasing…I was missing bel canto or singing legato in his melodic lines.  Liszt was wonderful… all clear passages and roulades.  Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” was clean, but not very picturesque.

For an encore, he offered his own compositions and I was expecting something very elaborate and complicated.  Instead I heard a simple melody with a simple accompaniment.  In a way it was amusing and disappointing, but then it dawned on me – this kid lives in a perfect childlike world inside his head.  He does not feel tragically deprived of the essentials most of us require; he does not know what he is missing.  God gave him the unique, wondrous abilities to hear, to learn, and to remember, and he is enjoying these abilities to the fullest and is profoundly happy.

He is personally acquainted with the most satisfying and complex music ever composed, like the late Beethoven piano sonatas, Brahms, the Rachmaninov piano concertos, and the music of His Majesty, Johann Sebastian Bach.  I guess he does not feel the torments, intellectual battles and emotional roller coasters like the great masters did.  If, after all the richness music language has to offer, he chooses to write simple songs, based on a 4-chord progression… then he is a little boy living in a perfect cartoon-like world which can be expressed through a pleasing melody and simple accompaniment.

One Response

  1. M. L. Liu says:

    Hi, Anya,
    I am in California, and this morning belatedly came upon your piece “Nobuyuki Tsujii – 8th wonder of the world!” , which must have been written after Nobu’s Carnegie Hall debut.

    I was at the Carnegie Hall on Nov 10, and I regret that I did not have the pleasure of reading your piece until just now. But I feel compelled to write in response to your thoughtful piece, if belatedly
    I am a very big fan of Mr. Tsujii – I have an unofficial website for his international admirers as well as a facebook page for him.

    Needless to say, I share your admiration for Nobu’s piano playing. It has been three years since I became — well — addicted to his music, and 10 CDs and 8 live performances later, I love it more than ever.

    But I wish to respond to your comments on the compositions of Nobu. Your view point expressed in the article is very typical of that of the Western listeners. I am Chinese-American and although I lean towards traditional classical music, I have come to appreciate Nobu’s original music. You, as well as some reviewers have noted the lack of pathos in Nobu’s music (and his interpretation.) But from what I have seen, that is precisely why Nobu is so beloved in his own country, not necessarily because he lives in a “cartoonish world”, as Japan is often perceived, but because of his innate optimism and purity.

    Perhaps because of his blindness, Nobu is unencumbered with the hatred and bitterness that plague so many. I have been following postings — in Japanese and otherwise — on the web about Nobu religiously, and this perception of his purity and optimism may account for his huge popularity in Japan, which has not subsided since his Cliburn win. Nobu’s music may sound simplistic to Western ears, but that is precisely why it stands out. And if you are willing to listen to it with an open mind, you may discover in it a grace and tenderness that — as often mentioned in Japanese postings — is healing.

    I personally think Nobu’s compositions will have a place in history.

    In any case, thank you for a thoughtful piece about my beloved Nobu and best wishes to “Musical Bridges around the World”.

    Warm regards,
    Mei-Ling Liu