Pianist Nicolas Hodges Adapts to Life With Parkinson’s

In the slide of 2018, the pianist Nicolas Hodges observed his physique shaking. He brought it up at a routine doctor’s appointment in Tübingen, Germany, exactly where he life. The medical doctor explained it was likely tension, but advised that he make an appointment with a neurologist.

Hodges didn’t make that appointment ideal absent. But then, in January 2019, the shaking induced him to perform a wrong note for the duration of a efficiency.

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

Dr. Klaus Schreiber, a neurologist and a classical audio lover, observed Hodges doing a handful of minimal actual physical responsibilities — walking throughout a space, undressing and dressing — prior to he despatched him for a collection of exams that verified Hodges experienced Parkinson’s ailment.

Dr. Schreiber approximated that Hodges had been doing with Parkinson’s for a few several years.

Hodges, 53, is a top interpreter of modern day classical new music. As a soloist and chamber musician, he has premiered and recorded is effective by a lot of crucial composers of this century, and the last. A short while ago, his signs have compelled him to decrease and prioritize his executing commitments.

The worst signs, which hardly ever occur, can go away him feeling, he said, as if he “just couldn’t perform the piano.” But the diagnosis has also strengthened his commitment to his artistry and the modern repertoire.

Bodily limits have compelled Hodges to make “aesthetic selections,” he claimed, to pick out what songs to commission and to complete with larger rigor. The diagnosis has “made me try to emphasis even more on what several contradictory items are most essential to me.”

Hodges has formidable strategy and an capability to make the form of even very complex parts evidently audible. His tone coloration on the piano can change from vinegary to supple in seconds. He is strikingly adaptable to the greatly divergent visions of numerous up to date composers. In John Adams’s “China Gates” (1977), Hodges has put together rhythmic propulsion with tiptoe delicacy. In Brian Ferneyhough’s opera “Shadowtime” (2004), he tackled a prismatically virtuosic solo while asking enigmatic thoughts out loud, like “What is the dice root of a counterfactual?” In Simon Steen-Andersen’s Piano Concerto (2014), he faced off versus a video clip projection of himself at a smashed grand piano.

In 2020, Hodges recorded “A Bag of Bagatelles,” which wove jointly will work by Beethoven and Harrison Birtwistle, a close collaborator. The juxtaposition illuminates the complexity, unpredictability and orchestral scale that animate the music of two composers centuries apart. Seeking again, Hodges realized that he had recorded the album with untreated Parkinson’s disorder.

HODGES WAS BORN in London in 1970. His father was a studio manager at the BBC who later on worked in computing, and his mother was a professional opera singer. Hodges commenced participating in the piano at age 6 and composing at 9. Between his early pieces was the to start with scene of an opera primarily based on the Perseus myth.

Hodges attended elementary school at Christ Church Cathedral University in Oxford, where by he took lessons on the viola, the oboe, the harpsichord and the organ, in addition to the piano. He sang in the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, undertaking is effective like Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” at the Royal Competition Corridor beneath Simon Rattle.

“We had been woken up before than the relaxation of the college to apply,” Hodges said. The learners who did not enjoy new music “got 50 % an hour extra rest than I did the whole of my childhood.”

For secondary faculty, Hodges went to Winchester School, in Hampshire, where Benjamin Morison, a pianist and composer who is now a professor of philosophy at Princeton College, released Hodges to modern day tunes by participating in an LP of music by Birtwistle and Gyorgy Kurtag. Hodges and Morison done an arrangement of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” for two pianos and Pierre Boulez’s restless “Structures II” for their lecturers and fellow learners at Winchester, to bemused reactions.

“I try to remember him currently being quite specific — and encouraging me to be specific — and really musical,” Morison claimed of Hodges in a cellular phone interview. “He was ready to make the audio discuss as music.”

In 1986, Hodges took a seminar with the composer Morton Feldman at the Dartington Summer time College, in which Feldman amazed upon him the seriousness of the experimental avant-garde. Hodges also performed in a band that protected songs by the Intercourse Pistols and the Sisters of Mercy.

It was a heady and influential time. “I was improvising I was listening to weird, dark, funky audio, and enjoying Debussy,” Hodges claimed.

For numerous years, he regarded as pursuing composition, to the dismay of his a lot more ordinarily minded mom. At age 23, he made the decision to refocus on the piano. “I just was possessing much more pleasurable as a pianist,” he reported. “Composing is as well substantially really hard get the job done.”

As component of that decision, Hodges commenced studying with the pianist Sulamita Aronovsky, who had defected to Britain from the Soviet Union. A motor vehicle crash shortly right after the shift had ended her profession as a performer. “She utilised to say to me, when I would occur to her lesson and complain, ‘Mr. Hodges, you have to settle for all people has these difficulties,’” he recalled. “‘It’s the people who get past these challenges who have professions.’”

Hodges has since carried out as a soloist with orchestras like the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra — generally in modern repertoire and normally with pieces prepared for him. He is a professor of piano at the Condition College of Tunes and Undertaking Arts in Stuttgart, Germany, and almost regularly premieres new operate solo and in chamber audio formations.

“All these composers that we had idolized when we had been young adults, he has subsequently commissioned items from,” said Morison, who continues to be shut with Hodges. “It’s an extraordinary thrill to witness that.”

WHEN HODGES Acquired his diagnosis, the news came with conflicting feelings. The initial, Hodges recalled, was a sure cockiness. “I’m heading to be a health care wonder,” he thought to himself. “I’m heading to have on whatever happens.”

When that phase passed, Hodges felt relief. He experienced a distinct prognosis, and the dopamine remedies recommended by Dr. Schreiber aided. “The treatment tends to make it probable for me to occasionally sense and perform like I never have it,” Hodges explained. “When you are struggling from one thing like that and you’re untreated, you truly feel like you are acquiring old before your time, you feel like your kids have worn you out — and my weak young children had been blamed for that.”

Hodges has had to make painful decisions while prioritizing undertaking commitments. Considering that 2012, he has played in Trio Accanto, an ensemble consisting of Hodges, the German percussionist Christian Dierstein and the Swiss saxophonist Marcus Weiss. The team has toured Europe’s important new-music festivals and recorded 6 albums of contemporary new music jointly.

When Dierstein and Weiss uncovered of Hodges’s diagnosis, they have been shaken. “We’re afraid, and we are as involved and unfortunate as we were when we to start with found out,” Dierstein claimed in a video interview. “But it was always distinct to us that we want to go on actively playing with Nic and that we’ll get the sickness into account.”

Immediately after a interval of reflection for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, Hodges decided to withdraw from Trio Accanto. He discovered the logistics included in touring to live shows and working with the elaborate instrumental setups demanded by many items much too taxing. The 2024-25 period will be Hodges’s very last with the group.

Actively playing with Trio Accanto “was suitable chamber new music for me,” Hodges reported. But, he additional, “Parkinson’s tends to make it needed for my daily life to be basic.”

Hodges has also learned to framework the doses of his treatment — like a dopamine inhaler, a receptor agonist patch and prolonged-release drugs — in a way that supports his live performance roster. This typically necessitates stark sacrifices: He essentially schedules the worst of his indicators.

In February, Hodges carried out Rebecca Saunders’s “to an utterance” for piano and orchestra, a function composed for him, at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. A ultimate rehearsal the afternoon of the performance meant he experienced to take dopamine at the time at 4 p.m., and once more at 8 p.m.

“There may possibly be times when I sense like I have taken a little bit too much,” Hodges said earlier that working day, “but in the predicament of taking part in, that is way superior than obtaining taken as well little.”

In an e mail, Saunders stated that Hodges nonetheless plays with depth. “His modern efficiency of the piano concerto ‘to an utterance’ was outstanding, and I located it deeply expressive,” she wrote. She is preparing to produce him an bold new piece she described as “a significant, very long solo centered on the concerto.”

7 other composers are at present at perform on new piano concertos for Hodges. This spring, he recorded Betsy Jolas’s comprehensive solo piano functions and premiered a new piece by Christian Wolff, “Scraping Up Sand in the Bottom of the Sea.” Hodges also plans to report an album with performs by Debussy and present-day composers, comparable to his double portrait of Beethoven and Birtwistle.

On exceptional events, Hodges has felt he was addressed differently since of his sickness. One particular composer recently “looked straight at my hands as if they would be twisted or bleeding,” he mentioned. But a lot of more of his collaborators have been supportive, assisting him adapt devoid of condescension or pity.

Hodges claims that his objective, now, is to adjust his profession “to ensure that I have the most effective opportunity to slow the development of the ailment and so preserve participating in with any characteristics I might have experienced prior to Parkinson’s extra or a lot less intact.”

He is aware that may well not last forever. “If I ought to stop participating in, then I hope that my buddies explain to me I should really prevent participating in,” Hodges reported. “But, at the minute, it is working.”