How do you play a piano concerto when you’re blind?

19 February 2018, 15:28

Nobuyuki Tsujii performed Grieg’s epic piano concerto in Liverpool earlier this month, and it was truly faultless. But without sight, how on earth does he do it?

When you’re a blind pianist, how do you go about learning such a huge piece? And how can you be expected to pick up on gestures from the conductor? For Tsujii, it’s a process governed by extremely careful listening and, as he described it in 2017, “sensing what’s around me.”

When he’s learning a new piece, Tsujii has a team of helpers break the whole piano part down into recorded chunks which he then learns bit by bit. Given the scarcity of Braille translations of musical scores, doing it by ear is usually the best method.

He also told The Telegraph in 2013 that when he’s in the middle of a performance with a symphony orchestra: “I listen very hard for the conductor's breathing. That tells me where we are in the rhythm.”

You can watch the whole performance as part of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic's livestreamed concert from earlier this month: