I was at the Carnegie Hall debut of Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii on November 10, 2011. The popularity of Tsujii in Japan was (and still is) such that no less than three Japanese TV crews were on hand for that occasion, and the presence of cameras was seemingly everywhere in the concert hall that night.
This video does not have the drama of Peter Rosen's acclaimed video "A Surprise in Texas", the documentary for the 2009 Van Cliburn International Competition, which propelled Nobu to international stardom. Just the same, it is a lovingly made tribute to the unique musical talent and indomitable spirit of Nobuyuki Tsujii.
Because I had heard Tsujii play the other works at previous concerts, the most interesting parts of the Carnegie Hall performance, to me, were the opening piece and the encores.
The recital started with John Musto's daunting "Improvisation and Fugue", performed with the composer in the audience that night. I cannot do better than quoting critic Gregory Sullivan Isaacs, who wrote thus about Nobu's performance of this piece in Texas in 2010: "It is amazing enough that he can make the wide leaps that Musto's composition requires and land so accurately. But, when you ponder that he learned this harmonically complex work note by note, without being able to see the music, the phenomenon that is Tsujii becomes something transcendental."
Of the three encores, the first was a real surprise. Titled a "Tribute to Jenny", it is an interpretation of a parlor song by American composer Stephen Foster (1826-1864): "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair". Nobu the composer chose this song as a tribute to American music, and he is proud enough of this work that it is designated his Opus 1. The second is Frederic Chopin's Raindrop Prelude. And the last one is "Still we live", Tsujii's own composition written as a requiem for the victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated his country.
There is no substitute for being at a live performance of Tsujii, especially if you are fortunate enough to see his hand movements from where you sit. Watching it on a Peter Rosen documentary is the next best thing. Even though I had a premier seat in the concert hall, I was not aware of the emotion that overwhelmed Nobu at the end of the recital, until the camera showed it so vividly on this video.
In Japanese interviews, Nobu said the Carnegie Hall debut was the most stressful experience he had in his young life. It is unimaginable the emotional turmoil that he must have gone through that night in Carnegie Hall. Learned critics may nitpick all they want, but the superb musicality and triumphant spirit of Nobuyuki Tsujii, as portrayed in this Peter Rosen video as well as in "A Surprise in Texas", will leave an impression on any viewer.
A Surprise in Texas