16 MAY 2017

The miraculous talents of Nobuyuki Tsujii

Anyone who came to see Japanese piano virtuoso Nobuyuki Tsujii perform with us last year will know that his playing can leave you breathless.

Or, as reviewer Murray Black wrote for The Australian, Tsujii’s account of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3 “was one of the most admirable and inspiring things” he had witnessed.

"Nobu", as he is affectionately known, was born blind and began piano lessons aged two after his mother noticed him teaching himself nursery rhymes on his toy piano. He made his concert debut at 10 with the Century Orchestra, Osaka, and achieved international recognition in 2009 when he was awarded joint gold prize in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

For our musicians, performing on stage with Tsujii is extremely satisfying because his playing is so authentic.

“He’s got such an intuitive focus," explains Principal Second Violin Marina Marsden. "The music is really coming from inside him and as a musician on stage you can feel his heightened sense of touch on the keys. There is no showiness about his playing, which I personally like because it’s all about the music.”

When he's performing and rehearsing Tsujii listens for the conductor's movements, including their breathing which acts as a marker for the rhythm. In terms of approaching a new piece of music, he learns entirely by ear from separate recordings of the piece made for the left and right hand.

“As far as memorising is concerned, it may take a few listens when there are many notes and voices in a piece, such as Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.3 or Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.3,” Tsujii told Backstage News+ ahead of his performances this week. “Atonal or rhythmically challenging pieces may take a bit more time to learn than the other pieces.”

Like most concert pianists, revisiting well-known repertoire is part of the job. Tsujii last performed Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 with Maestro Ashkenazy in 2013 and says he looks forward to how a piece can develop with every airing on a tour.

“Performing with different conductors and orchestras and at different venues obviously brings out something different even when performing the same piece,” Tsujii says. “I like revisiting pieces that I have not performed in a while as I can approach these pieces with fresh eyes. I have performed and recorded many of the other works by Chopin since 2013, so I am sure my interpretation of his Piano Concerto No.2 has naturally changed during that time.”

Nobuyuki Tsujii performed Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 at the Sydney Opera House with the SSO on Friday 19 and Saturday 20 May, 2017.