“He was absolutely miraculous. His performance had the power of a healing service. It was truly divine.” – Van Cliburn
Being born blind has certainly not hindered Nobuyuki Tsujii’s journey to become one of the world’s most promising pianists. Taking the gold medal in the 2009 Van Cliburn Piano Competition, Tsujii formidable technique and incredible muscle memory allows him to sense exactly where his hands on the keyboard and tackle even the most difficult pieces in the piano repertoire. We were keen to explore how this very talented pianist learns his pieces and his views on music in general.
Your musical talent became apparent at the age of 2 years, what are your earliest memories of the piano?
There is no specific memory that stands out at an early age, but piano has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
You learn new musical works strictly by ear on special cassette tapes – what is the most difficult style or type of music to learn by ear?
As far as memorising is concerned, it may take a few listening when there are many notes and voices in a piece, such as Ravel Gaspard de la nuit, Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.3, Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3, etc. Also, atonal or rhythmically challenging pieces may take a bit more time to learn than the other pieces.
You have had to perform many pieces in the ‘canon’ of repertoire over the years – what do you like about learning or revisiting well-known repertoire?
The last time I performed Chopin Piano Concerto No.2 was with Maestro Ashkenazy in 2013. I like revisiting pieces that I have not performed in a while as I can approach the piece 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. Performing with different conductors and orchestras and at different venues obviously bring out something different even when performing the same piece, but I also look forward to how a piece develops every performance during a tour, for example.
Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
Lastly, what is one of your favourite recordings that you recommend people listen to? What is the piece, who is performing, when did you first hear it?
I started listening to vinyl records when my grandfather gave me his LP player last summer and was very much inspired by Vladimir Ashkenazy’s complete recording of Rachmaninov Piano Concertos with Andre Previn and London Symphony Orchestra, which I would recommend for everyone to listen to