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March 22, 2023

Helfgott to tickle the ivories in Byron

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Years ago the film Shine starring Geoffrey Rush did the Australian public a great favour: it acquainted them with the irrepressible talent of the film’s subject, David Helfgott.

The story was so life affirming and so deeply life changing that many who had never bothered to listen to classical music soon found themselves at a Helfgott concert, just to be in the presence of this unconventional and gifted man. Last year he teamed up with Yantra de Vilder, a one-time Byron Shire local, for a series of concerts that the two are planning to tour through Europe.

On the eve of David and Yantra’s performance at the Byron Community Centre, Mandy Nolan caught up with Gillian Helfgott about just what is in store.

It’s great to see David and Yantra playing together on the same bill. How did they meet, or come to be touring a show together? They met in Byron Bay at a function for The Buttery and they played together informally on that occasion. They enjoyed it so much when they had the opportunity to work together again in Avoca Beach in April 2011 that they were delighted to collaborate again.

How do their styles complement each other? Do they play together at all, or is it strictly one pianist per performance? They play separately in the main recital part of the program, but they end the evening with a piece together. They improvise and it is so beautiful to experience the music flowing spontaneously from them both. This is quite a new field for David and it is opening his musical horizons to the joy of improvisation.

Why does David have such a passion for Rachmaninov? It is such romantic music and the melodies are so beautiful. It touches him deeply and he responds so much to the Russian passion and colour that is in the music.

How does David prepare for a tour like this? A lot of practice and then more. He also relaxes with swimming and reading, but the music is his main focus.

One of the most delightful aspects of David’s performance is how much he is enjoying himself. Classical music is usually frightfully stuffy. Do you think this helps less classically inclined people access music they may never have found? Absolutely. He has broken down so many barriers with his delightful personality and complete lack of formality and remoteness. The audiences also love sharing David’s joy and they leave the auditorium with smiles on their faces.

How would you describe the effect David’s music has on people? Is it possible to separate that from the energy of the man himself? Or are the man and the music one thing? The great violinist Ivry Gitless said of David, ‘He is the music’. Other musicians have also made this comment. The music flows through him and it is his great passion in life, and the audiences feel his passion and he touches people’s hearts. Frequently people have tears in their eyes from the moving experience of his performances. It is more than just a musical event: it is the man opening his heart to all.

Tell me a little about the upcoming European tour? What are the responses to David’s playing over there? Last year when David performed in the famous Vienna Concert Hall the stage manager told me he had worked at the theatre for 22 years and had never seen an audience respond to an artist as the Viennese did with David. This is a highly sophisticated audience and they love him, singing and all!

He will be returning to Vienna in April for a performance of the Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto and then touring Germany. He will also return to Vienna on his birthday in May to play at the Life Ball, a huge outdoor fundraising event for AIDS, to an audience of 40,000 people. He will also perform in Denmark and Sweden.

Are the touring schedules exhausting? How do you and David stay ‘grounded’ when you are on the road? We are fortunate to stay in very beautiful spacious hotels and we also have many friends around Europe so our life while touring is very well planned. Also we have a tour manager with us all the time and this is a great support. However, we do love returning home.

What is it about David’s playing that moves you most deeply? It is his complete love of and identification with the music and not allowing his intellect to interfere with the spontaneous flowing of the music.

Can you tell me a little about what we can expect for the Byron show? A unique experience. Here are two amazing musicians, in different fields, sharing their individual talents in such a beautiful way and then joining to bring an unfolding of their musical beings to the music.

David Helfgott and Yantra de Vilder in concert at Byron Bay Community and Cultural Centre this Saturday 7.30pm and Sunday at 2pm. Tix $49 / $43.

To book http://byroncentre.com.au/whats-on/current-events/details/176?xref=282 or ph 6685 6807.

[image] David and Gillian Helfgott

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