Nobu conquers "Pictures at An Exhibition"

This is a 2010 Japan TV show about how Nobu overcame the challenges of playing Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition":.

I had the good fortune of viewing a 2010 Japan TV special on Noubyuki Tsujii, about his "Pictures at An Exhibition" tour in the U.S. in spring, 2010.  This article is based on the show.
Writers have so-called writer's blocks, where at some point during the writing of  a manuscript, the juice somehow stops flowing and words just would not come, sometimes for an agonizingly long period of time.  It seems that the same could happen to a pianist (or, as they say so endearingly in Japanese, a "pianisuto").  At least it happened to Nobu.

(You can click on each picture below for a larger view of it.)
In early 2010, Nobuyuki Tsujii was preparing for his U.S. spring tour.  He had chosen, for his recitals, to play Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition piano suite.  Known as a "knuckle buster", Pictures at an Exhibition is a challenge to any pianist, but especially to Nobuyuki, as he has never seen and could not see a picture.   Nobuyuki initially got the idea from having listened to the album of the suite by Russian pianist Yvgeny Kissin, one of Nobu's favorite pianists; Kissin performed in Tokyo in 1999, when Nobu was age 10 and may have attended the concert where Kissin performed this suite.



For Nobu, the preparation began with the usual stack of cassette tapes of recordings of the musical score (above left).  
The Mussorgsky's suite proved difficult.  It took Nobu one week to learn the notes, but he was finding it especially challenging to deal with the finale: La grande porte de Kiev (the Great Gate of Kiev).  The picture that inspires that piece is shown in the photo above, middle.  Try as he did, Nobu kept getting stuck at the transition between the 9th theme piece, La cabane sur des pattes de poule (Baba-Yaga) (The hut on chicken legs) and the 10th, the Great Gate of Kiev.  Looking through the glass pane on the door to Nobu's piano room, the camera caught the pianist, in a moment of utter frustration, burying his face in his hands on the  piano (above right), moaning.


Mrs. Itsuko Tsujii came to the rescue.  Gathering books and photos of the pictures  that inspired Mussorgsky to write the piece, Nobu's mom attempted to explain to Nobu what the pictures illustrate (above left and center).  For advice, Nobu also turned to his professors at his university (Ueno Gakuen), above right, Professors Yukio Yokoyama (center) and Kyoko Tabe (right).


Japanese
conductor Tatsuya Shimono was also enlisted to help.  Shimono is  famous  in Japan, where he is the resident conductor of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo.  He is also a professor at Ueno Gakuen, where he teaches Nobu and other aspiring pianists ensemble performances.  Maestro Shimono listened to Nobu and asked him a probing question: what does he like about his own  playing?  This was such a difficult question that Nobu could not answer on the show (above left).

The problem was not solved even as Nobu, accompanied by two managers,  flew to the U.S.  in early April for his spring tour.  Upon arriving at his first stop (somewhere in the U.S. south), Nobu was visibly distressed as he was being driven from the airport (above middle).  The first thing that one of his managers asked the people who greeted them at the airport was the availability of practice time for Nobu. 

Nobu practiced, but things didn't improve.  The next day, he asked to be taken to a river (the Mississippi, I believe) to think things over (above right).  On the bank, the three Japanese fellows (Nobu and his two escorts) sat for a long time.  The river swirled.  Ducks swam by.  But Nobu still looked unhappy.  (Below left and center.)



Out of desperation, Nobu asked to be taken to an art museum to experience what it's like at an exhibition of pictures (above right).  It is not clear what he got out of this, as he could not see the art works on exhibit, but perhaps he sensed the surrounding.

Next morning, the camera caught Nobu shaving himself, after not having shaved for two days.  On camera, Nobu says he needed a shave because it was getting uncomfortable.   As it turns out, there might be a reason for the extra grooming: he was going to be seeing his good friend, pianist and 2009 Cliburn Competition silver medalist, Ms. Yeol Eum Son.

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