Times Staff Writer

Minoru Nojima has been visiting Southern California for nearly 10 years but the Japanese pianist only last season finally got the chance to be a sightseer here.

"When I come to Los Angeles, I'm always practicing, and taking care of myself and keeping in good condition for the performance," Nojima said recently.

"But, finally, I insisted on seeing something. And last year I visited Little Tokyo. It was quite interesting."

Work, practice and staying in shape are priorities for the 39-year-old pianist.

"It's a lonely life," he admits, but, he says, he has found no other way to conduct it. "There are often people around, so the loneliness is not really physical," Nojima explains. "Yet the feeling is there. Perhaps it's the need always to protect oneself."

Of medium height, Nojima seems lean and fragile as he moves about the hillside house overlooking Westwood, where he stays during his visits here.

Nojima stopped playing for several months recently after injuring one of his fingers. The exact nature of that injury was not spelled out, but now he has what looks like small scars on the little-finger side of his right hand. He says they are marks made by "acupuncture and the heat and seaweed treatments."

"One night last summer, when I was on tour in Japan with one of our Japanese orchestras, I felt a very sharp pain on the very first chord of the Tchaikovsky Concerto. I finished the performance, of course, but it frightened me.

"When I consulted doctors in my own country, they said it was the result of overuse, that the joints were tight and rest would cure it.

"Rest really didn't help much, but the problem has now mostly disappeared. I took off a total of more than four months, and I feel completely better."

Before coming here last month, Nojima had just spent several weeks at his apartment in New York--"mostly practicing." His recital at UCLA on Feb. 8 reportedly followed a familiar pattern of success; his next local appearance, tonight at El Camino College, will offer a completely different program--a Brahms Intermezzo; Schumann's Fantasy in C, Opus 17; three sonatas of Scarlatti, and Ravel's suite, "Miroirs."

Admittedly not a champion of the avant-garde--"though two concertos have been dedicated to me"--Nojima says his working repertory ends with Bartok and Prokofiev. Right now, he reveals, he is learning more Ravel, a composer in whose works he has excelled. And, of all things, Beethoven's "Appassionata" Sonata.

"I've never played it before," he says, laughing at the preposterousness of getting nearly all the way to the age of 40 without having played that work in public.

"And that is a problem, because I have in my ears the memories of so many others playing it.

"Now I must study it, note for note, forget all those memories and eventually make every note my own--make it sound throughout my body."

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