Nobuyuki Tsujii Triumphs with John Musto’s Bluesy Counterpoint

Roger Evans Online /Music, Humane Letter and Media

June 7, 2009

As noted here before (and by Anne Midgette elsewhere), the Thirteenth Van Cliburn International Competition has taken a fresh approach to its presentation of contemporary works. In the event, many of the competitors have told interviewers that they chose a work from the four possibilities based on what they thought they could learn in time. And who can blame them? John Musto’s difficult “Improvisation and Fugue” thus was played by only one of the semi-finalists, Nobuyuki Tsujii. But that twenty-year-old not only took a gold medal but won the large cash award for the best performance of a contemporary piece for his crystalline interpretation of the Musto work. That he learned it in a short time and played it with confidence is a great tribute to him, and his winning shows the good judgment of the jury. He had been a clear audience favorite throughout.

The young Japanese pianist did not choose the Musto as his only challenging work by any means. He played hours of major works (including, among many other things, the Hammerklavier Sonata, a Schumann quintet, and concertos by Chopin and Rachmaninoff). He has been blind from birth.

The new work, which was commissioned by the Stecher and Horowitz Foundation for their own Fourth New York International Piano Competition held last summer, where it enjoyed some brilliant performances, can be heard in Nobuyuki Tsujii’s prize-winning version on Cliburn TV (at Semifinal Archive for May 31), and played by the winner of the Stecher and Horowitz competition, Allen Yueh, here. You will want to compare the two quite distinct interpretations.