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"Nobu Fever" lives on

April 4, 2012
 In the wake of the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the phrase "Nobu Fever" was coined by Time Magazine writer  Yuki Oda  to describe the fervor that greeted then 20-years old Nobuyuki Tsujii  upon his triumphant return to Japan.  "After Tsujii won the Gold Medal at the prestigious Van Cliburn International Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, in June," so wrote Yuki Oda in the November 18, 2009 Time Magazine article, "the young performer has been launched into the unfamiliar world of Japanese mega-stardom".  The article went on to  describe sold-out concerts, skyrocketing sales of record albums, and adoring fans. 
In a nation with a reputation for  faddishness,  the fever shouldn't last.   You can be excused for thinking that the hoopla must surely have run its course by now, three years later. 

I am here to tell you that "Nobu fever" is alive and well in Japan.  It may no longer be the adrenaline rush that it must have been in those heady days when the brouhaha first erupted, but -- trust me -- the popularity of Nobu in Japan is undiminished. 

For years now, tickets to Nobu's concerts have been all but impossible to get in Japan.   People line up for hours to purchase them,  sometimes just for the privilege of entering a lottery.  Tweeters and bloggers wrote plaintively of tickets selling out in minutes:

確かに辻井伸行さんのコンサートは物凄い競争率⁈ですね~イープラスサイトでほんの数秒で完売ですからf^_^;)本当にコンサートへ行く方々はどのように入手しているのか知りたいです~ Nobuyuki Tsujii's concerts are sold out in seconds from just a few sites ... tremendously competitive to know where and how to get these tickets.  --  Nov 18, 2011 tweet

激戦覚悟で、イープラス1本に絞って10時前にPC前スタンバイ。10時と同時に申込ボタン! With  fierce battle readiness, I focused on this one task and stood in front of the PC before 10 AM (when tickets went on sale for a Nobuyuki Tsujii recital).  -- blog post, Oct 22, 2011 

At every concert in Japan, Nobu has been performing to a packed house:
26日夜、辻井伸行さんのコンサートに行ってきました。 辻井伸行2011/12日本ツアーのファイナルが浜松でした。 浜松アクトシティの大ホールの2300席が満席、4階までいっぱいでした。... Evening of the 26 th (of March), I went to the concert of Mr. Nobuyuki Tsujii. Hamamatsu  was the last stop of his 2011-12 Japan Tour . The Hamamatsu City Concert Hall was packed full, to the fourth floor of a large hall that seats 2,300 ...
 August 11, 2012.  Tickets for the Yamaguchi 山 口 stop of Nobu's 2012-13 Japan tour went on sale this morning, and were sold out almost immediately.  Here is a photo of people lining up for the tickets, from an August 11 宇部日報  (Yamaguchi Daily News) news article
Not only do his countrymen flock to Nobu's  performances of showy concertos such as Rachmaninov No 2 and Tchaikovsky No 1 , but they  clamor for his somber recitals of Mozart and Beethoven just as much, perhaps even more.   In August 2011, two of his salon solo concerts at a Negano resort sold out in no time, commanding a princely sum of 60,000 Yen ($700) each seat (the price does include a lavish dinner).  Tickets for the same concerts  this year sold out in less than 15 minutes.

If they don't manage to go to his concerts, fans in Japan can regularly catch Nobu on TV.  Among others, there have been documentaries of Nobu in Majorca, Spain (to retrace the steps of Frederik Chopin); Venice, Italy (to compose a piece commissioned by a museum exhibition); and Antalya, Turkey (for a piano festival).  His concert performances are occasionally shown as TV specials.   Around  this past New Year day, there were two shows of Nobu's Carnegie Hall debut recital, aired on two separate major networks.  A third show was aired on the Wowow channel just this month, twice.

And Nobu's CDs , while no longer flying off the shelves, continue to sell well.   Since the gold medal, his record company -- Avex Classics --  has released no less than eight of his albums, including three of his original compositions,  some of which were composed for film soundtracks.    Even music sheets of Nobu's compositions enjoy brisk sales. 
To manage the overseas demand for Nobu's performances, Avex Classics has had to form a subsidiary, Avex Classics International, in December of 2011, with Nobu as its first artist.

In the three years since the Cliburn victory, the reverence for Nobu  in Japan  has only grown.  He is now universally referred to as 辻井さん( Tsujii-san, Mr. Tsujii) or 辻井くん (Tsujii-kun, young Mr. Tsujii).  These amusing tweets came up earlier this year:

The recital of Mr. Nobuyuki Tsujii.   Just over.   Today, the God of music swooped down.  Suntory Hall was like a chapel in grandeur  -- Feb 7 2012

21世紀は辻井伸行の時代であり、彼こそが皇帝なのだ。庶民は身の程をわきまえ、彼の下にひれ伏す必要があるだろう。21st century is the era of Nobuyuki Tsujii, he the emperor. The common people will know their place, to bow down under him.   -- Feb 13 , 2012

王 子様は辻井伸行様なんだ。庶民は黙って彼のピアノに耳を傾けたまえ。  Nobuyuki Tsujii is like a prince. The people listen in awed silence as he bestow  his piano music on them. -- Feb 11, 2012

Just how a completely blind young man who stands at barely over 5 feet manages  to capture the hearts of so many is hard to quantify.  Nobu was already a known quantity in Japan long before the Cliburn Competition.  The aura of the gold medal was undoubedly a big boost, as is good publicity.  But the longevity of "Nobu fever" goes beyond that.  Smitten Japanese fans speak fondly of the charming personality of the pianist that complements his pure and healing music.

He works tirelessly.  Frequent flying does not appear to be a problem for Nobu, who has said that he does not suffer from jet lags.  He travels all over Japan to perform in big cities as well as small towns.  He has made numerous appearances for the Japan earthquake reconstruction efforts, performing at a UNESCO concert in Paris on March 11 and appearing in an original video, "Lights of Japan" (The "Lights of Japan" video), that was shown at the 2012 World Economics Forums in Davos, Switzerland.  In April , he performed four sold-out recitals in one week in the Tohoku region,
the northeastern area in Japan that was devastated by the 2011 earthquake/tsunami, including a stop in Fukushima. 

At his recital stops in Japan, Nobu delights the audience with folksy talk about  the local delicacies -- okonomiyaki (stuffed pancake) in Hiroshima, summer peaches in Nagano, etc.  Or, with a boyish shy smile, he invites laughter by joking that he is playing the next piece to promote sales of his CDs.   Or he makes grown men weep  by uttering words such as "There is only music that I can do. I am glad I am able to finally come to Sendai and I want to share with you the power of music played with my  heart. "  He shows up at local restaurants  and shops, and have pictures taken with the happy  proprietors, thanking them and their staff for their service.

Were he sighted, Nobuyuki would most likely have followed in the footsteps of his father and his grandfather, both are physicians in Japan.  As it is, he is a healer with his music.  Hardly a day passes without a Japanese tweeter or blogger mentioning the friendly tone of his music, or its cleansing or healing power.
昨夜は辻井伸行さんのカーネギーホールまでの記録映像と本番演奏の番組を見ていました。アンコール曲「それでも生きて行く」は大震災後作曲された曲でぽろ ぽろ涙をこぼしながらの演奏には感動しました。本当に天才ですね。お酒をチビチビやりながら見ていたのですが、心が洗われる感じでした。朝起きて窓を開け ると、こんなに綺麗な雪景色が現れました。箱根駅伝の後、初詣に行ってきます。 Last night I watched a TV program with footage of Mr. Nobuyuki Tsujii' s Carnegie Hall recital . The encore "Still We Live", which he composed after the earthquake, was played with large drops of tears streaming from his eyes. He is really a genius. I sipped wine while watching, and the mind was cleansed. This morning, I woke up and opened the window to a beautiful snow scene...   -- Jan 2 blog posting

Clear sound
Recently a pianist has been heard often .
That's Mr. Nobuyuki Tsujii. The tone is superb.
Wonderful. How clear is that sound?
There is a sense of transparency to the sound. And the whisper of water
Such as the song says,  dew drops rolling off leaves
Fall scene comes vividly visible.
And it can be healing ...   The work of a genius
It is good to catch the bright light of Mr. Tsujii. -- March 19 2012 blog post

In Japan, Nobu is drawing first timers  -- the 'Hajimete" 初めて --  to classical music concerts. Even his harshest critics among the  "kura-ota"  クラヲタ (classical music nerds)  have to respect the prestige of his debut recital on the main stage of the Carnegie Hall, or his upcoming performances with  the likes of Vladimir Ashkenazy (Philharmonia Orchestra, May 2012) and Valery Gergiev (the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra August 2012).   One  appreciative blogger wrote: "辻井さんのようなピアニストがもっともっと増え、クラッシックの門を広げて下さることを願います I hope that' the fame of pianist Tsujii will rise higher and higher, and may he  please spread the gates of the classical music."

It all makes me wish that I were living in Japan to take in some of that "Nobu fever".  Here in North America, Nobu has not been seen on stage since his Carnegie Hall recital last November.  But Nobuyuki Tsujii  is returning early next year, in January and February, in stops that include Winnipeg, Canada; Seattle, Washington; and Fort Worth, Texas.  Tickets for those performances are already available.
Footnote:   The popularity of Nobu in Japan crosses age boundaries.  There is no question that he has a loyal legion of supporters in women.  But he is popular with the young as well.  In Japan, the sales of toy pianos got a jump, especially the model shown in a widely distributed photo of a 2-year-old  Noby performing to his mother's singing.   In a blog post, a Japanese father wrote that he got a toy keyboard for his son, and was wondering why the young boy played with his eyes closed and his head swaying, until it dawned on the father that the son was imitating Nobu.  

Other items of note:
A young piano competition winner  in Japan said, "In the future, I want to be like Mr. Nobuyuki Tsujii."
A 2012 English text book for Japanese high school students includes a story about Nob
A book about Nobu is on the list of 2012 summer reading for Japanese grade- 
On July 20 2012,  the book  世の中への扉 ピアノはともだち 奇跡のピアニスト 辻井伸行の秘密
"Door to the world Piano friends Secret of Miracle Pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii",  climbed to  5th on Japan Amazon's non-fiction books.