Nobuyuki Tsujii

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Nobuyuki Tsujii
Nobu in Berlin, May 15 2017
Born (1988-09-13) September 13, 1988 (age 29)
Tokyo, Japan
Occupation Pianist, composer
Nationality Japanese

Nobuyuki Tsujii (辻井 伸行)| Tsujii Nobuyuki | Nobu Tsujii (born September 13, 1988) is a Japanese pianist and composer.

Early life and education[edit]

Nobuyuki Tsujii was born blind due to microphthalmia and with a great talent for music.

He exhibited an exceptional prowess for music at an early age. At the age of two, he began to play "Do Re Mi" on a toy piano after hearing his mother hum the tune. He began his formal piano study at the age of four. In 1995, at age seven, Tsujii won the first prize at the All Japan Music of Blind Students by the Tokyo Helen Keller Association. In 1998, at age ten, he debuted with the Century Orchestra, Osaka.

He gave his first piano recital in the small hall of Tokyo's Suntory Hall at age 12.[1] Subsequently, he made his overseas debut with performances in the United States, France, and Russia. In October 2005, he reached the semifinal and received the Critics’ Award at the 15th International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition held in Warsaw, Poland.[2]

In April 2007, Tsujii entered Ueno Gakuen University, graduating in March 2011.[3]


Tsujii competed in the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and tied for the gold medal with Haochen Zhang. He was also awarded the Beverley Taylor Smith Award for the best performance of a new work. He played all twelve of Frédéric Chopin's Op. 10 Études as part of his performance in the preliminaries.

He was one of the competitors prominently featured in the Peter Rosen documentary film about the 2009 Van Cliburn competition, A Surprise in Texas, which was first broadcast on PBS TV in 2010.[4]

In addition to being a pianist, Tsujii is a composer. At age 12, he performed his own composition "Street Corner of Vienna".[5] He has since released numerous albums of his own compositions. He is also a film music composer, and the 2011 recipient of the Japan Film Critics Award for Film Music Artist.

On November 10, 2011, Tsujii made a debut recital in the main hall (Isaac Stern Auditorium) at Carnegie Hall in New York, as part of the Keyboard Virtuosos II series.[6][7] Tsujii debuted at the BBC Proms on July 16, 2013 with a performance with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Juanjo Mena.[8]

Tsujii is featured in a 2013 English textbook for high schools in Japan.[9]

A 2014 film Touching the Sound, also by Peter Rosen, documents Tsujii's life from birth to his 2011 Carnegie Hall debut, including footage of his visit to the region in Japan that suffered the devastating aftermath of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

Tsujii can be seen on numerous YouTube videos. "Pianist in tears!!!. Most moving piano performance" (published 2015) has had well over 19 million views. Another video, "Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto no.2 op.18 Nobuyuki Tsujii blind pianist BBC proms" (published 2013), has had over 7 million views.

Critical reception[edit]

In Munich 2015

Van Cliburn is quoted as having told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "He was absolutely miraculous. His performance had the power of a healing service. It was truly divine."[10][11]

2009 Van Cliburn Competition Juror Richard Dyer, a chief music critic for The Boston Globe, said, "Very seldom do I close my notebook and just give myself over to it, and he made that necessary. I didn't want to be interrupted in what I was hearing."[12]

2009 Van Cliburn Competition Juror Michel Béroff, an award winning internationally known pianist, told the Japanese monthly piano magazine Chopin,[13] "The special thing about his performance is his sound. It has depth, color and contrast, the genuine music."[14]

In the documentary "A Surprise in Texas", Menahem Pressler, Cliburn juror and an eminent pianist, says: "I have the utmost admiration for (Nobuyuji Tsujii). God has taken his eyes, but given him the physical endowment and mental endowment to encompass the greatest works of piano. For him to play the Chopin concerto with such sweetness, gentleness and sincerity -- it's deeply touching. I had to keep from crying when I left the room."

Scott Cantrell in his review of the 2009 Van Cliburn competition for The Dallas Morning News wrote that "It's almost beyond imagining that he has learned scores as formidable as Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto and Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata by ear…Through all three rounds, he played with unfailing assurance, and his unforced, utterly natural Chopin E-Minor Piano Concerto was an oasis of loveliness."[15][16]

John Giordano, music director and conductor of Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra who was jury chairman for the Cliburn competition, said in 2010, "He’s amazing. We closed our eyes and it’s so phenomenal that it’s hard to withhold your tears. Nobu played the most difficult hour-long Beethoven piece (Hammerklavier, Sonata no. 29) flawlessly. For anyone, it’s extraordinary. But for someone blind who learns by ear, it’s mind-boggling."[17]

In an interview after the November 2011 Carnegie Hall debut recital of Tsujii, Van Cliburn said on TV Asahi, "What a thrill to hear this brilliant, very gifted, fabulous pianist. You feel God's presence in the room when he played. His soul is so pure. His music is so wonderful, and it goes to infinity to the highest heaven."[18]

In a 2014 review that appeared in The Daily Telegraph UK, reviewer David Fanning wrote, "...Nobuyuki Tsujii’s performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. This was not just supersonic in its tempos but remarkably clean, and also responsive to the fairy-tale poetry that sets off the steely aggression."[19]

On Tsujii's debut performance with the Munich Philharmonic on November 4, 2015, the Münchner Merkur wrote (translated from German): "At first he seems a little uncertain, but as soon as he sits down at the piano, he is like a different person. The supposed handicap turns out to be his strength: The Japanese sinks into Beethoven's fifth piano concerto. The high chords of the second movement seem to float with his feather-light touch."[20]

Upon the conclusion of a tour in Japan with Tsujii in November 2015, conductor Valery Gergiev said: "He is not only a great musician and star in Japan, he shows that the human resources are virtually limitless. He shows that there is practically nothing that a human being cannot do."[21]

Conductor Bramwell Tovey, who performed with Tsujii and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House in May 2017, made this comment: "There are lots of pianists who find Chopin baffling. But he's found a way that almost simplifies it, without simplifying any of the technical difficulties, and I mean he makes light of the technical difficulties. He has just found a way to express all of those different emotions on the journey until in the end there's just this incredible feeling of for me, sunlight. I just love playing with him."[22]

In 2017, on the tenth anniversary of Tsujii's career début, pianist/conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy commented: "Nobuyuki Tsujii is one of my very favourite young pianists. He possesses a rare combination of excellent pianism and genuinely expressive musicianship. It is always a great pleasure to work with him and I wish him a future of many wonderful concerts." And Japanese composer Takayuki Hattori wrote: (Translated from Japanese) "The music of Nobuyuki Tsujii is guileless. There is no excessive decoration. He plays the piano with a minimum amount of flourish as required by God. He is one of a few in existence qualified to play the works dedicated to the God of Music by composers. He inspires courage to live and engenders food for thought. It is a pleasure to be alive in the same era as this rare pianist." [23]

Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi, who teamed with Tsujii for the ending theme music of a 2018 film 羊と鋼の森("The Forest of Sheep and Steel"), commented: (translated from Japanese) "Mr. Tsujii is a really wonderful pianist, especially the sense of rhythm is amazing. A neat rhythm without useless things." [24]


Tsujii learns new musical works strictly by ear.

A 2009 Time article explains: "Certainly, being blind hasn't made it easy. Tsujii can use Braille music scores to learn new pieces, but this kind of translation is usually done by volunteers. Because demand is so low, the variety of scores available does not meet the needs of a professional performer, so Tsujii has devised his own method. A team of pianists records scores along with specific codes and instructions written by composers, which Tsujii listens to and practices until he learns and perfects each piece.".[25]

Tsujii said in a 2011 interview, "I learn pieces by listening, but it doesn't mean I'm copying CDs or another person's interpretation. I ask my assistants to make a special cassette tape for me. They split the piece into small sections, such as several bars, and record it (one hand at a time). I call these tapes 'music sheets for ears.' It takes me a few days to complete a short piece, but it takes one month to complete a big sonata or concerto."[26]

Performance technique[edit]

In 2017, Australian Broadcasting Corporation reporter Monique Schafter posed this question to Tsujii: "How do you stay in time when you can't see the conductor?" The pianist replied: " By listening to the conductor's breath and also sensing what's happening around me." Conductor Bramwell Tovey commented: "He must have very acute hearing, I'm sure." [22]


Since his triumph at the Cliburn Competition, Tsujii has gained prominence in classical piano music, especially in his native Japan. His Cliburn CDs, as well as other CDs recorded before 2009, are now widely available. His official Van Cliburn disc (HMU 907505) sold well over 100,000 copies in one year.[27]

Following is a list of his CDs and DVDs, most recent first:

Nobuyuki Tsujii has performed successfully with numerous orchestras under the baton of many conductors, both in Japan and abroad. Conductors that he performed with in recent years include[28] Vladimir Ashkenazy (Philharmonia Orchestra, Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa, Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin), Valery Gergiev (Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, Orchestra Teatro alla Scala and Munich Philharmonic), Vasily Petrenko (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic), Michael Sanderling (Dresden Philharmonic), Yutaka Sado (Tonkünstler Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin), James Conlon (Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra), Randall Craig Fleischer( Hudson Valley Philharmonic, Youngstown Symphony Orchestra), John Giordano (Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra), Thierry Fischer (Swiss Italian Orchestra), Vladimir Spivakov (Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra), Jean-Marie Zeitouni ( Edmonton Symphony Orchestra), Paolo Carignani (Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra), Mitiyoshi Inoue(Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa), Yuzo Toyama (NHK Symphony Orchestra ), Eliahu Inbal (Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra), Michael Collins (Sinfonieorchester Basel), Lukasz Borowicz (Poznan Philharmonic Orchestra), Kazuyoshi Akiyama (Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra), Tatsuya Shimono (Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra), Alexander Mickelthwate (Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra), Stilian Kirov (substituting for Ludovic Morlot) (Seattle Symphony Orchestra), Miguel Harth-Bedoya (Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra), Juanjo Mena (BBC Philharmonic), Arild Remmereit (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Andriy Yurkevych (Munich Symphony Orchestra), Scott Speck (Mobile Symphony Orchestra), Kaspar Zehnder (Sinfonieorchester Basel), Pascal Rophé (substituting for Marc Minkowski) (Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa), Yuko Tanaka (Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa), Michiyoshi Inoue (Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa), Ronald Feldman (Longwood Symphony Orchestra), Sylvain Cambreling (Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra), Christopher Warren-Green(Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra), Darrell Ang (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic), Marko Letonja (Orchestre philharmonique de Strasbourg), Neil Thomson(Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra), Bramwell Tovey(Sydney Symphony Orchestra), Vladimir Jurowski (London Philharmonic Orchestra), Tetsuji Honna (Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra), and Kosuke Tsunoda (Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra). Tsujii has also performed with the Takács Quartet, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

Piano concertos that Nobuyuki Tsujii has performed include[28] Piano Concerto No. 1 (Beethoven), Piano Concerto No. 3 (Beethoven), Piano Concerto No. 5 (Beethoven), Piano Concerto No. 1 (Tchaikovsky), Piano Concerto No. 3 (Prokofiev), Piano Concerto (Grieg), Piano Concerto No. 2 (Rachmaninoff), Piano Concerto No. 3 (Rachmaninoff), Piano Concerto No. 20 (Mozart), Piano Concerto No. 21 (Mozart), Piano Concerto No. 26 (Mozart), Piano Concerto No. 27 (Mozart), Piano Concerto No. 1 (Chopin), Piano Concerto No. 2 (Chopin), and Piano Concerto (Ravel). He has also performed Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

In addition to being a pianist, Nobuyuki Tsujii is a composer. At age 12, he performed his own composition "Street Corner of Vienna."[5] In 2010-2011, he composed the theme music for a Japanese film '神様のカルテ (In His Chart)'[29] as well as for a Japanese TV drama 'それでも、生きてゆく (Still We Live On)'.[30] In June 2011, Japanese figure skating champion Midori Ito performed in a world event (Master Elite Oberstdorf 2011)[31] to the music of "Whisper of the River," composed by Tsujii when he was in high school to express his love for his father after the two took a walk on the Kanda River in Tokyo.[32] Tsujii was the music director and composed the theme music for the Japanese film はやぶさ 遥かなる帰還 The Return of the Hayabusa" released in February 2012. In 2014, he composed the ending theme for the film 'マエストロ(Maestro!)'.[33] Tsujii created and performed the background music for a series of three animation of Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga scrolls produced by Studio Ghibli for Marubeni Corporation in 2016.[34]

Nobuyuki Tsujii was featured in an original short film "Lights of Japan" shown at the World Economics Summit in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2012.[35] In the film, he performed on a grand piano restored from the ravage of the March 2011 tsunami that devastated Eastern Japan.[36] Additionally, he performed in numerous charity concerts on behalf of Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami victims, including a UNESCO concert held in Paris on March 11, 2012.[37] Part of the proceeds from his 2012 'Flowers Bloom' CD goes towards Japan's earthquake reconstruction effort.[38] In addition to his earthquake relief effort, Tsujii frequently performs benefit concerts, such as for children's hospitals,[39] the Japanese Red Cross[40][41] and the disabled.[42] In the summer of 2012, Nobuyuki Tsujii contributed to a one-million rubles donation from the proceeds of an acclaimed concert, in which he performed on July 8 with conductor Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, to the victims of a flood in Kuban that occurred the night before.[43] On October 25, 2015, Nobuyuki Tsujii performed with the Longwood Symphony Orchestra in Boston, in partnership with the Japan Society of Boston and the Berklee College of Music, benefiting the Boston Higashi School and the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta.[44] On the next day, Tsujii paid a special visit to the Higashi School and "inspired children and staff alike."[45]


  1. ^ Century Orchestra Osaka website (in Japanese)
  2. ^ "Artist Profile: Nobuyuki Tsujii" - Avex Classics (classical record company) website
  3. ^ interview,Chugoku Shimbun, evening edition, April 11, 2011
  4. ^ "A Surprise in Texas: The Thirteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition", PBS, premiered Wednesday, September 1, 2010.
  5. ^ a b "辻井 伸行 Official Web Site ++ Nobu Piano. ++". Retrieved 1 January 2018. 
  6. ^ "Page Not Found". Retrieved 1 January 2018. 
  7. ^ "A Pianist’s Composition Rounds Off Debut Recital", New York Times Music Review, November 13, 2011
  8. ^ "Proms Archive > 2013; Prom 6: David Matthews, Rachmaninov & Nielsen". BBC. Retrieved 2014-12-22. 
  9. ^ "School textbooks feature 'hip' topics", The Yomiuri Shimbun, Mar. 29, 2012
  10. ^ Granberry, Michael,"Van Cliburn 2009: Piano is a passion for blind competitor", The Dallas Morning News, Tuesday May 26, 2009,
  11. ^ For the full article, see: Granberry, Michael,[1], The Dallas Morning News, Tuesday May 26, 2009,
  12. ^ NHK video(NO.2761),"心癒やす至福"の音色 ~ピアニスト・辻井伸行~", NHK(Japan Broadcasting Corporation), July 2, 2009,
  13. ^ Chopin magazine website (in Japanese)
  14. ^ Oda, Yuki, "'Nobu' Fever: Japan Falls for a Blind Piano Prodigy", Time magazine, Wednesday, November 18, 2009
  15. ^ Cantrell, Scott, in the Dallas Morning News, June 2009
  16. ^ Also quoted in the "Van Cliburn Foundation official Gold Medal Winner biography: Nobuyuki Tsujii"
  17. ^ Baird, Mike,"Japan's piano superstar will play with Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra", Corpus Christi Caller Times, Thursday October 7, 2010
  18. ^ BS-Asahi, 『奇跡のピアニスト 辻井伸行23歳 新たなる挑戦(仮)』(a Japanese TV documentary on the Carnegie Hall debut recital of Nobuyuki Tsujii), January 1, 2012
  19. ^ Fanning David, "Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Petrenko, review", The Daily Telegraph, November 21, 2014
  20. ^ Anita Svach, "Mit doppeltem Boden" Münchner Merkur, November 6, 2015
  21. ^ "Die Münchner Philharmoniker in Japan" Bavarian Classic Radio"], December 2, 2015
  22. ^ a b "Meet Nobuyuki Tsujii, the blind concert pianist who learns by ear" Australian Broadcasting Corporation, May 31, 2017
  23. ^ "Nobuyuki Tsujii "Debut 10 years" Special Concert Brochure", November 14, 2017
  24. ^ "The first collaboration of Joe Hisaishi and Nobuyuki Tsujii", March 6, 2018
  25. ^ Oda, Yuki,"'Nobu' Fever: Japan Falls for a Blind Piano Prodigy",Time (magazine). Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009
  26. ^ Foote, Alexander, "Blind piano virtuoso Nobuyuki Tsujii plays in Scottsdale", The Arizona Republic, April 19, 2011
  27. ^ Nobuyuki Tsujii Chopin CD Product Description,
  28. ^ a b "Nobuyuki Tsujii Official Web Site ++ Nobu Piano. ++". Retrieved 1 January 2018. 
  29. ^ "Pianist Tsujii Nobuyuki composes theme song for Sho Sakurai’s upcoming movie", MomoEdwood's Media Watch, April 15, 2011
  30. ^ "Eita, Mitsushima Hikari co-star in 'Soredemo, Ikite Yuku'", TokyoGraph, May 9, 2011
  31. ^ Dubko1 (12 June 2011). "Midori Ito Master Elite Oberstdorf2011". Retrieved 1 January 2018 – via YouTube. 
  32. ^ "【辻井伸行】挑戦し続ける鍵盤アーティスト!映画音楽、グルメにカーネギー…". Retrieved 1 January 2018. 
  33. ^ "‘Maestro!’ celebrates mysterious conductor", Japan Times, February 2, 2015
  34. ^ "Studio Ghibli Continues Animation of Chōjū Giga Scrolls With 3rd Ad", Rafael Antonio Pineda, Anime News Network, November 18, 2016
  35. ^ "The original short film 'Lights of Japan' for 'Japan Night' at Davos in 2012", Japanese Government Internet TV, February 3, 2012
  36. ^ 『ダボスJAPAN NIGHT から世界へ復興メッセージ小山薫堂氏が映像制作、各国のリーダーが集う会場で自然と拍手』, Japan Economics News, January 27, 2012
  37. ^ "Disaster anniversary concert in Paris", House of Japan, March 12, 2012
  38. ^ "辻井伸行: 被災地の中学合唱団と共演「素晴らしい経験できた」(Nobuyuki Tsujii: Playing with junior high school choir in the disaster area was a great experience)", 毎日新聞 (Mainichi News), August 17, 2012
  39. ^ "ピアニスト辻井さん、こども病院で慰問コンサート(Pianist Mr. Tsujii , Children's Hospital charity concert)", 長野県内ニュース (Nagano News), October 16, 2012
  40. ^ Japan Red Cross News, December 2012, Vol.871
  41. ^ Japan Red Cross 50th Blood Donation Charity New Year Concert 2015, Sony Foundation, September 6, 2014
  42. ^ "第25回ウェルフェアコンサート開催のお知らせ (The 25th Welfare Concert Announcement)", AJU (Association to Improve the Lives of People with Severe Disabilities in Aichi Prefecture), September 21, 2016
  43. ^ "The Mariinsky Theatre helps victims of the flood in Kuban", Mariinsky Theatre Press Release, July 9, 2012
  44. ^ "Community Conversation", Longwood Symphony Orchestra , August 22, 2016
  45. ^ "Acclaimed Pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii Performs; Inspired piano music wows children and staff alike", Boston Higashi School, October 26, 2015

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