James Rhodes – the uncommon piano man

Classical music is an event you can’t take seriously enough. And of course you should listen in a very upright position and with all awe you can possible be capable of. It’s a cliche that comes with classical music the British pianist James Rhodes wants to get rid of. And he himself isn’t a typical pianist at all – sitting in Jeans, Chucks, T-Shirt at a steinway, his hair trying to get right away from his head – making perfectly clear, that all that matters to him is his music.

Experiencing violent sexual abuse as a little boy, being too afraid to tell anybody about his pain, he only found comfort in classical music he listened to on his father’s CDs. Ever since then classical music has been a very important part of his life.

 “88 keys and within an entire universe.”

As many others he learned to play the piano when he was about seven but he tried very hard getting along with pieces too complicated for his abilities, he admits today. So he stopped trying and started a career in the City of London, perfectly denying his inner self and his deepest wishes – and suffered a complete breakdown, spending nine months in different mental institutions “trying the best to kill myself”, James Rhodes says. “Perhaps it was this new-found pressure that came from knowing I finally had a shot at what I really wanted.” he writes on his internet sites – playing classical music. The kind of music a friend smuggled through to him on an iPod when he was completely isolated, without any contact to normal life.

One can only imaging that this might have been like the sun forcing her way through clouds on a dark day, lightening the mood at once and it made up his mind and changed his life. For then he knew that he really wanted to play classical music as a concert pianist despite the facts that he now was divorced and without any income.

Luckily he stumbled into his eventually-to-be manager who not only realized Rhodes’s genius but finally opened doors to household labels like Warner Brothers. “The notion that the concert pianist has to be selected from birth and nurtured/trained cruelly for countless hours, that he or she can only succeed by winning competitions and attending the best conservatories is simply not true.” writes James Rhodes on his website. Though he admits that he was and is very lucky, earning his living with his beloved music.

“Almost every piece of classical music is universal. If you have the chance to hear it. And it will transform you.”

You only have to watch his vids on Youtube or listen to his music on soundcloud (where he posts them for free) to realize that all that really matters to him is his music and his steinway, sitting there, playing four hours every day, drinking endless cups of coffee, enjoying his life  – when he’s not on tour or recording a new album. Rodes’s life is by no means ordinary but a lucky and privileged one, and he’s taking nothing for granted, including the fact that British celebrities like the author Stephen Frey and actor Benedict Cumberbatch are his friends, honouring his genius in public.

James Rhodes playing more than 100.000 notes from memory alone not only talks to the audience trying to bring music and composers to life, getting them grounded. He also explains that he has difficulties playing a special piece and why. His honesty is baffling – when he writes on Twitter that he desperately is in need of more coffee, very nervous just right before a concert and his openness helps him fulfilling his mission: Getting classical music back to ordinary people.

You can buy or download his works on Google Play, iTunes or Amazon.

The German version of his article was first published in the weekend supplementary “Fränkischer Sonntag” 8th Sept 2013 of the German newspapers Fränkischer Tag, Bayerische Rundschau, Coburger Tageblatt, Saale-Zeitung sharing the platform infranken.de.
All rights reserved.
My translations.

After a decision of the Supreme Court, James Rhodes’s biography “Instrumental” (Canongate books) will be released this May.

I will write an blog entry about the book as soon as possible.
Update: Read my blog entry about “Instrumental” here.

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