Page last updated at 16:17 GMT, Wednesday, 8 April 2009 17:17 UK

Tourette's pianist makes comeback

Nick van Bloss with Tobias Picker
A 2007 documentary explored the link between van Bloss's talent and illness

A professional pianist is to go back to performing in public, 15 years after his Tourette's syndrome forced him to leave the stage.

Nick van Bloss will play at the Cadogan Hall in London on 28 April.

In 1994, the British musician exited a major international competition mid-performance when, for the first time in his life, he experienced tics on stage.

Van Bloss said he looked forward to playing publicly: "It will be wonderful to say 'yes, I can do this, finally'".

The pianist began to suffer from sudden and severe motor and vocal tics as a child, including shaking his head, grinding his teeth and making wild whooping noises.


Van Bloss told BBC Radio 4's PM programme that he has continued to perform since retreating from the public gaze.

"I've played to the simplicity of the four walls at home, the non-judgemental audience. It's been very comforting to do that."

The musician explained: "Having Tourette's is a really exhausting thing. The body is gyrating and moving, dancing to its own tune.

"It was a question of balancing a performing career and all the stuff that goes with it - the agents, the administration - with the body which is never stopping, so it was doubly exhausting."

Van Bloss says he is now able to see some benefits to his illness: "It's a curse because it's exhausting but it keeps the mind very alive. You have this incredible energy.

"The Tourette's has got worse as the years have gone, but so has the odd energy that is within me," he added.

Nick Van Bloss studied at the Royal College of Music for seven years after taking up the piano when he was 11. By the age of 20 he was an award-winning international pianist.

'Controlled emotion'

Van Bloss' condition remained undiagnosed until he was 21 and no medical treatments were able to help him.

But he said that one activity stopped it all: "The cure within myself is that whenever I play or really concentrate on the music, the Tourette's seems to disappear.

"It's almost as if it's saying "you know what, we're being satisfied now". All these nasty little tics in my body, they sit back, and finally I can be myself and touch the piano and communicate properly.

Nick van Bloss
Bach really drives me. I think it's the order he gives, yet there's a wonderful controlled emotion
Nick van Bloss

"I get this wonderful sense of peace while having this wonderful release from the ticcing body which is my normality" the musician added.
Van Bloss played recitals, concertos and chamber music in the UK and around Europe for many years, remaining "tic free" whenever he was at the piano.

He was one of only six pianists from Britain invited to play at the 1994 event he walked out of, the Chopin Festival in Warsaw.

The musician analysed the relationship between his illness and his musical talent in a BBC documentary in 2007, and the response to the programme led him to reconsider performing.

He recorded a CD which came to the attention of acclaimed classical producer Michael Hass, who facilitated the Cadogan Hall performance.

Hass describes the pianist as bringing "a razor-sharp clarity to the densest polyphonic keyboard music with a technical command that I have only witnessed from the great pianists of our time."

Van Bloss will play a number of pieces by the composer Bach on his return to the stage.

"Bach really drives me. I think it's the order he gives, yet there's a wonderful controlled emotion" he said.

"Perhaps that's what I crave in everyday life away from the piano when I've got this body which won't be ordered."

Print Sponsor

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