Within the fall of 2018, the pianist Nicolas Hodges observed his physique shaking. He introduced it up at a routine physician’s appointment in Tübingen, Germany, the place he lives. The physician mentioned it was most likely stress, however beneficial that he make an appointment with a neurologist.
Hodges didn’t make that appointment straight away. However then, in January 2019, the shaking precipitated him to play a flawed word throughout a efficiency.
“It turned immediately clear that I needed to discover out what was occurring,” he mentioned.
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 collection of assessments 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. Lately, his signs have compelled him to scale back and prioritize his performing commitments.
The worst signs, which hardly ever happen, can depart him feeling, he mentioned, as if he “simply couldn’t play the piano.” However the prognosis has additionally strengthened his dedication to his artistry and the up to date repertoire.
Bodily limits have compelled Hodges to make “aesthetic selections,” he mentioned, to pick out what music to fee and to carry out with better rigor. The prognosis has “made me attempt to focus much more on what a number of contradictory issues are most essential to me.”
Hodges has formidable method and a capability to make the type of even extremely advanced items clearly audible. His tone colour on the piano can shift from vinegary to supple in seconds. He’s strikingly adaptable to the broadly divergent visions of assorted up to date 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’s the dice root of a counterfactual?” In Simon Steen-Andersen’s Piano Concerto (2014), he confronted off towards 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. Wanting 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. Amongst his early items was the primary scene of an opera based mostly on the Perseus fantasy.
Hodges attended elementary faculty at Christ Church Cathedral Faculty in Oxford, the place he took classes on the viola, the oboe, the harpsichord and the organ, along with the piano. He sang within the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, performing works like Benjamin Britten’s “Conflict Requiem” on the Royal Pageant Corridor underneath Simon Rattle.
“We have been woken up sooner than the remainder of the varsity to apply,” Hodges mentioned. The scholars who didn’t play music “bought half an hour extra sleep than I did the entire of my childhood.”
For secondary faculty, Hodges went to Winchester Faculty, in Hampshire, the place Benjamin Morison, a pianist and composer who’s now a professor of philosophy at Princeton College, launched Hodges to up to date 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 Ceremony of Spring” for 2 pianos and Pierre Boulez’s stressed “Constructions II” for his or her lecturers and fellow college students at Winchester, to bemused reactions.
“I bear in mind him being very exact — and inspiring me to be exact — and very musical,” Morison mentioned of Hodges in a telephone interview. “He was in a position to make the music converse as music.”
In 1986, Hodges took a seminar with the composer Morton Feldman on the Dartington Summer time Faculty, the place Feldman impressed upon him the seriousness of the experimental avant-garde. Hodges additionally performed in a band that coated songs by the Intercourse Pistols and the Sisters of Mercy.
It was a heady and influential time. “I used to be improvising; I used to be listening to bizarre, darkish, funky music, and taking part in Debussy,” Hodges mentioned.
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 simply was having extra enjoyable as a pianist,” he mentioned. “Composing is an excessive amount of arduous work.”
As a part of that call, Hodges started finding out with the pianist Sulamita Aronovsky, who had defected to Britain from the Soviet Union. A automobile crash shortly after the transfer had ended her profession as a performer. “She used to say to me, at any time when I’d come to her lesson and complain, ‘Mr. Hodges, you need to settle for everybody has these issues,’” he recalled. “‘It’s the individuals who get previous these issues who’ve 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 — often in up to date repertoire and infrequently with items written for him. He’s a professor of piano on the State College of Music and Performing Arts in Stuttgart, Germany, and virtually consistently premieres new work solo and in chamber music formations.
“All these composers that we had idolized after we have been youngsters, he has subsequently commissioned items from,” mentioned Morison, who stays shut with Hodges. “It’s a rare thrill to witness that.”
WHEN HODGES RECEIVED his prognosis, the information got here with conflicting feelings. The primary, Hodges recalled, was a sure cockiness. “I’m going to be a medical miracle,” he thought to himself. “I’m going to hold on no matter occurs.”
When that section handed, Hodges felt reduction. He had a transparent prognosis, and the dopamine remedies prescribed by Dr. Schreiber helped. “The remedy makes it attainable for me to typically really feel and play like I don’t have it,” Hodges mentioned. “While you’re affected by one thing like that and also you’re untreated, you’re feeling such as you’re getting outdated earlier than your time, you’re feeling like your kids have worn you out — and my poor kids have been blamed for that.”
Hodges has needed 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 prognosis, they have been shaken. “We’re scared, and we’re as involved and unhappy as we have been after we first discovered,” Dierstein mentioned in a video interview. “But it surely was all the time clear to us that we wish to proceed taking part in with Nic and that we’ll take the sickness into consideration.”
After a interval of reflection throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Hodges determined to withdraw from Trio Accanto. He discovered the logistics concerned in touring to concert events and coping with the advanced instrumental setups required by many items too taxing. The 2024-25 season will likely be Hodges’s final with the group.
Taking part in with Trio Accanto “was superb chamber music for me,” Hodges mentioned. However, he added, “Parkinson’s makes it crucial for my life to be easy.”
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 typically requires stark sacrifices: He basically 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 needed to take dopamine as soon as at 4 p.m., and once more at 8 p.m.
“There is likely to be moments once I really feel like I’ve taken a bit an excessive amount of,” Hodges mentioned earlier that day, “however within the scenario of taking part in, that’s approach higher than having taken too little.”
In an electronic mail, Saunders mentioned that Hodges nonetheless performs with depth. “His current efficiency of the piano concerto ‘to an utterance’ was good, and I discovered it deeply expressive,” she wrote. She is planning to write down him an formidable new piece she described as “an enormous, lengthy solo based mostly on the concerto.”
Seven different composers are at present 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 within the Backside of the Sea.” Hodges additionally plans to report an album with works by Debussy and up to date composers, just like his double portrait of Beethoven and Birtwistle.
On uncommon events, Hodges has felt he was handled otherwise due to his sickness. One composer not too long ago “seemed straight at my palms as if they might be twisted or bleeding,” he mentioned. However 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 make sure that I’ve the most effective probability to gradual the progress of the illness and thus preserve taking part in with any qualities I may need had earlier than Parkinson’s roughly intact.”
He is aware of which may not final ceaselessly. “If I ought to cease taking part in, then I hope that my pals inform me I ought to cease taking part in,” Hodges mentioned. “However, in the intervening time, it’s working.”