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Pianist Nicolas Hodges Adapts to Life With Parkinson’s

In the autumn of 2018, the pianist Nicolas Hodges observed his body shaking. He introduced it up at a routine physician’s appointment in Tübingen, Germany, the place he lives. The physician stated it was in all probability stress, however really useful that he make an appointment with a neurologist.

Hodges didn’t make that appointment immediately. But then, in January 2019, the shaking precipitated him to play a unsuitable notice throughout a efficiency.

“It became instantly clear that I had to find out what was going on,” he stated.

Dr. Klaus Schreiber, a neurologist and a classical music lover, noticed Hodges performing a couple of minor bodily duties — strolling throughout a room, undressing and dressing — earlier than he despatched him for a sequence of checks that confirmed Hodges had Parkinson’s illness.

Dr. Schreiber estimated that Hodges had been performing with Parkinson’s for 3 years.

Hodges, 53, is a number one interpreter of up to date classical music. As a soloist and chamber musician, he has premiered and recorded works by many essential composers of this century, and the final. Recently, his signs have compelled him to scale back and prioritize his performing commitments.

The worst signs, which hardly ever happen, can go away him feeling, he stated, as if he “just couldn’t play the piano.” But the analysis has additionally strengthened his dedication to his artistry and the modern repertoire.

Physical limits have compelled Hodges to make “aesthetic decisions,” he stated, to choose what music to fee and to carry out with higher rigor. The analysis has “made me try to focus even more on what multiple contradictory things are most important to me.”

Hodges has formidable approach and a capability to make the type of even extremely complicated items clearly audible. His tone colour on the piano can shift from vinegary to supple in seconds. He is strikingly adaptable to the extensively divergent visions of varied modern composers. In John Adams’s “China Gates” (1977), Hodges has mixed rhythmic propulsion with tiptoe delicacy. In Brian Ferneyhough’s opera “Shadowtime” (2004), he tackled a prismatically virtuosic solo whereas asking enigmatic questions out loud, like “What is the cube root of a counterfactual?” In Simon Steen-Andersen’s Piano Concerto (2014), he confronted off in opposition to a video projection of himself at a smashed grand piano.

In 2020, Hodges recorded “A Bag of Bagatelles,” which wove collectively works by Beethoven and Harrison Birtwistle, an in depth collaborator. The juxtaposition illuminates the complexity, unpredictability and orchestral scale that animate the music of two composers centuries aside. Looking again, Hodges realized that he had recorded the album with untreated Parkinson’s illness.

HODGES WAS BORN in London in 1970. His father was a studio supervisor on the BBC who later labored in computing, and his mom was knowledgeable opera singer. Hodges started taking part in the piano at age 6 and composing at 9. Among his early items was the primary scene of an opera primarily based on the Perseus fantasy.

Hodges attended elementary college at Christ Church Cathedral School in Oxford, the place he took classes on the viola, the oboe, the harpsichord and the organ, as well as to the piano. He sang within the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, performing works like Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” on the Royal Festival Hall underneath Simon Rattle.

“We were woken up earlier than the rest of the school to practice,” Hodges stated. The college students who didn’t play music “got half an hour more sleep than I did the whole of my childhood.”

For secondary college, Hodges went to Winchester College, in Hampshire, the place Benjamin Morison, a pianist and composer who’s now a professor of philosophy at Princeton University, launched Hodges to modern music by taking part in an LP of music by Birtwistle and Gyorgy Kurtag. Hodges and Morison carried out an association of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” for 2 pianos and Pierre Boulez’s stressed “Structures II” for his or her lecturers and fellow college students at Winchester, to bemused reactions.

“I remember him being very precise — and encouraging me to be precise — and extremely musical,” Morison stated of Hodges in a telephone interview. “He was able to make the music speak as music.”

In 1986, Hodges took a seminar with the composer Morton Feldman on the Dartington Summer School, the place Feldman impressed upon him the seriousness of the experimental avant-garde. Hodges additionally performed in a band that coated songs by the Sex Pistols and the Sisters of Mercy.

It was a heady and influential time. “I was improvising; I was listening to weird, dark, funky music, and playing Debussy,” Hodges stated.

For a number of years, he thought of pursuing composition, to the dismay of his extra historically minded mom. At age 23, he determined to refocus on the piano. “I just was having more fun as a pianist,” he stated. “Composing is too much hard work.”

As a part of that call, Hodges started learning with the pianist Sulamita Aronovsky, who had defected to Britain from the Soviet Union. A automotive crash shortly after the transfer had ended her profession as a performer. “She used to say to me, whenever I would come to her lesson and complain, ‘Mr. Hodges, you have to accept everyone has these problems,’” he recalled. “‘It’s the people who get past these problems who have careers.’”

Hodges has since carried out as a soloist with orchestras together with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra — normally in modern repertoire and infrequently with items written for him. He is a professor of piano on the State University of Music and Performing Arts in Stuttgart, Germany, and nearly continually premieres new work solo and in chamber music formations.

“All these composers that we had idolized when we were teenagers, he has subsequently commissioned pieces from,” stated Morison, who stays shut with Hodges. “It’s an extraordinary thrill to witness that.”

WHEN HODGES RECEIVED his analysis, the information got here with conflicting feelings. The first, Hodges recalled, was a sure cockiness. “I’m going to be a medical miracle,” he thought to himself. “I’m going to carry on whatever happens.”

When that part handed, Hodges felt reduction. He had a transparent analysis, and the dopamine therapies prescribed by Dr. Schreiber helped. “The medication makes it possible for me to sometimes feel and play like I don’t have it,” Hodges stated. “When you’re suffering from something like that and you’re untreated, you feel like you’re getting old before your time, you feel like your children have worn you out — and my poor children were blamed for that.”

Hodges has had to make painful selections whereas prioritizing performing commitments. Since 2012, he has performed in Trio Accanto, an ensemble consisting of Hodges, the German percussionist Christian Dierstein and the Swiss saxophonist Marcus Weiss. The group has toured Europe’s main new-music festivals and recorded six albums of up to date music collectively.

When Dierstein and Weiss realized of Hodges’s analysis, they have been shaken. “We’re scared, and we are as concerned and sad as we were when we first found out,” Dierstein stated in a video interview. “But it was always clear to us that we want to continue playing with Nic and that we’ll take the illness into account.”

After a interval of reflection throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Hodges determined to withdraw from Trio Accanto. He discovered the logistics concerned in touring to live shows and coping with the complicated instrumental setups required by many items too taxing. The 2024-25 season can be Hodges’s final with the group.

Playing with Trio Accanto “was ideal chamber music for me,” Hodges stated. But, he added, “Parkinson’s makes it necessary for my life to be simple.”

Hodges has additionally realized to construction the doses of his remedy — together with a dopamine inhaler, a receptor agonist patch and extended-release capsules — in a approach that helps his live performance roster. This usually requires stark sacrifices: He primarily schedules the worst of his signs.

In February, Hodges carried out Rebecca Saunders’s “to an utterance” for piano and orchestra, a piece composed for him, on the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. A last rehearsal the afternoon of the efficiency meant he had to take dopamine as soon as at 4 p.m., and once more at 8 p.m.

“There might be moments when I feel like I’ve taken a bit too much,” Hodges stated earlier that day, “but in the situation of playing, that’s way better than having taken too little.”

In an electronic mail, Saunders stated that Hodges nonetheless performs with depth. “His recent performance of the piano concerto ‘to an utterance’ was brilliant, and I found it deeply expressive,” she wrote. She is planning to write him an bold new piece she described as “a big, long solo based on the concerto.”

Seven different composers are at the moment at work on new piano concertos for Hodges. This spring, he recorded Betsy Jolas’s full solo piano works and premiered a brand new piece by Christian Wolff, “Scraping Up Sand in the Bottom of the Sea.” Hodges additionally plans to file an album with works by Debussy and modern composers, comparable to his double portrait of Beethoven and Birtwistle.

On uncommon events, Hodges has felt he was handled in a different way due to his sickness. One composer lately “looked straight at my hands as if they would be twisted or bleeding,” he stated. But many extra of his collaborators have been supportive, serving to him adapt with out condescension or pity.

Hodges says that his aim, now, is to regulate his profession “to ensure that I have the best chance to slow the progress of the disease and thus keep playing with any qualities I might have had before Parkinson’s more or less intact.”

He is aware of that may not final ceaselessly. “If I should stop playing, then I hope that my friends tell me I should stop playing,” Hodges stated. “But, at the moment, it’s working.”


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