PIANO virtuoso David Helfgott has played to packed houses in iconic concert halls all around the world. The Hollywood Bowl, the Royal Albert Hall, Vienna’s golden concert hall and the Sydney Opera House – just to name a few.
And while they are all among great highlights of a glittering career and playing them was a part of the life’s ambitions of a young musician, the Perth Concert Hall sits proudly among those that the man whose life is so well documented in the multi Academy Award winning movie Shine, still enjoys visiting.
David spent much of his childhood in Perth and it was at the Perth Concert Hall that he won the state finals of the ABC’s Instrumental and Vocal Competition. It is one of many accolades he has earned along the journey.
Many decades later, he continues to add the venue to his schedule.
He has also made a lot of friends and picked up a lot of fans from performing for 30 consecutive years at the much less formal Mundaring Weir Hotel, many of whom still enjoy the opportunity to watch his play live.
“We have so many friends over there; all of David’s family is over there,” said Gillian Helfgott, David’s wife of more than 30 years.
“David likes to go back to the same places. He remembers at 14 when he became famous and won the competition at the Perth Concert Hall. Past experiences and friendships are very valuable to us; not just playing in the Hollywood Bowl and all that sort of thing, which he has done now.
“He has more or less achieved all of his ambitions, going back to the Royal Albert Hall and playing his beloved Rachmaninoff’s Third
Concerto in London and meeting up with friends he was with at the Royal College of Music.
“All of these things are important, but we hope we never lose sight of the support and love of friends over the years.
“To play Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto at the Concert hall is very exciting. David did it in the famous Golden Hall in Vienna, one of the most famous concert halls in the world, in front of over 2000 people. The standing room was sold out.
“With Rhodri Clarke, it was so powerful, two pianos, and you hear the full power of the piano.”
Now 71, David is still going strong and his talents are still very much in demand.
He’s currently enjoying a rare winter in his home at the back of Bellingen (NSW), but will later head back to Europe, where he’ll perform to full houses in Hungary, Denmark, the UK, Geneva, Vienna, Paris, Zurich and Istanbul.
He’s still enjoying travel. The pair believe that getting out and about helps to keep their minds fresh. It’s the airports that David doesn’t like.
“The problem with the travelling is the airports,” Gillian said. “They are so congested these days and then there’s all of the scanning and you have to be there so much earlier than the flights.
“David calls them scareports and I think that sums them up. So, we like to tour by car.”
And because Gillian is older than David, in most countries they can’t hire a car, so they have their family tour with them and take on some of the driving duties.
The pair are intending to take a bit of a breather next year. But in no way does that mean David is contemplating retirement.
Gillian said that David was asked recently if he was thinking about retiring and he looked at them in horror and declared that he would play until he dropped.
And that day is hopefully still a long way off.
His childhood piano teacher in Perth, Madam Alice Carrard, gave a concert on her 100th birthday and she is just one example of a pianist who has lived beyond the century mark.
“David’s body is holding up as well as you could possibly image,” Gillian said. “He is so healthy.
“He is in great shape.
“He has a passion for swimming, that’s why one of the first things he did once we could afford it was put in a lap pool for him. He’ll swim up to seven hours a day.
“To play the Rachmaninoff Concerto really does take a lot of effort and energy.”
While that energy has earned him a raft of fans, some of his fame is due to the depiction of his life in Shine, where he was played by Geoffrey Rush.
It told the story of a tough time of his life when he dealt with mental health issues. His ability to push through periods of loss, self-doubt and ultimately hospitalisation, has been an inspiration to many.
And while he doesn’t like to talk about those days much anymore, he does acknowledge how important that period was in making him the musician he is today.
“He realised that it has added an extra dimension to his music,” Gillian said.
“Once he made Shine and shared his joys and pain with the world, it was an incredibly liberating thing for him, that he was carrying that alone.
“Occasionally, he will come out with a little anecdote from that past, but that time when he was in hospital and in care, is well behind him.
“However, he is grateful for the life he has now and his courage that enabled him to fight through.
“He is an inspiration for anyone who has been in the mental wilderness. And it has undoubtedly added to his music.”
David Helfgott performing Rachmaninoff’s Concerto number 3 (two pianos) with Rhodri Clarke at the Perth Concert Hall on Friday, 20 July.
Win Win Win
We have two double passes to giveaway to the performance at the Perth Concert Hall on Friday 20 July.
To be in the draw simply email firstname.lastname@example.org with Helfgott in the subject line or call the office on 9227 8283 during business hours. Competition closes 15/7/18.