Asked what he thinks about the Sydney Opera House, concert pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii’s answer is disarmingly brief. “I have been told the Sydney Opera House is a monumental building,” he says. “And I feel it is even more than my expectations.”
He’s far more expansive about how the building sounds; specifically how his piano-playing and the audience’s applause reverberates around the Concert Hall. The Japanese pianist received five curtain calls when, last November, he performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4 with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He’ll return to the Concert hall in late May 2017 to play Chopin.
“The acoustics are simply wonderful. When I was told that this Concert Hall has about 2,700 seats I was slightly afraid that it would be a dry site,” he says (dry is used to describe rooms with short and hence unsatisfactory acoustic reverberations). “But I had the opportunity to listen to the concert among the audience two days before the performance and also have I played and I was convinced the acoustics were really nice.”
Blind since birth, Tsujii began playing with a toy piano at the age of two – a video on YouTube shows him belting out Do Re Me when he was just two years and seven months old. His mother detected his innate musicality and he started lessons at age four.
“It was when I was 10 years old that I decided, I declared to myself, that I would become a concert pianist,” he says. “Since I was a small child I always enjoyed playing in public. But I think I was born and guided naturally to become a concert pianist.”
Watching Tsujii play is highly intriguing – at his performance in November he rocked and swayed to the music as the Sydney Symphony played ahead of his first entrance. He stretched out his hands to feel the keyboard, moved his fingers onto the keys, and then played with extraordinary emotion.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter McCallum gave his performance in November four and a half stars. “Every nuance, every accent and every marking of dynamic that the composer had troubled to notate was brought to audible substantiality with vividness, clarity and musical purpose, each phrase, texture and point of emphasis carefully balanced through close listening.”
Tsujii says he has a ‘special sympathy’ for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4. Beethoven was 28 years old when he composed it, the same age at Tsujii. “Every time I play this music I’m impressed by what a great composer Beethoven was when he was just 28 years old.”
One imagines that Beethoven would be also impressed by the 28-year old Tsujii.
Nobuyuki Tsujii will return to the Concert Hall with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra on 19 and 20 May 2017