A miracle at the Cliburn

February 27, 2013  It is with profound sadness that the news came of the Passing of Mr. Van Cliburn February 27, 2013.  Click on the link to read a moving statement issued by Nobu on the death of Mr. Cliburn.

"I heard Nobuyuki during the final week of the Cliburn after hearing all the other contestants. I knew within a few minutes of his Chopin E minor Concerto that he was the best. The beauty of tone, effortless technique and natural, heart-felt expression brought even those of us who were long-time music teachers and performers to tears. I was amazed that the Dallas Morning News music critic could not hear it. Fortunately the judges had much better ears than he!"  -Comment posted on YouTube video " Miracle Pianist" Nobuyuki Tsujii
Photo above: Conductor James Conlon led Nobuyuki Tsujii back to the stage to accept further applause after his spellbinding performance of the Chopin Concerto No. 1 in the final round of the 2009 Van Cliburn Piano competition, with the Fort Worth Orchestra cheering on.  The audience in Bass Hall was on their feet instantly after the last note of the performance.  In the photo, you can see the facial expressions of many of the orchestra members, many of them in tears.

Thanks to technology, the Cliburn competition is well documented.  Here are some materials that should not be missed:

  • Cliburn performance videos, thanks to netter ballon0429..  He/has done more than anyone to spread the fame of Nobuyuki Tsujii worldwide, thanks to the videos that he/she uploaded to youTube.  
  • Cliburn Competition Performances on youTube: see: here. The youTube videos have had phenomenal viewings, and I believe are the major factor for Nobuyuki Tsujii becoming a worldwide sensation.
  • For a real treat, watch this hour-long video of Nobuyuki Tsujii's rehearsal with Conductor James Conlon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1b4bryTZf7g - you will hear Nobu's spline-tickling piano playing of the Chopin Concerto #1 and Rachmaninoff #2 without the orchestra.
  • http://www.imdb.com/video/wab/vi3768714265/ A trailer of "A Surprise in Texas" (the official DVD of  2009 Cliburn Competition) posted to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), extracted from the dramatic last part of the  DVD when Nobu was announced as a medalist.
  • Van Cliburn Foundation archive of competition webcast: there are uninterrupted videos of performances of the finalists.
  • A large collection of high-quality photos of the Cliburn Competition,  taken by staff photographer Paul Mosley of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, can be found here before they are gone . 
  • Nobuyuki Tsujii at the 2009 Cliburn, a tribute to Nobuyuki by John H. Renos that shows the Bass Hall (where the performances took place) and Nobuyuki’s chamber music performance during the semi-final round.
  • A September 2009 broadcast on The Front Row program on KUHF, a radio station in Houston, Texas, in 2009. Jade Simmons, the host of the 2009 Cliburn Competition webcast, in interviewed about the webcast and about Nobuyuki Tsujii's Houston debut concert.
  • An episode about Nobu's Cliburn win, aired on "Radio Chopin" on Dec 1, 2010, and titled "Nobuyuki Tsujii: The Blind Chopinist". 
    http://www.radiochopin.org/episodes/item/874-episode-175-nobuyuki-tsujii-the-blind-chopinist (it has misinformation about Nobu being the first co-medalist of the competition - not true; there were co-gold-medalists in a previous competition.)

The Van Cliburn Piano Competition was only the second international competition that Nobuyuki Tsujii participated in.  He was a participant in the 2005 Chopin Piano Competition in Poland, advancing to the semi-final round and was awarded the Critics' Award.  A fan in Japan wrote that Nobuyuki reportedly said he did not have fond memory of that experience.  Fortunate for us, he overcame those sentiments and entered the Van Cliburn Competition, held in Fort Worth, Texas, once every four years. The Star-Telegram (Fort Worth newspaper) reported: '"Sunday's best: "During Sunday's matinee session, Nobuyuki Tsujii, 20, from Japan wowed the crowd with fantastic fingerwork during his braruva reading of the 12 Etudes, Op. 10 by Chopin.  Tsujii is blind. "  A large photo of Nobu topped the page.  (See attachment -- my thanks to a Nobu fan in Japan for providing a scan of this article in her priceless collection.)

Nobuyuki Tsujii was already a household name in Japan, but months before the competition, Nobuyuki arrived in Texas as an "unknown" for an audition, of which this was reported: Playing “to a great silence of awe” that culminated in an “explosion of thunderous applause", the young pianist “moved many in the audience to tears.”  Nobuyuki auditioned at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, and the  his performance there created a buzz which served him well later at the actual competition. (It turns out that Nobu was not the only blind competitor at the audition - Hungarian pianist Tamas Erdi was also there - see Art and Seek 3-04-2009 article Cliburn welcomes blind pianists

Thus it was that Nobuyuki Tsujii, 20, was among the 29 competitors that arrived in Texas for the Cliburn Competition when it opened in May of 2009. 

From Tim Madigan of  the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram  (http://startelegram.typepad.com/notes_from_the_cliburn/page/5/)
Less than 25 minutes until one of the most anticipated preliminary round recitals in recent Cliburn history. Blind pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii brought the house down during his Fort Worth audition and will probably do the same tonight. Particularly impressive is his opening music, Chopin's 12 Etudes. Will he be up to the hype? We will soon know

For the preliminary round, Tsujii played Chopin’s twelve etudes (all twelve, successively), Debussy Images, Book I,  and Liszt’s “La Campanella”, wowing the audience in the concert hall as well as those who watched the webcast.  His performance of the twelve etudes prompted comments such as  I am aghast. This is a man who cannot see and he can dash off twelve of the most challenging pieces for piano, back to back to back. Puts all the rest of us to shame!”  Many also found his La Campanella astonishing.  Wrote one commenter on youTube:  "Not only is he wonderfully accurate and totally gets Liszt, he plays this a(t) the break-neck speed that Cziffra did without breaking a sweat.  I too wonder how on earth he ever learned such a complex and demanding piece,  much less all the other pieces he played at the Cliburn."

From Tim Madigan of  the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram  (http://startelegram.typepad.com/notes_from_the_cliburn/page/5/)
Nobu Mania?

Critic Chris Shull (whose unfavorable review of Nobu's La Campanella is mentioned in the documentary "A Surprise in Texas") was less enamored, obviously. But during Nobuyuki Tsujii's Chopin, I had the sensation that his two hands were producing something approaching the sound of full orchestra, such depth, richness and nuance. There was also a humility about him that made his playing all the more endearing.

After Nobu's performance, I watched Linda Yax leave Bass Hall with her hand over her heart, looking almost stricken.

"I'm overwhelmed," said Yax, who is visiting Fort Worth from Buffalo, N.Y. "I just can't believe it. He seems so young. For someone to play that way must require a special kind of talent."

Also, from Andrew Martin of  the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram:
Only minutes after Nobuyuki Tsujii's emotional performance in the lead-off program for the night session, Van Cliburn was spotted for the first time at his namesake event, just outside the East portal of Bass Hall, grabbing a quick smoke and deep in conversation with several friends. What he was talking about, as it turns out, was the singular performance by Tsujii, the contest's only blind performer and, now, clear audience favorite. "He was absolutely miraculous," Cliburn gushed. "His performance had the power of a healing service. It was truly divine." -- Andrew Marton

A 6/9/2009 Avex press release, in Japanese, announcing the victory, recorded here: Cliburn victory AVEX press release  It has detailed information about the Cliburn competition activities of Nobu.

June 07, 2009
A peek into Tsujii's final 2 days at the Cliburn
Getting personal: Nobuyuki Tsujii, the blind Japanese competitor, was winding up his post-performance chat with reporters when documentary filmmaker Peter Rosen asked him a question he wasn’t quite prepared for: “Do you have a girlfriend?” Silence. Kay Nakamoto of Bedford, professional interpreter who has been volunteering at the Cliburn, whispered to the 20-year-old pianist that he didn’t have to reply if he didn’t want to. She looked imploringly toward Furuki Kaburaki, one of Tsujii’s managers, who remained speechless. The young competitor still did not answer. Again she whispered that he need not say anything.Finally, Tsujii said, “I have no girlfriend but a friend at my school.” What is her name?, Rosen asked. “Maria.”

Ambassador of music: A surprise visitor at the stage door was former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Tom Schieffer, who told the blind Japanese competitor Nobuyuki Tsujii, “I’m really pulling for you. “Americans have really taken you to their hearts. ”It’s not known how much Cliburn clout is carried by the former envoy and onetime partner of George W. Bush in the Texas Rangers ball club. But the Fort Worth-bred Schieffer gave Tsujii a prediction that “you will have an impact on music for decades to come.”

Cowtown souvenirs: Before the awards ceremony, Tsujii said his happiest moment was receiving a pair of cowboy boots – gifts to all the competitors from Justin Boots – at the Fort Worth Zoo party for participants, where he wore a cowboy hat given him by his host family, Carol and John Davidson of Fort Worth.

Worldwide attention: Tsujii had the largest entourage of any of the competitors, and it grew. Aside from his mother Itsuko, who was permitted to stay with the host family because of his disability, a teaching assistant flew in from Tokyo, as did two managers. Then his main teacher, Tokyo-based concert pianist Yukio Yokoyama, flew in for a 24-hour whirlwind visit for some last minute mentoring. Then came the pinstripe-suited chairman of 105-year-old Ueno Gakuin University, where Tsujii is in his junior year. This weekend, a Japanese TV crew arrived to shoot the final day for the TV Asahi network. TV Asahi did a documentary on Tsujii five years ago and the Cliburn footage will be used in a new, updated version program, said Naoyuki “Nick” Asano, part of the team. -- Barry Shlachter