James Rhodes at Soho Downstairs
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th November, 2015
The value of music as therapy is something that many civilizations have understood. The Abbasid caliphate (750-1257 in the Western calendar) had hospitals for those suffering from mental illness in which music was part of patient care, alongside story-telling and fountains that cooled the summer air and promoted tranquility. But until recently little attention has been paid to the therapeutic benefits of music for musicians themselves, despite the fact that there are well-recorded instances of both composers and performers who experienced depression, mental breakdowns and other forms of mental illness. An old boy of my own school, Manchester Grammar, the brilliant pianist John Ogdon, was a case in point. These days it is easier to talk about mental illness than it was even 20 years ago, as the stigma is being gradually removed and mental conditions are increasingly been given parity to physical illnesses in government priorities.
All of this long preamble was stimulated by a performance I attended with my pianist friend Anna Paola last night in the basement auditorium of the Soho Theatre. James Rhodes played pieces by Bach, Chopin and Gluck (among others) on a Yamaha grand, each related to some aspect or period of his life and interspersed by short readings from and commentaries on his autobiography, Instrumental, which was published earlier this year. This covers the sexual abuse he suffered as a child, his frequent dissociation from the world around him, his periods of self-harm and the breakdown of his first marriage, as well as the epiphanies associated with his son and his meeting with the woman who is now his second wife. James Rhodes is a hugely appealing, even infectious, person on stage, endearing in his self-deprecation and his skill at avoiding bathos through humour. Personally I found some of his interpretations of Chopin heavily intense, but loved his renditions of Bach. It was interesting to note that the audience was predominantly young and the reactions of many had more in common with attendees at a pop concert rather than a classical recital. But like the violinist Nigel Kennedy, James Rhodes has helped make classical music cool to a new generation. And I shall certainly be buying and reading his book, as soon as I have finished writing my own childhood memoir.