In 2018, renowned pianist Nicolas Hodges first noticed that his body was shaking. He mentioned it during a routine doctor’s appointment in Tübingen, Germany, and was advised to see a neurologist. However, he didn’t make the appointment until January 2019, when the shaking caused him to play a wrong note during a performance. After observing Hodges perform a few physical tasks, neurologist Dr. Klaus Schreiber confirmed that Hodges had Parkinson’s disease, estimating that he had been performing with it for three years.
Hodges, who is known for his interpretations of contemporary classical music, has had to reduce and prioritize his performances due to his symptoms. Sometimes, he feels unable to play the piano at all. However, this diagnosis has also strengthened his dedication to his artistry and the contemporary repertoire. It has forced him to make aesthetic decisions and select what music to commission and perform with greater rigor. Hodges describes it as focusing on the most important contradictory things to him.
Hodges is highly skilled, with a versatile technique and the ability to clearly convey the form of complex pieces. For example, in John Adams’s “China Gates,” Hodges combines rhythmic propulsion with delicate precision. In Brian Ferneyhough’s opera “Shadowtime,” he tackles a virtuosic solo while posing enigmatic questions. In Simon Steen-Andersen’s Piano Concerto, he confronts a video projection of himself playing a smashed grand piano.
In 2020, Hodges recorded “A Bag of Bagatelles,” which featured works by Beethoven and Harrison Birtwistle. The album highlighted the complexity and unpredictability in the music of these two composers from different centuries. Hodges realized that he had recorded the album with untreated Parkinson’s disease.
Hodges was born in London in 1970 to a father who worked at the BBC and a mother who was an opera singer. He started playing the piano at age 6 and composing at age 9. In his early years, he attended Christ Church Cathedral School in Oxford, where he received lessons in various instruments and sang in the cathedral choir. He continued his education at Winchester College, where he was introduced to contemporary music and formed a close relationship with pianist and composer Benjamin Morison.
After initially considering a career in composition, Hodges decided to focus on the piano. He studied with pianist Sulamita Aronovsky and has since performed as a soloist with prestigious orchestras. He is currently a professor of piano in Germany and continues to premiere new works.
When Hodges received his diagnosis, he initially felt confident that he would overcome the challenges of Parkinson’s disease. However, he later experienced relief with a clear diagnosis and the help of dopamine treatments. These treatments allow him to sometimes play and feel as if he doesn’t have the disease. He has had to prioritize his performing commitments and make difficult decisions, such as withdrawing from Trio Accanto, an ensemble he has been a part of since 2012.
Hodges has learned to structure his medication doses to support his concert schedule, which often requires making sacrifices. Despite his diagnosis, he continues to play with intensity and expressiveness. His recent performance of Rebecca Saunders’s piano concerto was highly acclaimed, and Saunders plans to write him a new ambitious piece.
In the face of Parkinson’s disease, Nicolas Hodges remains dedicated to his artistry, making strategic choices in his performances while maintaining a passion for contemporary classical music.