By Assunta Ng
Never in my life had a concert moved me to tears until I experienced the blind Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. I wasn’t the only one who cried.
“Music changed Nobu’s life, and his music changes our lives,” said a woman who also cried during the pianist’s performance, during Celebrate Asia at the Benaroya Hall last Sunday.
“When Nobu was playing, I was playing, too (figuratively),” said former NBA player Fred Brown, who was among the packed audience of 2,100.
Nobu was the highlight of the event and was featured during the second part of the program. Even though he is blind, he could hear and feel the audience’s energy, applause, and long standing ovations. His smiles and bows showed that he was touched.
The Right Music
Several people attend Celebrate Asia each year in the spirit of supporting a community event, not because they are the event’s natural fans. I was there simply to cheer the efforts of several Asian groups working tirelessly to bring the event together.
Going to symphonies is considered to be high class. I have to confess that I didn’t know how to appreciate the first three pieces in the program. It has nothing to do with the musicians. It has to do with the melody of the music.
No matter how many concerts I have attended, I am still unsophisticated when listening to classical music. When the music is too profound, I get lost. I am not surprised that five people that I talked to after the program shared my sentiments.
This was the second time I attended a Nobu performance. His first show, a solo recital, was also held at Benaroya Hall last Tuesday. Although he played Debussy flawlessly, I wasn’t excited at all. That night, I was more curious about his life and accomplishments than the music he was playing. A pianist playing sophisticated music, his fingers flowed from the highest to the lowest keys quickly, accurately, and without sight. Each tone was so perfect. How did he overcome his adversities?
During Celebrate Asia, however, Nobu played Tchaikovsky’s — music more familiar to a widespread audience. It was exciting and attractive. It shakes people up. You cannot ignore it. It goes right to my bones, my gut, and my heart. That’s the kind of music Celebrate Asia should pick from the beginning to the end of its program.
India’s Classical Violin
If you’ve heard Bollywood music, you would be surprised that the sound of Indian classical music is strikingly different.
Shanti Priya, a performance of the Indian violin and drums, accompanied by the 85 member symphony orchestra, was another piece that received a standing ovation.
The piece was performed by Indian violinist Ambi Subramaniam and drummer Mahesh Krishnamurthy. It was a novelty for most of the audience.
Ambi played with his feet on the raised stage and without chairs. The violin was hanging down above his chest, almost reaching the ground. I have not seen anyone play the violin in such a relaxed position — sometimes, he leaned forward as if he was going to lie on the ground.
The rich and interesting music mesmerized Celebrate Asia sponsor Eric Booker of the Snoqualmie Casino.
“We will sponsor again next year,” he said.
A Small Connection with Nobu
A year ago, my sister-in-law Mei-Ling Liu emailed us and asked if there’s any way Nobu could perform in Seattle.
My husband quickly thought about Celebrate Asia. He introduced Celebrate Asia founder Yoshi Minegishi to Mei-Ling. Minegishi had already heard of Nobu’s talents.
Mei Ling has no relationship with Nobu at all, she’s just a big fan.
Mei Ling found joy listening to Nobu’s music. A former piano player, she felt the urge to play the piano again.
She wanted to do everything in her power to spread the talent of Nobu to other parts of the world.
From Japan to London, Mei-Ling has followed Nobu’s performances across the world since 2009. We called her nuts, but Mei-Ling said Nobu’s music inspired her and saved her life. She has found passion after retiring from her days as a professor in computer science.
This is how you make things happen for the people you love. When you believe in something, take action. When you create paths for other people, you are actually opening doors for yourself that you could never have imagined. (end)
M. L. Liu says
I would like to also mention just how impressed I am with the “Celebrate Asia” event.
Apparently, Mr. Tsujii was also impressed. In his “recital” report http://www.nobupiano1988.com/recitalreport/index.html, Nobu wrote that (translated from Japanese) “I was allowed to participate in a special event ‘Celebrate Asia’ “, and “the applause and cheers of the audience was like the rumblings of the earth.”
Please also allow me to mention my admiration for the esteemed Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and for Assistant Conductor Stilian Kirov, who appears in a photo with Nobu in that “recital report”. In the report, Nobu pointed out that Mr. Kirov “has only just turned age 29”.
M. L. Liu says
Hi, Assunta and George,
I am happy and flabbergasted by this thoughtful blog post. A little embarrassed, yes, but happy.
I cannot thank Seattle and its kind people enough for a great welcome to Mr. Nobuyuki Tsujii, especially you (who are my relatives) and Mr. and Mrs. Yoshi and Naomi Minegishi (who are not, but are now my respected friends).
Through your collective generosity and thoughtfulness, I was able to, in addition to enjoying his concerts, attend his rehearsal with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and meet him (and his mother and manager) at the Jan 27 Sunday reception — these are priceless opportunities that many of his fans, including those in his own country, greatly envy.
Most of all, I am so happy that you now understand my passion for Nobu. He is magical, and my devotion to him and his music has been rewarded richly time and time again. I am ecstatic that Nobu, in his debut in the Emerald City, seem to have left a very positive impression, as I knew he would.
Thank you, Seattle. Thank you, Northwest Asian Weekly. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Minegishi! I hope Nobu will be invited back to perform in the city again.