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Tsujii on Chopin, Composing and Falling in Love


by Olin Chism 2 Sep 2009

Steinway has forwarded a translation of an interview that the blind Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii recently gave to a Japanese publication. Tsujii shared the gold medal in the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He’ll be returning to Fort Worth later this month to open the Cliburn Concerts series. Here’s Steinway’s release: In an exclusive […]

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Steinway has forwarded a translation of an interview that the blind Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii recently gave to a Japanese publication. Tsujii shared the gold medal in the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He’ll be returning to Fort Worth later this month to open the Cliburn Concerts series.

Here’s Steinway’s release:

In an exclusive interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, co-winner of the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, said that he hopes to capture audience’s attention with his playing, not his blindness.

Along with 19-year-old Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang, Tsujii became the first Asian winner of the competition earlier this year, a feat that still has enquiries flooding his managers.

“I was surprised,” he said when asked how he felt when he was declared the winner. “I shed tears as I gradually felt a sense of accomplishment.”

In the final round, Tsujii first played Frederic Francois Chopin’s Concerto No. 1, and two days later he played Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2.

“Since I was required to play many pieces, I struggled to prepare for that in advance, but it helped me to increase my repertoire. It was a festive concert and I received a warm shower of applause from the audience before my performance. So I was able to relax and concentrate on playing,” Tsujii recalled.

He is suited to be a performer as he feels “the more people listen to my performance, the happier I feel.”

One of his earliest performing memories is playing “Ballade pour Adeline” on a piano he happened to find at a shopping mall in Saipan during a family vacation. He was 4 years old. “A crowd surrounded me and praised me. I can’t forget that feeling.”

Tsujii began to learn piano at the age of 4. “It’s my closest friend. When I play, I feel a sense of unity with the piano.”

Since the competition, he has been busy holding concerts both in Japan and abroad and attending award ceremonies. His first album, titled “Debut” and released in October 2007, has sold 190,000 copies: unusual for a classical music CD. Tickets to most of his concerts have been sold out, and he has enjoyed popularity all over Japan.

“When I walk outside, I’m sometimes spoken to by other people. I feel the weight of the award,” he said. However, Tsujii regrets being unable to attend university classes, enjoy karaoke or have meals with friends.

The pianist suffers from microphthalmia, which has left him completely blind since birth. However, he says he has never considered himself handicapped.

“When I was a kid, I once said, ‘I’m blind,’ and my parents went quiet. So I quickly added, ‘But I’m all right because I play the piano,’ to try and console them. It’s my true feeling,” Tsujii said.

He advises children with a similar handicap to be positive and actively work on what they like.

His style is often described as “clear and transparent,” and fellow pianist Van Cliburn, who lives in the United States, praised Tsujii as a miraculous pianist. But he is still 20, and has numerous challenges to face. During the interview, he repeatedly said, “I want to accumulate more experiences in my life to improve my ability to express music.”

Chopin is Tsujii’s favorite composer. “I’m attracted by his works’ delicate and beautiful melodies and harmony. I want to be a (great) pianist so that people will say, ‘I want to listen to Tsujii’s Chopin.’ I’ve also composed music as a hobby, but I want to study hard to compose music. I also want to fall in love.

“I like a gentle woman. (Figure skater) Mao Asada is nice.”

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