September 29, 2011
What a summer Nobu has had! Back in June, I lamented that the Nobu fever in Japan might have -- as to be expected -- subsided and that his popularity in Japan was on the wane. My admiration for Nobu never waivered, but I admit that my faith in his continued successes did.
Although he performed in only a handful of concerts, they won raves. There were two Beethoven "Emperor" concerto performances in June, a Tchaikovsky Concerto No 1 performance with the prestigious NHK Symphony Orchestra in early September, and two beloved duo recitals with Korean female pianist Yeol-Yum Son in mid-September. In August, he gave two sold-out salon concerts at a famous resort in Nagano, performing his own compositions and, as encores, Chopin. And just in the last few days, he went on a mini-tour with the OEK (Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa) and charmed the audience and the orchestra alike.
For a while, Nobu was all over Japan's media, making numerous appearances on TV and Radio, including a memorable interview on Tokyo FM with famed Japanese singer-composer Yumei ("sweet discovery" Tokyo FM July 31 2011). His post-vacation sun-tanned live appearance on Fuji-TV on August 25 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzKoKFHW_rY) was so popular that he was ranked number two on Japan's googleTrend soon after the show aired.
On September 25, in addition to his Mozart performance in the city of Matsue, there was a radio broadcast of his duo concert with Ms. Son (Nobuyuki Tsujii - Yeol Yum Son joint concerts, Sept. 2011), and then there was a telecast of his Tchai 1 performance with the NHK (9-25-11 N-hope concert broadcast) that drew tremendous attention in Japan.
Nobu himself likely considers his biggest successes this summer to be the theme music that he composed for a movie, "God's Medical Chart", and an album released in July of his original compositions that include the theme music. In Japan, the movie and his CD are both hits, and book sellers can hardly keep in stock a publication of sheet music of his compositions. I am the proud owner of a copy each of both of his movie and TV theme music CDs, and I am happy that both CDs have grown on me, a testament to Nobu's composer skill. (See Nobu's Songs: "Nobuyuki Tsujii Works 2000-2011" CD; Still, We Live" Sound Track - My take.)
At this particular point, Nobu's popularity in his own country appears to have risen to an all-time high; the adulation for him has only intensified after a spectacularly successful summer. In Japan, almost everything he touches turns to gold -- concerts, TV appearances, CDs, books, compositions. But what is the most gratifying to me, as an outsider looking in, is a change in the tone of the admiration for him from his own countrymen.
This was the first summer that I followed Nobu's activities, and never did I expect the many pleasures coming from across the Pacific Ocean. I was able to view or listen to almost all of the excellent broadcasts, thanks to some kind people in Japan and also to the technical wonder of Keyhole TV. I can hardly believe my good fortune to get to see one after another breathtaking shows: the Takashi "Art Beat" Show in June (The "Takeshi Art-Beat" show - June 8 2011), a charming live interview on Fuji-TV in August (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzKoKFHW_rY); then, in September, the Beethoven "Emperor" broadcast ( Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto - June 2011) , the joint-concert broadcast (Nobuyuki Tsujii - Yeol Yum Son joint concerts, Sept. 2011 ), and the N-Hope Concert Broadcast ( 9-25-11 N-hope concert broadcast) -- it just doesn't get any better than that! I cannot imagine broadcasts like these in my own country -- and with such quick turn-around! Words cannot describe the happiness that they have given me.
During these "quiet" months,there were days when I could barely keep up with the news and activities. Twitter has been a great help. The Japanese obviously love crafting these verbal gems, not surprising for a people who invented haiku. I am addicted to the steady stream of tweets about Nobu flowing from Japan (and occasionally from elsewhere); some days they come in a trickle, other days -- when there is a concert or a broadcast of something -- in a torrent. Incidentally, they are great for learning the Japanese language.
Then there are the blogs. And how the Japanese people do love to blog. A typical google search yields scores of entries with mentioning of Nobu -- sometimes from the last 24 hours alone. These are lovingly made, well-tended affairs. The prose in these blogs are often poetic, which frankly makes translation using automated tools a royal pain -- given that the Japanese language has no rigid sentence structure and the semantics is context-dependent. But what a pleasure once the meaning of these musings is deciphered.
In these web postings, I saw gems that I so cherished that I have taken to collecting them on a page on this site, Notable Web Postings. And after a couple of months of indulging myself in these web postings, I now have a good sense of how Nobu's own countrymen perceive him. There is still plenty of mentioning of "blind genius" 盲目の天才 whenever Nobu is written about, but more and more I am seeing him being mentioned with admiration for his goodness and his genius. This one, for example, made me smile: "辻 井伸行は超天才でまるで天使のようだな。 Nobuyuki Tsujii seems to be totally an angel with a super genius." Another one: "最近辻井伸行にはまっている Recently addicted to Nobuyuki Tsujii ".
Even more interesting to me are the many blog entries that revealed how some people in Japan have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of Nobu's classical piano performances, such as this one from the principal oboist of the NHK Orchestra: "ところで、今日初めて共演（リハ）させていただいた辻井伸行さん、チャイコフスキーの協奏曲、いや本当に素晴らしい演奏で驚きました！！！音楽の流れ、表情、迫力、音色、合わせて行く力と想像力。明日本番（Ｎ響チャリティー：1７時からNHKホール）楽しみです。 By the way, rehearsal of Tchaikovsky;s Concerto for the first time today with Mr. Nobuyuki Tsujii I was surprised at the really great performance! ! ! The flow of music, expression, and power, tone, strength and creativity go together. Performance tomorrow (Charity Symphony N: NHK Hall, from 17:00) will be fun."
Another blogger wrote, after the "Emperor" broadcast, "井は、言うまでもなく、09年、第13回ヴァン・クライバーン国際ピアノ・コンクール で日本人として初めて優勝した盲目のピアニストである。しろちゃんは、これまで、辻のピアノを真剣に聴いたことはなかった。やはり、心のどこかで、盲目と いうことが引っかかっていたのだろう。ヴァン・クライバーン・国際コンクールは演奏者が盲目であろうが、なかろうが、採点には関係ないのだが、盲目という ゲタが履かれているのではないかと思ってしまう。なんとも卑しい考えだが、彼のこの「皇帝」を聴き、そんな考えが吹き飛んでしまった。Well, of course, Nobuyuki Tsujii is the blind Japanese pianist who won the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2009. I have until now not listened to Tsuji 's piano seriously. After all, in my heart I worry about his being blind. Even though the officials of the Van Cliburn Competition stated that his blindness does not affect the competition's outcome, I thought that the clogs of the blindness may be worn <that is, Nobu was standing on his blindness -- i.e., his blindness got him the gold medal>. It was a very vulgar thought; but I listened to this performance [the "Emperor"] of his, and such a thought has vanished ...".
I asked a knowledgeable Japanese blogger (http://shinmm.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/2011/07/post-a73c.html ) why even people who are clearly familiar with classical music in Japan are surprised by just how good Nobu is, and his take is that Nobu's classical piano is not presented properly in Japan, where documentaries about Nobu only show such performances in bits and pieces, and complete performances (such as the recent broadcast of the "Emperor") are shown very late at night.
There may be another reason. I detect in some Japanese an attitude not uncommon among Asians: an unwarranted disdain for people from their own culture and an inflated regard for Westerners. Case in point: soon after an obscure TV show aired in August "Japanese power" http://www.ytv.co.jp/japan_power/, on which 53 people were named as the "pride of Japan" 日本人が誇る日本人 -- Nobu came in at no. 39 -- someone tweeted (in Japanese) and proclaimed something to the effect that it is laughable for Nobu to be named when the great pianist Mitsuko Uchida is not included. I could not refrain from butting in and tweeted back that "Tsujii was brought up and lives in Japan; Uchida was brought up and lives in Europe." I suspect there are many people in Japan, like this tweeter, who never really listen to Nobu's music seriously, simply because he's home-grown.
But signs are that true esteem for Nobu is on the rise in Japan, and he may be deservedly receiving belated but increasing recognition as a world-class premier pianist, even from the "kura-ota" (self-appointed classical music critics) in Japan.
And so these summer months have not been uneventful at all! In fact, as much as I had longed to see Nobu come back to my country, I now cannot help but view his return with a tinge of regret. Because the truth is, I have seen how Nobu shines in his own country, where he is obviously well cared for and truly beloved. I am fortunate that when Nobu tours in this country I get to see him in person, but I have also seen first-hand the hardship that he has to endure while away from home.
The Japanese has a special word for business journeys, 出張 (shutchō). as opposed to other trips 旅行. I suspect that to Nobu, touring outside his country is considered a shutchō, a duty to be endured in order to attain his ultimate goal of achieving success worldwide. People in Japan would be aghast to know what Nobu and his manager(s) have to endure while on the road. When he is in this country, Nobu is in a different world. He is away from the comfort of his Tokyo home. No longer will he be recognized everywhere he travels. It gave me a pang when his manager Fuyuki Karburake once said to an American reporter: "In Japan, everybody knows Nobu and wants to help ...", implying that such is not the case in the U.S.
Even though his final destination on this U.S. tour is the venerated Carnegie Hall, the other stops are not as glamorous. In fact, they are all small venues hardly considered top-tier in this country -- you would not likely find Evgeny Kissin performing at these places. And, the economy being what it is, concerts -- and classical concerts especially -- are having a hard time drawing audience in this country. These U.S. concerts of Nobu will likely have plenty of empty seats. It hurts me to say this, but the two concerts (in California and Ohio respectively) where Nobu will perform with an orchestra have resorted to offering programs that frankly smack of desperation. The Oct 15 Bakersfield concert will have the orchestra play Dvorak's Carnival Overture and Gershwin's Porgy and Bess before Nobu takes the stage to perform Rach2, and the Ohio concert, on October 22, will have Nobu play Chopin's Piano Concerto No.1 between the William Tell Overture and -- gasp -- a medley of Hollywood theme music.
I can already see Nobu hugging his ha-ha (mother) to say good-bye before he bravely soldiers on with his faithful manager, heading to the Narita airport to start this tour. He will leave his heart in Japan. The silver lining is that there will be a Japanese presence at least at the Carnegie Hall, where an organized tour group is expected to travel from Tokyo in support of Nobu at his debut recital. I would not be surprised if ha-ha (mother) and perhaps even his father may also be there. And I hope a Japanese TV crew will be there to film the performance.
For me, it will be so good to see Nobu on stage again. I can hardly wait, and I will use tweets, facebook and this site to report what I can about the tour. It's the least that I can do in reciprocation, for all the good people in Japan who have given me so much. See 2011 Nobuyuki Tsujii 辻井伸行 Fall America Tour
**Nobu has in fact not just stayed in Japan all summer. In June, he traveled to Venice, Italy, for his original composition for the Edo Tokyo Museum "Art Exhibition Venice fascinating World Heritage - City of a thousand years", which opened on Sept 23. In addition, Mr. Masahiro Kawakami, Nobu's long-time piano teacher, who visited Nobu at his N-Hope concert on Sept 4, said he was taken aback by the hectic schedule of Nobu during the summer, which included monthly trips to the U.S., presumably to prepare for the Carnegie debut. Nobu also vacationed with his family in Okinawa, sporting a suntan upon his return which made him all the more endearing when he appeared on Fuji-TV on August 25. This month, he performed in Seoul, Korea, on Sept 15, with Ms. Yeol Yum Son.