James Rhodes, Queen Elizabeth Hall (4/5)
Monday 28 November 2011
Every concert programme tells a story, even one as exiguous as that for James Rhodes. Nothing about the works to be played, just a list – JS Bach, F Chopin, M Moszkowski, and a certain LV Beethoven, which suggests it was written by a computer.
Nothing about the pianist, except for an invitation to follow him on Twitter. All of which is code for: this concert is about the man, and you know him already.
It was clear the audience - unusually young for a classical event - did. No need to remind them of his drugs, sectioning, and late conversion to pianism. Since his sudden irruption onto the scene three years ago, he’s traded shamelessly on all that, presenting his performances – with louche digressions on the echoes between his traumas and those of his chosen composers - as part of his ongoing therapy. He offers the foul-mouthed charm of a rock-star in rehab.
And here he was again, coming on in faux-diamond sneakers like a poor man’s Lang Lang, sitting straight down and playing some slow Bach. But beautifully. ‘Classical music,’ he announced when he’d finished. ‘Serious. Like this hundred thousand pound Steinway. Serious. Like these fucking shoes. Very serious.’ He didn’t like that word ‘serious’ for classical music. ‘I prefer intense, but I like to challenge people’s perceptions.’ Now he would play a sonata by his hero. ‘Beethoven. An evil genius, a tramp-like figure saying, I compose what I like, and if you don’t like it, tough shit.’ Then he played the ‘Waldstein’ sonata, one of Beethoven’s most austere and technically demanding works. There were points where his technique threatened to let him down – I’d put him at second-year conservatoire level – but the warmth and epic sweep came triumphantly across. This was followed by a Moszkowski study - ‘pianism’s equivalent of Formula One’ – serenely brought off. After warming us up for the second half with Rachmaninov's most celebrated prelude, he discoursed raunchily about Bach’s sex life before embarking on Busoni’s transcription of the D minor Chaconne. Playing with a gorgeously singing tone, he fully honoured this work’s Herculean conception. His firework encores were fun, but reasonably accomplished.
In short, this one-time basket-case has transcended his past, got musically serious, and become a very effective ambassador for classical music. Bravo.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 The confessions of men who ordered mail-order brides
- 3 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
- 4 Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
- 5 'Isis' schoolgirls: Missing British teenager tweets picture of her Syrian takeaway
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3, review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton - really?
The day I starred in Only Fools and Horses
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove