27 June 2014
James Rhodes will be Artist in Residence at the Harrogate International Festivals this summer. He performs Friday 25 July, 8pm at the Royal Hall, Harrogate. Read what he has to say ...
James Rhodes is Artist in Residence at the Harrogate International Festivals this summer. Here's what Harrogate tells us, having interviewed him recently:
Syphilis-ridden, orphans, drunks, fighters, lovers and iconoclasts; James Rhodes insists the great composers – Bach, Schubert, Beethoven – are “categorically the original rock stars”.
“They overcame extraordinary circumstances. Beethoven was beaten almost to death twice by his alcoholic father as a teenager; he lost his children, his wife. Schubert had syphilis. They battled against instrumental odds, poverty, grief, illness, and they died young, but they’re still alive, as their music is played all over the world. That’s an incredible story, that legacy; they went through hell but were raised to the very top.”
A bit like James Rhodes. If you haven’t heard of him you will. This September he has a new Channel 4 documentary and book. An incredibly gifted story-teller, as well as pianist, he has a passion that blows your socks off.
And thanks to Harrogate International Festivals, we’re lucky enough to experience his charismatic talent this July.
Dubbed the Russell Brand of piano, his own life story beats any EastEnders script: abused as a child, suffering mentally and physically, he wasn’t the typical child prodigy despite his passion for piano. He ended up in a job in the City before sending a bottle of champagne to the Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov, and had a brief tutorage, but ended up institutionalised for mental illness as his demons caught up. He overcame them, marking the moment by dragging a grand piano to perform at the famous suicide spot, Beachy Head, where he once contemplated jumping. In 2009, he went from an unknown to a star with celebrity followers such as Stephen Fry and Derren Brown.
His inspired performances tell stories in between playing – of the debauched and tragic lives of the great composers, and of his own life, that bring the music to renewed life. Even if you don’t ‘get’ classical music, it all suddenly makes sense.
“If I’m playing a piece by Bach I talk about how he was a drunken, madman, workaholic with three siblings dead by the age of four, orphaned at 10. His wife - the great love of his life - then died, he was surrounded by grief. Then he wrote this musical cathedral built in her memory.”
“This music is just absolutely extraordinary and there’s a reason we’re still playing and listening to it 200 years after it was written.”
James is passionate about debunking the snobbery around classical.
“Classical music as an industry doesn’t help itself with its unspoken rules about what to wear, what venues to play in, how long the concert lasts, it doesn’t help its cause,” he said.
“Music is music. Whether it’s Beethoven or Tinie Tempah. There’s a misperception that classical belongs to other people, that it’s hard. I’ve always believed passionately you can put 100 people who’ve never heard a classical piece and play them a 25 minute Sonata and the majority will be with you all the way.”
“We need to work harder to get to that place where we’re sharing the music, not focussed on what to wear, or whether to cough or not or clap at the wrong place –the music comes first.”
-Harrogate International Festivals
James Rhodes, Artist in Residence, Harrogate International Festivals
James will perform Friday 25 July, 8pm at the Royal Hall, Harrogate.
Tickets £12-£45. Box Office: 01423 562 303
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