It is a privilege to introduce Nobuyuki Tsujii performing his composition “Elegy for the Victims of the Tsunami of March 11, 2011, in Japan” at Carnegie Hall, NYC, on November 10, 2011. That’s eight months after the earthquake-triggered tsunami. At 9.1, it was the fourth-strongest earthquake since modern records started in 1900. Waves reached up to 40.5m high in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture and swept in at 700 km/hr for up to 10 km inland in Sendai (10 min warning). Parts of NE Japan shifted up to 2.4m.
Cities, towns, and villages were overcome. 19,759 people died, 6,242 were injured, and 2,553 people remain missing. The tragic event also triggered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, where three reactors melted down and radioactive water leaked. “The Earth’s axis shifted between 10 cm and 25 cm. This deviation led to small planetary changes, including the length of a day, the tilt of the Earth, and the Chandler wobble.” This is renowned pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii performing his elegy for the victims.
Reviewing Nobuyuki’s performance, The Piano SG said that those seated near the front and the cameras “picked up hot trails of tears streaming off the musical prodigy’s face, not just once but multiple times. His exceptional performance had the usually reserved Carnegie audience give him a standing ovation and a very thunderous applause.”It is sometimes assumed that Nobuyuki is autistic or savant. He is blind. His posture and expressions are those of a blind pianist with exceptional hearing.
In 2017, Nobuyuki told a reporter he followed a conductor “by listening to the conductor’s breath and also sensing what’s happening around me.” Conductors have confirmed that they make no adjustments when playing with Nobuyuki. Domingo Hindoyan said, “He really feels every instrument and every breath from myself, from the concertmaster, and from the orchestra. It’s just like he understands the piece from the very soul of it, very deeply.” Here is the trailer for a documentary on the pianist:
Towards the end of the trailer for the 2014 Peter Rosen documentary, Touching the Sound, there is a brief shot of Nobuyuki at the site of the tsunami. Incidentally, Nobuyuki’s elegy for the victims of the tsunami is sometimes called “Still We Live On.”
When the earthquake struck, Nobuyuki was on a Japanese tour with the BBC Philharmonic, heading for a concert in Yokohama, to the south of Tokyo. In Nobuyuki’s words, “As soon as I got out of the car, I sensed the shaking, but at that time my head was full of the concert, so I went on with a rehearsal, even though the aftershocks caused the piano to move about. But the performance had to be cancelled, and it was only later that I learned that it was a serious situation. I am only able to give courage by playing the piano to people at the evacuation centers. People who have lost so much—I feel for them deeply. In April, when I was on a North America tour, I kept thinking, ‘Is Japan okay?’ The original composition in response to the tsunami was born at that time. It was an improvisation that I wrote as an encore piece to express my thoughts for the victims and the reconstruction effort.”
Nobuyuki has won numerous awards. In Japan, he became a national celebrity after he tied for gold in the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, where he also won the Beverley Taylor Smith Award for the best performance of a new work. He was featured in the documentary about the 2009 Van Cliburn competition, A Surprise in Texas (2010). This led to the filmmaker Peter Rosen making his Touching the Sound documentary on Nobuyuki.