Nobuyuki Tsujii - the Composer

As if his spellbinding piano performance is not dazzling enough, Nobuyuki Tsujii also composes original music scores.


At age 12, Nobuyuki Tsujii performed his own composition Street Corner of Vienna, according to Nobuyuki's own website.

I know next to nothing about the study of music compositions.  I do know that I was deeply moved when I first heard the piece Whisper of the River played at the very end of the 2009 Cliburn Competition documentary A surprise in Texas,  especially when I read on screen that it was composed by Nobuyuki  himself.  It was an especially thoughtful gesture of the film-makers (Peter Rosen, et al) to add that special touch, a reflection of their respect and love for Nobuyuki.  As the story goes, Whisper of the River was composed by Nobu -- when he was still in high school -- to express his love for his father after the two took a walk along a river in Tokyo (the Kanda River.)

But I will have to admit that, even as I admired  Whisper of the River, I was not particularly sold on Nobu's compositions.   After  listening to the second disc of his debut album (which contains five of his early original compositions), my impression was that his compositions,  nice pieces of the easy-listening genre,  are frankly not my  cup of tea.   One commenter on amazon.com even went so far as characterizing the works as "a weird blend of classical and new age tones" (while giving the debut album a 5-star rating nevertheless.)  

But, as I have come to learn, Nobu's music has a way of growing on you.  Of those five early pieces, the whisper of the river and in dogwood blossom season have particularly beautiful melodies, and clearly a genuine talent is indicated.   And these works have been well received.  Two pieces, angel's wings of the Rockerfeller Center and Rondo on the Seine, are popular in Japan and Korea.  whisper of the river has appeared on the soundtrack of at least one  recent Japan TV documentary (I believe about environmental issues), and  in dogwood blossom season appears on many soundtracks, including one video where Nobu is shown performing the piece in accompaniment of a woman reading from a book -- even without understanding Japanese, I was moved by the footage.

The piece that changed my mind, though,  is a Morning in Cortona (コルトナの朝 ) which, to my knowledge, Nobu first performed in Corpus Christi, Texas, in October 2010, as an encore (photo above left).  As documented in the youTube video  a Morning in Cortona, Nobu performed this piece in Texas with great joy, and it was well received by the audience.  This work, to me, has variations and a depth that I did not hear in his previous compositions.  The gentle notes that start the piece, adorned with trills that evoke the chirping of early-rising birds, is followed by an uplifting melody that captures the feel of a bright morning in Tuscany, Italy -- with visions of its golden sunshine, open fields, morning dews, and flowers swaying in gentle breeze -- none of which Nobu himself can see.  Nobuyuki  was in Cortona, Italy, for the Tuscan Sun Festival in summer of 2010 , and must have composed this piece while being a resident artist at the festival.   The  youTube video of this performance has had over 30,ooo views;  a recent comment there says it all: "He composed this?? Nobuyuki Tsujii. Bravo."

A Morning in Cortona  convinced me that Nobuyuki is a composer to be reckoned with - the arpeggio is fluent and elegant, and the melody original and rousing.   There is, in this work,  a sense of confidence of a young composer who has found his voice.   Just recently  it is posted on Nobu's own site that this piece has been chosen as the theme music for a Japan TV seriesRevalue NIPPON Project 中田英寿 日本をつなぐ』.  This, I believe, is quite a nod to Nobu the  composer.

Yet another recent work is House of Wind, which Nobuyuki composed after visiting Chopin's residence in Majorca, Spain in September 2010..  There are two videos of this piece:  Nobuyuki Tsujii performs "House of Wind" and Nobuyuki Tsujii composes "House of Wind".   The first one was recorded when Nobu performed it in Fort Worth, Texas on October 30, 2010, at an after-concert reception (photo above, center) --  the sound quality of that video is not ideal, but you can see how happy Nobu was performing it in spite of the party hubbub around him.  The second one was uploaded by me personally - it is an excerpt from a 2010 Japan TV special "Nobuyuki Tsujii's Journey to Majorca", during which he performed this piece while on location.  The full beauty of the music can be heard with the better sound quality - unfortunately, only the beginning of the composition was shown.   I have been told that since then Nobu has performed this piece in its entirely in at least one concert  in Japan, which was shown on Japan TV this past New Year day.

Then earlier this year came yet another composition.   On a Japan TV show 『風がはこんできたもの』("What the Wind Carries") aired on February 2, 2011,  Nobu visits a famous Japanese scenario writer, Mr. Kuramoto 倉本聰 (76 years old), in Hokkaido (photo above,right).  On the show, Nobu is shown walking in a snowy forest (for the first time in his life), standing alone in an open snow field and then by an icy stream.  For Mr. Kuramoto, Nobu played several impromptu pieces on the piano, and -- at the end of the show -- a composition that, to my ears, is his best work yet.  You can see a video of his performance here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtHwSUCCNkk

This composition, which I will call What the Wind Carries,  is Nobu's perception of the snowy landscape and the melting of ice in the forest.  As you can see in the video, Mr. Kuramoto was deeply moved by it, and so was I.  The opening, especially, has a heart-melting sweetness that captivates me to this day.  I count at least four themes in this piece:  the opening gentle melody that speaks of a quiet, snowy forest; followed by  a passage that is more percussive and conveys visions of dripping water as ice melts; then an even more percussive and louder passage that perhaps depicts the howling winds that Nobu heard while walking in the forest; ending with an exquisitely delicate passage similar in tone to the first theme, expressing the joy of a rejuvenated forest.  I personally extracted and uploaded this video even though an existing longer version (of the original TV show, complete with commercials) had already been uploaded by the sponsor of the show.  I really wanted  the composition to be seen on its own -- it's too good to be buried in the cluttered long version of the video.

Historically, some of the most admired classical music composers started very young and composed prodigiously.  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote symphonies in his early childhood, starting at age eight.  Frederic Chopin composed two Polonaises at age seven.   Robert Schumann composed the Papillons before he turned 20.  I would be inviting serious jeers and criticisms if I dared to compare Nobu to these giants.  But I will not hesitate to say that Nobuyuki's compositions, like his performances, have an innocence to them that charms me.  There is a poetic quality in them that is surprising for someone still so young    In interviews, Nobuyuki has repeatedly said that he can communicate better with the piano than with words.  And what he does convey with his own compositions  is how he perceives the world:  a world of beauty and hopefulness, without any hint of bitterness and cynicism. 

I am happy for Nobu that his compositions have come along well and that his works are getting recognition.   If all goes well, his composing skill will continue to develop; it will enrich his artistic life and  give him a source of income that can ease the burden of touring to perform (although for now Nobu seems to genuinely enjoy performing). 

Easy listening as they may be, I sense that Nobu's compositions, such as whisper of the river, are not easy to perform.  You can see that by comparing his own performance of his own composition with the same work  performed by other pianists, as seen in some videos on youTube.

Following is a growing list of Nobu’s original compositions and, where available,  links to their videos:

At a recital on April 9, 2011, in Boston, U.S.A., Nobu performed, as the first encore, a new composition that he calls "A Relief Piece" to commemorate the relief effort for victims of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March.  The piece, as I recall, starts on a solemn theme that sounded almost Mozart-like -- very different from Nobu's other compositions, then ended on a more lyrical theme that allowed me to recognize the piece as his work.  We should be hearing more about the piece.

On April 15, 2011, news came that Nobu has composed the theme song for an upcoming Japanese movie:

http://momoedgewood.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/pianist-tsujii-nobuyuki-composes-theme-song-for-sho-sakurais-upcoming-movie/ (see textbox below)

As if all these is not enough, Nobu apparently has dabbled into providing song arrangements. His arrangement for a song "Love-Destiny"浜崎あゆみ,  by pop-artist   Ayumi Hamasaki 浜崎 あゆみ, appears to be popular in Japan.   You can listen to the song here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e36QSSF-3x

In summer of 2011, he composed music for a Japanese film, a Japanese TV series, as well as for a museum exhibit.  An album of his compositions, "Nobuuki Tsujii Works, 2000-2011"(http://www.hmv.co.jp/product/detail/4046792),was  released in July 2011.

Pianist Tsujii Nobuyuki composes theme song for Sho Sakurai’s upcoming movie

http://momoedgewood.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/pianist-tsujii-nobuyuki-composes-theme-song-for-sho-sakurais-upcoming-movie/

Pianist Tsujii Nobuyuki says the theme song to Sho Sakurai’s upcoming movie “神様のカルテ (Kami-sama no Karute)” was inspired by it’s producers and cast, reports Sankei Sports on April 15.

Nobuyuki rose to fame after becoming the first blind pianist to win the Val Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2009.  This is the first time he has worked on creating music for a feature film.

The movie centres on the human drama at a regional hospital where Sho Sakurai’s character works, supported by his wife, played by Aoi Miyazaki.

It has been reported Nobuyuki composed the theme song after reading the braille novel the movie is based on and meeting the cast and staff.

“My inspiration for this piece came from the words I heard from the director and cast members, and the mood around the set when I visited them during filming,” said Nobuyuki.

The soundtrack featuring the pianist’s piece will be released on July 27. (In fact, there will be two versions of the sound track, containing 14 "songs" and 7 orchestrated pieces. See http://news.walkerplus.com/2011/0416/17/)

Nobu will provide background music for a summer TV drama in Japan called "Soredemo, Ikite Yuku”, to air in Japan in July.  See: http://www.tokyograph.com/news/eita-mitsushima-hikari-co-star-in-soredemo-ikite-yuku#more-19731
and  http://www.fujitv.co.jp/ikiteyuku/index.html The show will be shown every Thursday, starting on July 10 2011.

And a CD of the music is to be released on August 10, 2011 http://amzn.to/jA2Uff
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