REVIEW: James Rhodes at Latitude Festival, Suffolk
25 July 2013
Few concert halls – not even the lake-ensconced KKL Luzern, watery
home to the Lucerne Piano Festival, or London’s Royal Festival Hall, post-war
edifice with enviable Thames views – can claim a stage that’s as dramatically
waterside as Latitude Festival’s waterfront stage. The floating structure,
which performing artists reach via punt, is set among the woodland and fields
of Henham Park in Suffolk; quintessentially English countryside that is overrun
by tents, fairy lights and coloured sheep for four days a year in July.
Latitude Festival (18-21 July) celebrates dance, literature, visual arts, craft and a range of music, from synth to symphonic, and last year the waterfront stage welcomed its first concert pianist, Lang Lang, who attracted a 7,000-strong audience. This year’s booking, James Rhodes, may be less well known, but his blend of gritty pianism and witty banter is ideal for such a setting. As anticipated, he didn’t disappoint, mixing short pieces by Chopin and Beethoven with interesting contextual information. His recent album Jimmy: James Rhodes Live in Brighton came with the covering note ‘caution – explicit language’ as it included Rhodes’ – frequently colourful – talking between pieces. At this Friday afternoon and family event, Rhodes was more cautious, but his rapport with the crowd was clear. The Steinway was amplified, and the sound carried magnificently across the fields, albeit with a few clunks here and there. Audience members lay on the grass, eyes closed, while others, pint in hand, stood on the bridge. Rhodes, in his customary skinny jeans, has a palpable energy at the keyboard, and an evangelical approach to classical music; exactly what is required at a cross-platform festival like Latitude.
James Rhodes plays Soho Theatre, London, 25 July-3 August