Award turns blind Japan pianist into music sensation

Thu Jul 9, 2009 11:52am EDT
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By Chika Osaka

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii has become the latest star on the classical music scene after winning one of the world's most prestigious awards, but the blind 20-year-old has no need for a score.

Blind since birth, the college student last month won top prize at the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in the United States.

Tsujii, who shared first prize with 19-year-old Haochen Zhang of China, became the first Japanese -- and the first blind -- pianist to win the coveted award.

And after his first public appearance since his victory, Tsujii says he is still adjusting to his celebrity status.

"I was extremely surprised, more so than excited, when I heard my name at the award ceremony because I wasn't even thinking about winning the competition," Tsujii told Reuters backstage after entertaining a 2,000-strong crowd at a Tokyo concert hall earlier this week.

Born in Tokyo, Tsujii began playing the piano at age two after his mother bought him a toy instrument.

Influenced by music from Bach and Beethoven to Japanese "enka" folk music, he held his first solo recital at Tokyo's Suntory Hall at age 12 and made his U.S. debut at Carnegie Hall.

Since then, he has performed with the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux in France and the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, among many others.   Continued...