Victory for pianist as Sony backs off its block on Bach

Victory for pianist as Sony backs off its block on Bach


norman lebrecht

September 16, 2018

The mindless Sony Corporation has been forced to rescind its block on a Bach video by the pianist James Rhodes in which it claimed to own 47 seconds of the music.

Rhodes, who is active on social media, raised a twitter storm and the corp eventually retracted.

You can see the restored video here, still with the Sony notice.

Read Sony Doesn’t Own Bach analysis.



  • Sue says:

    Mindless Sony Corporation? Yes, you have to be mindless to be that successful. And James Rhodes should have remained quiet; from what I saw of his Bach it was atrocious – two hands not in sync and rhythm all over the shop. Embarrassing.

    • Hilary says:

      I find myself in agreement with you Sue. I’ve enjoyed some of Rhodes’s playing in the past….It can have an attractive communicative quality despite the lack of polish. I remember an engaging performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral Sonata at a private concert.

      However, this just sounds rather choppy emphasised by the camerawork. Better not flag this one up as you say.

    • Alex Davies says:

      James Rhodes isn’t a great pianist, and I’m sure he’d be the first to agree that he isn’t. What he offers is a combination of personality and music that appeals to an audience that wants precisely that. If you want a great Bach performance, listen to Angela Hewitt. But I suspect that most of Rhodes’s listeners wouldn’t be listening to Angela Hewitt, and that is fine. James Rhodes isn’t just a pianist. He’s a writer and broadcaster (about life as much as about music) and a pianist. If people enjoy his playing, where is the harm in that?

    • Nerdelbaum Frink says:

      Are you developmentally delayed or something? Why are you using monetary means as an argument for them being correct and why are you attacking this person’s playing? Yes, Sony was mindless in this case, because this reporting is automated using software: it’s literally a mindless act. Yes, his playing is not amazing, but no, that has no bearing on Sony overstepping their legal bounds. What’s embarrassing is your pathetic comment: written by a disgusting piece of gutter trash.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Mindless, because it is clearly not their property and yet they apparently allow bots to stake claims to amateur performances of public domain music without any human check for accuracy or common sense.

    If you don’t like his performance you should be even more astonished that Sony claimed it as their own.

  • Andrew Kennaugh says:

    James Rhodes is about on a par with David Helfgott…they both sound as if they may benefit from some lessons from a good teacher…neither will improve if everyone keeps telling them how ‘marvellous’ they are and they keep believing it..

    • Alex Davies says:

      Isn’t the difference that David Helfgott was once a brilliant pianist, a prize-winning graduate of the Royal College of Music, who suffered an early and catastrophic decline from which he never recovered, whereas James Rhodes is essentially a very talented amateur pianist who only turned to music as a full-time career later in life? James Rhodes turned down a scholarship to the Guildhall School to read psychology at UCL and then had a career in the City. It was only after his mental breakdown that he returned to music and made a second career for himself as a pianist, writer, and broadcaster. Also, James Rhodes is only 43 and could conceivably benefit from further study, whereas at the age of 71 I very much doubt that David Helfgott is going to improve enough to recover the career that was once expected of him. Furthermore, I suspect that with his early training to a very high standard Helfgott probably knows exactly what he should be doing, but perhaps just can’t do it, whereas Rhodes, having put his musical training on hold at a crucial point in his life, may actually have more to learn. So apart from the fact that they are both pianists who have faults, I don’t see that the comparison holds up very strongly. Indeed, the main criticism that seems to be levelled at Helfgott is that his interpretations are eccentric and his performances lack musicianship, whereas most people seem to agree that Rhodes is actually very musical but could improve his technical skills. So they really aren’t that comparable at all.

    • Nerdelbaum Frink says:

      And people leaving stupid comments on the internet have even less talent and worth as a human.

  • Mathias Broucek says:

    Am baffled by these comments. The quality of his playing is COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT to the issue. The point is that a multinational corporation trampled all over his right to play 18th Century music!!!!

  • Anon says:

    This guy has made a complete joke out of himself in Spain, where he’s been living for the past few months. Somehow he feels this has made him a world expert on being an expat in Spain.

    He’s captured the ear of some amused publisher at El Pais and they keep printing ridiculous, cloying stories that he’s written about how much he loves Spain. They are really over-the-top absurd, to the point where Spaniards are making fun of him.

    Here’s an example on a Spanish satire site about Rhodes “apologizing to Franco”. He’s really made an ass of himself.

  • George says:

    Whomever is masquerading around as “Nerdelbaum Frink” is probably has a personal relation to Rhodes (possibly even Rhodes himself?). They seems to be taking these fairly objective criticisms rather personally. With a public figure like Rhodes, any such criticism is perfectly appropriate. (You don’t see Yuja Wang and her friends going around the internet under a pseudonym and getting offended by criticisms of her playing.) Besides, “Nerdelbaum”, to use such a ridiculous fake name is rather juvenile if you wish to be taken seriously.

  • Anon says:

    Exactly. I was thinking the same thing, that Nerdelbaum Frank is actually James Rhodes. It’s pretty obvious.

    And as long as you’re reading this, James, just because you’ve temporarily relocated to Spain does not make you a more credible pianist nor does it make you the 1st English speaker to live as an expat in Spain. There are leagues of us.

    Spain has 26 full time professional orchestras, full of very well trained English (and just about every other language) speaking musicians. We’ve lived here most of our professional lives, we play at a very high level, we work with every conceivable international pianist and we’d never heard of you until your ridiculous commentaries started appearing in El Pais.

    We think you’re a joke. Our Spanish friends clearly think you’re a joke and if you read Spanish you’ll see exactly why. If you insist on living in Spain please do so quietly as we have done for many years and refrain deluging us with your insipid, shallow views based on your several months’ experience living in country where we’ve worked for decades.

    You can’t just show up in another country and decide you’re an expert either at the piano or at Spanish culture. Spaniards are not that naive. And there are tons of us English speaking musicians here long before you who are actually viable musicians. You give us all a bad rap. Please be quiet or go back to the UK. Thank you.

    • Alex Davies says:

      I don’t see why you need to be so unpleasant about James Rhodes. I also don’t think it’s likely that he’s posting pseudonymously on here. We all know what the deal is with James Rhodes: he is a decent enough pianist to make a living from performing and recording and posting on social media. He is not in first rank of pianists and does not claim to be. He is not Maurizio Pollini or Angela Hewitt. He is not even in competition with the likes of Pollini or Hewitt. His fans are buying into a whole package of his personality and his story as well as his music. This is why his CDs sometimes also include him introducing the pieces he is going to play or interviews he has given. This is also why his CDs have autobiographical titles, such as ‘Now Would All Freudians Please Stand Aside’ or ‘Razor Blades, Little Pills & Big Pianos’ and carry warnings about strong language. If you read online reviews of his CDs you will see that people love his playing and also love him. Most of these people probably have not heard Rubinstein or Horowitz or Arrau and do not go to recitals by Mitsuko Uchida or Krystian Zimerman. James Rhodes is a different product for a different market, and that is fine. You seem to hate him because he isn’t a Barenboim or an Ashkenazy, but that is not what he is trying to be. Perhaps you also hate Andrea Bocelli and André Rieu. Personally, I like more serious music, but I don’t mind that other people like something different. If James Rhodes does an all-Chopin CD I’ll probably get a copy of it. It won’t be the best Chopin I’ve ever heard, but I’d be interested to hear what he does with it.

      • Anon says:

        No, my opinion of him has very little to do with his playing and everything to do with his posturing in the Spanish press trying to be something he is not. Big difference.

        • Nik says:

          There must be a market for what he writes. One assumes that the editor of Spain’s leading daily paper is no fool.

          • Anon says:

            Voyeurism. If you read the comments after anything he’s written or the satirical articles mocking him, you’ll see that Spaniards are making fun of him. They read it to laugh at it, to laugh at him. This does not sit well with the expat community, esp. those of us who are musicians.

            Spaniards are not idiots to fall for such treacly praise. You (I’ll simplify this, since you are probably the one defending yourself here) are speaking to Spaniards as if they are small children, trying to gain their approval. It’s cloying and condescending and you underestimate them. They also realized pretty quickly that you are not a bonifide pianist.

            Everyone is sort of wondering why you are in Spain making so much noise. Do you realize how many pianists Spain produces? From top of the line internationally renowned players like Javier Perianes or Joaquin Achucarro to young competitors in international competitions, graduates of top international conservatories, to cross over artists to the legions of fine local conservatory grads who make their living teaching piano. Spain has no shortage of pianists trying to earn a living.

            When someone like yourself shows up from abroad and immediately makes so much noise in the press people expect that you must be somehow better than what Spain already has, or you wouldn’t be touting yourself publicly. You’re not and this is confusing. Did you think by coming to Spain your pianistic shortcomings might be overlooked? That if you sung the praises of the merienda that Spaniards would embrace you? Come on, if it were that easy, the thousands of working expat musicians who’ve lived in Spain for years would all be sending our thoughts into El Pais.

            You are not special. You are not different. You offer nothing to Spaniards except as a curiosity, someone to make fun of, which they are very very good at.

            I understand the approach you are hoping to take, and the only person who’s remotely succeeded in doing it in Spain is the violinist Ara Malikian. He is actually a pretty decent violinist and served time as Concertmaster of one of Spain’s top orchestras before breaking out his “personality” as a soloist. He also speaks fluent Spanish. His act is brilliant. He has something to offer. We are not sure that you do.

            You’ve already made a questionable name for yourself among readers of El Pais, the expat community in Spain who have watched your articles in astonishment, and a very bad name among legit musicians who permanently reside in Spain.

            Just stop it please. It doesn’t work. Either go back to the UK and peddle your act there or move to the south of Spain and play clubs in Benidorm where I’m sure your drunken compatriats will view you more favorably.

  • George says:

    In all fairness, Rhodes’ playing of the Chopin F Minor Fantasy is entirely competent, which is impressive for such a big piece. I mean, he’s no Michelangeli, and his playing of other pieces may suffer, but I think his problem is actually not technique but it’s his understanding of the score, which is very superficial, and then implementing it in his playing. If he understood the score better, what sounds like bad technique would simply disappear; his Bach Partita would no longer sound nonsensical. Rhodes problem is that he is unmusical. Of course technique is the basis of musicality, so I suppose I’m approaching the same problem from a different angle, but one that runs deeper than just technical carelessness.
    Rhodes’ lack of musical understanding would explain his sensationalist approach to music, for instance “Chopin: all the sadness” and his ridiculous Tedtalk which was complete drivel (like most tedtalks). In short he doesn’t engage critically with the music.

    • Hilary says:

      An interesting take. I’d not thought of this.
      The Bach sounds ungainly and looks it, so I can only assume technical issues of some sort. The Allemande is so motoric that it does put a spotlight on evenness of fingerwork etc.
      But, as I’ve said I’ve enjoyed his playing in the past, especially of repertoire I’ve not known so well, like the Blumenfeld étude for the left hand.