The American Academy of Arts and Letters has cited the work of Phillip Rhodes as music (which) radiates an evocative warmth of expression, while also exhibiting a highly disciplined approach to matters of form, continuity and textual setting. Born and raised in western North Carolina, his work is as strongly influenced by the traditional music of the Appalachian South as by the works of Bartok, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky which were the foundation of his early training. The aura of lilting fiddle tunes, mournful ballads, and compelling hymns permeates several of his most well-known works, including Reels and Reveries (Variations for Orchestra) and the Concerto for Bluegrass Band and Orchestra, Fiddletunes for Solo Violin and Synthesized Strings, Three Appalachian Settings for Chorus and Fiddle, and Two Appalachian Settings for String Quartet. In every case Rhodes speaks with a clear and convincing voice as noted in the following reviews:
From MusicWeb.com (United Kingdom) Neil Horner writes about Rhodes CD, With A Mountain View:
This is a superb introduction to the music of American composer Phillip Rhodes the Love Song (Two Appalachian Settings] in particular is six minutes of sheer beauty All of this cycle [Mountain Songs] is seldom less than great but Jehovah is a towering achievement a spine-chilling Gaelic lament. It is the most outstanding piece on an outstanding disc and demands to be heard - to call it transcendent is not an exaggeration. Rhodes has another tour-de-force waiting at the end of the disc. Reels and Reveries is again, to these ears anyway, a masterpiece I cannot recommend this highly enough.
Sullivan at The American Record Guide puts Rhodes CD, With A Mountain View, into historical context:
Over the past 30 years, North Carolina native Phillip Rhodes has written a series of pieces fusing concert music with folk tunes from the Appalachian South. This album brings together a number of them, ranging from austere vocal settings of The Unquiet Grave, Birdie Went A-Courtin and others, sung with austere power by Phyllis Bryn-Julson accompanied by Anne Mayer, to a rollicking Bluegrass-oriented variation set called Reels and Reveries, vividly played by the Owensboro Symphony under Michael Luxner. The notes don't say this, but other composers are attempting similar fusions, among them John Beal, Wynton Marsalis, and Peter Schickele. But unless we count Ives and Copland, Rhodes was one of the first, and his works have an unusually wide range of moods and degrees of complexity. Reels is uninhibited fun, for example, whereas Fiddle Tunes has Bartokian experiments in dissonance and rhythmic displacement. The most appealing track is the first, a lovely and haunting quartet setting of Black is the Color of My True Loves Hair, which Rhodes wrote for his sons wedding. It is soulfully played by the Veblen Quartet. This album is ideal for those who love Bluegrass and old-time music as well as classical. There are more of us than you might think.
Other reviewers comment on a broad range of work:
It was Phillip Rhodes Duo for Violin and Cello that had the most to say. The music moves -- and with healthy purpose and expressive feeling. The counterpoint works; and you could hear and follow the connections of thought score one for a thorough-going composer.
ROBERT COMMANDAY, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Perhaps the most enjoyable selection is the Three Gershwin Settings for violin and piano (2002-2004), which not only has great melodies by a master, but also some interesting elaborations by Rhodes that convey a feeling of improvisation and fantasy.
BLAIR SANDERSON, THE AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE; ALL MUSIC GUIDE
The Lament of Michal for Soprano and Orchestra: The vocal line wrings all possible expression out of the words and the colorful orchestration skillfully underscores the drama. There are many gorgeous and moving moments
PETER G. DAVIS, THE NEW YORK TIMES
Rhodes Quartet radiates good humor and liveliness. Rhodes has a rare maturity of style. This is no faceless work that tickles the ear and invites cerebration. It is music that proclaims its willingness to be enjoyed with every note a total effect of tasteful, strong characterizations in sound.
THOMAS WILLIS, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE
The Concerto for Bluegrass Band and Orchestra: the mixture of bluegrass with symphony seems to this listener every bit as exciting and original as the fusion between jazz and symphonic music in Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Don't miss it.
STEPHEN WIGLER, THE DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE, ROCHESTER, NY
This was all delightful, but the real masterpiece of the evening was Phillip Rhodes Concerto for Bluegrass Band and Orchestra. Rhodes managed to put bluegrass in an orchestral setting without denying its integrity.
JAMES REEL, THE ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Rhodes has an incredibly exact ear for instrumental color. His writing for both string quartet and his vocal line in Autumn Setting are marvelously expressive
WILLIAM MOOTZ, THE LOUISVILLE COURIER-JOURNAL