David Helfgott Gives Guest Performance in Vienna
When was the last time such a happy artist played in the Konzerthaus? The music afflicted him and restored him to life. On October 24, David Helfgott captivated his audience with brilliant piano music on the Bösendorfer. And shook hundreds of hands.
The concert had been sold out for weeks the Mozart-Saal was thus filled to capacity when the Australian pianist pranced his way onto the concert platform. Even if the presenter (music promotions) probably could have filled the large hall -- left empty this evening -- David Helfgott was must closer to his audience in the Mozart-Saal, and they to him.
A look back
David Helfgott was born in Melbourne in 1947. He exhibited an extraordinary talent early on and won the national ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) music competition a total of six times. At the age of 17 he began taking piano lessons with Alice Carrard, formerly a student of Bartók and Istvan Thomas, himself a student of Franz Liszt. At that time David discovered the grandness of the music of the Pannonian composer; a musical love developed that has lasted a lifetime.
At 19, David won a scholarship to study with Cyril Smith at the Royal College of Music in London. Smith soon compared him to Vladimir Horowitz in terms of technique and temperament. In 1970, the 23-year-old performed in Royal Albert Hall, where he celebrated a triumphant success with Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto.
Taking its toll on the soul
David Helfgott, who internalized the pathological work enthusiasm of his strict father, was on the way to becoming a giant of the piano stage. However, tireless practicing and playing and being so one-sided made demands on the young artist's psyche and overtaxed it. Following repeated breakdowns, David was admitted to a mental home, where he remained passively for over six years.
His life’s greatest crisis, however, was the loss of his "inner music," as David still describes it. He remembers the day it came back with great joy: "The mist had disappeared; I could hear again... I had survived."
When the "lost son of music, returned home" appeared in public for the first time on the occasion of the hugely successful film "Shine," which depicts David Helfgott's life story, he got caught up a media maelstrom greater than anything ever involving a classical musician. The film showed a person who, after a long period of silent suffering, reentered life and with the aid of his wife reclaimed his place in society and onstage.
It is not David's moving life story that his childlike mind reminds us today, when concert halls throughout the world, and on this evening in Vienna, fill up for his performances. David Helfgott rescued his great artistic gift through all the chaos his soul endured.
Even if music critics resent his unpredictable dynamics, the creative ways in which he reads a score, or the murmuring that accompanies his playing, David Helfgott plays ingeniously. His fingers do not strike the keys, they caress them like children. Tones spring forth from the instrument like harmonic fairies. Or like fiery stallions carrying the artist and audience away in the stormy passages of the final Presto of Beethoven's "Appassionata."
Fiery also applies to Liszt's "Dante Sonata." David is immersed in the composition. With the aid of the tonally powerful Bösendorfer grand, he enters the depths and embers of hell. Man lives between heaven and hell - David knows that all too well and stirs up wounds and tones alike.
Ovations for an overjoyed artist
Finally, the devil himself enters into play. The demoniac evening ends with the Mephisto Waltz by Franz Liszt. The music sways between extremes, the tender lovemaking of Faust on the one hand and the sarcastic, sneering proceedings of Mephisto on the other. Fine melodies are replaced by a waltz played ad absurdum and flow into dizzying passion.
At the end of the great piano recital in the Konzerthaus there are shouts of "bravo" and standing ovations for an overjoyed artist, whose concerts are proof of the power of the human spirit and its imagination. For an artist "who doesn’t make music - but is music" (conductor Wilhelm Keitel).
Also read the concert review by Daniel Wagner in the "Wiener Zeitung":
(Photo credits: Bösendorfer / photographer David Peters)
Bösendorfer Showroom in the heart of Vienna
On the evening prior to his big performance Vienna’s Konzerthaus, Bösendorfer and “music promotions” invited David Helfgott and his wife Gillian to an evening with friends. Gilliant and Manager Walter Hitz first told the audience about the artist’s difficult life path and answered the guests’ many questions. Afterwards, David wowed the audience with interpretations of works of Chopin and Liszt. David joyfully communicated the full sound and rich colors of the Bösendorfer grand and showed the guests with a grand performance of Rachmoninoff as an encore that Bösendorfer pianos can also “speak” Russian expressively. Here are some photos of an unforgettable evening.
David Helfgott´s wife Gillian and manager Walter Hitz gladly answering the audience´s questions
David Helfgott playing under the watchful eyes of Bösendorfer founder Ignaz Bösendorfer
(Photo credit: © Stephan Brueckler)
The joy of experiencing David Helfgott's playing is clearly evident among the guests:
(from left to right) Martina Tichy (Wien Museum) and her partner, Ramón Santaularia (Spanish News Agency Vienna), Dieter Autengruber (Bösendorfer), Robert Wagner (singer, pianist and composer), Albert Frantz (pianist) and Elke Pasch (artist management).
The couple Gillian and David Helfgott together on the Bösendorfer grand
Two pianist friends together
(Photo credits: Rupert Löschnauer)
Bösendorfer Reference List: