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 series『Revalue
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.
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:
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.
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