Thanks to the good grace of a long-time Nobu fan in Japan, I received videos for a 2-hour TV documentary shown in Japan in December 2005 about his participation in the Chopin Competition. It is an excellent show that include several complete performances, as well as interesting interactions between Nobu and his mother Itsuko, his teacher Mr. Kawakami, and the media. The documentary reflects the popularity of Nobu in Japan even as early as 2005; Nobu did not reach the final while two Japanese pianists who placed fourth that year did not get that much attention.
Before the 2009 Cliburn Competition, Nobuyuki's only other international competition experience was the 2005 Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland, home of his beloved Frederik Chopin. In the video 4000 days of Nobuyuiki Tsujii (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlETVnkCTCw - no longer available, unfortunately), there are brief scenes (2:45 - 4:00) of him, accompanied by his mother and long-time piano teacher Masahiro Kawakami, at the competition. His performance of a mazurka at the competition can be seen in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jo-l4bCOJns, and in the video Miracle Pianist (http://www.youtube.com/my_favorites?feature=mhum) there is a poignant scene of Nobu, accompanied by his devoted mother, reaching up to touch the statue of Chopin while in Poland (see photo above).
"Nobuyuki became famous in Poland during the competition, so he got many requests to give concerts while he was there. But he didn't say yes to any of them except for the one at the school for the blind." Nobu said "I was happy to perform there and I want to do this kind of things all over the world." In that competition, two Korean pianist (brothers) tied for the 3rd prize and two Japanese pianists tied for the 4th prize. One of the Japanese pianists, the winner and Nobu were the only ones who had their own CDs made (of their performances at the competition). (That shows how popular Nobu was.) (Nobu's teacher) Mr. Kawakami's old blog entry (http://www.cam.hi-ho.ne.jp/pianistas/diary2005_10.htm) says that too, but it seems like so many people complained about Nobu not advancing to the finals - I've read people called up even from the countries like Portugal or Canada to complain. I think those people had great ears!"
The website of the competition is still available here: http://konkurs.chopin.pl/en/edition/xv And here are a few photos from that page:
Unfortunately, his competition stopped after the second round, while a number of other Japanese pianists advanced, including Takashi Yamamoto, who finished fourth in the final. In the end, Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz was the winner of the competition, with no second prize awarded. Yeol-Eum Son, the Korean silver medalist at the 2009 Cliburn, also advanced to the final but did not medal.
Judging from the footage and the recordings, Nobuyuki was astoundingly accomplished in 2005, although he had yet to develop the stage presence that he acquired by the time of the Cliburn Competition in 2009. His performance in Warsaw(judging from the video of his mazurka) seemed mirthless, compared to his performance at the Cliburn Competition. The enthusiasm of the American audience at the Cliburn might have made a difference as well - who knows?
But Nobu did not go away from the competition empty-handed. He was awarded the Critics' Award, and a very special honor in that his complete performance in the first two rounds was included on a CD devoted completely to him, among a souvenir set of 15 CDs issued by the competition. Only the eventual winner and the aforementioned Takashi Yamamoto were accorded the same honor. There is an article that appeared in MusicWeb International that described this CD set in details: http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/dec06/Chopin_15th_DUX0068_DUX0066.htm In this article, Nobu's performance was not reviewed very favorably. It would be interesting to see what the writer think of Nobuyuki Tsujii now.
In retrospect, that decision of the competition to issue a CD of a contestant who did not even advance to the final round seems particularly prescient, in view of what subsequently took place in 2009 and thereafter. Furthermore, the Victor Inc. of Japan had the foresight of packaging those performance tracks in a CD, now known as Chopin Piano Works, Nobuyuki Tsujii, re-issued in 2009 in the wake of Nobu's Cliburn win. I bet that CD has netted Victor Inc. quite a few belated but deserved yens. Funny how things work out in life! I do know that I have been enjoying listening to the two discs in this album since I purchased them from http://www.cdjapan.co.jp/ in early October.
Following is another article about the competition that I found. It was apparently published by the Polish Consulate (in the U.S.?). It is interesting to note how sympathetic the article is to Nobuyuki.
Polish Consulate News from Poland 10/18/2005
Two Poles among 12 finalists in (2005) Int'l Chopin Piano Competition
Oct. 17: Two Poles, Rafal Blechacz and Jacek Kortus are among 12
pianists who qualified for the 15th International Frederic Chopin
Competition final. The final stage of this prestigious competition is
starting Tuesday to run till the coming Friday. The name of the winner
will be announced on October 21. Six prizes will be awarded to six best
finalists and the First Prize winner will receive the Gold Medal and 25
thousand USD. The competition will wind up three days later. Japanese
pianists constitute the most numerous group in the final. They are:
Rieko Nezu, Yuma Osaki, Shohei Sekimoto and Takashi Yamamoto. Next come
three pianists from South Korea - Dong Hyek Lim, Dong Min Lim and Yeol
Eum Son, Ka Ling Colleen Lee of China Hongkong, Rachel Naomi Kudo of the
USA and Andrei Yaroshinski of Russia. The winner of the competition
will be Chopin's ambassador in the whole world, member of the jury, John
O'Conor of Ireland told journalists. Twenty pianists, including five
Poles participating in the competition 2nd stage who failed to qualify
for the final received diplomas on Monday. Those gathered at the
ceremony of handing over the diplomas accorded greatest ovation to Nobuyuki Tsujii of Japan and Ingolf Wunder of Austria. Some observers claim they should pass to the final.
The Warsaw experience must have been quite a blow to Nobuyuki at 16 years of age, especially for so many other Japanese to advance when he didn't. But instead of giving up, Nobuyuki gathered his resolve and forged on. As an American, I am thankful that his big break came in my country, for otherwise I might never have the pleasure of discovering this special artist and enjoying his works.