The Story of David Helfgott


 

David HelfgottDavid Helfgott was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1947 to Polish-Jewish parents.  After moving to Perth when he was five, David showed extraordinary pianistic talent.  In his teens, he won the state finals of the ABC Instrumental and Vocal Competition six times, and came to the attention of Daniel Barenboim, Julius Katchen and Talas Vassary.  Isaac Stern was so impressed with David's playing at fourteen that he urged overseas study for the young prodigy.  However, it was not until five years later that David went to London to study at the Royal College of Music with Cyril Smith, who wrote of his young pupil:

[I]n the romantic and virtuosos works such as Liszt and Rachmaninov, his talent amounts almost to genius [...] temperamentally and technically in the Horowitz class.

In 1970, however, illness overtook David and he returned to Perth and a decade of obscurity.  He emerged only in the 1980s, giving his first major recital for twelve years in June 1984.  Two years later, David returned overseas for study with the great pedagogue, Peter Feuchtwanger, who summed up his talents:

I am reluctant to use the word genius, but I would certainly make an exception with David Helfgott.  He is certainly one of the most exceptional pianists and musicians I have ever had the good fortune to know.

Recitals in London, Bonn, Vienna, Budapest and Copenhagen followed, to critical acclaim.  Rainer Lersmacher wrote in Bonner Rundscha (1989):

David Helfgott [...] is a pianistic phenomenon and genius at the same time [...] a natural, through breathtaking, technical and interpretative brilliance.

A critic in Bonn added:

He magically turns the piano into an orchestra with a variety of sound colors.  He plays the piano right from the depth of his feeling and his fingers enable him to accomplish sheer miracles.

Connick and HelfgottIn 1991, David's "Liszt, Rachmaninov, Chopin" CD was nominated for an Australian Aria Award; he is the only individual classical musician to receive this honor.  David then traveled to Japan, where he played to large crowds and made a successful recording of Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra, which had been especially composed for him by Seizum Fukami.  It was David's next CD, however, that would help rewrite the classical charts.  In 1995, he returned to Denmark, where he had been successfully touring since 1990, to do a live recording of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto.  This, of course, became a key element of Scott Hicks' extraordinary film on David's life, Shine, which premiered the next year.  An international box-office hit and Oscar winner, Shine helped David Helfgott become known and loved in many new countries, often with audiences from outside the traditional classical circuit.  David played to huge crowds, generating audience excitement and participation that many critics called a necessary breath of fresh air.

In 1997, after touring the US, David achieved his great dream of returning to the Albert Hall, where he had triumphed in 1970 in front of 6,000 people with his Liszt Eb Concerto.  This time, David played the Rachmaninov Third to a sell-out crowd and thunderous standing ovation.

David's Rachmaninov Third CD became a best-seller, as did the Shine soundtrack.  He became the top-selling classical artist of 1997, The New York Times hailing him as its "Most Influential Classical Musician of the Year" and Billboard magazine naming him "Classical Musician of the Year" and his CD "Classical Record of the Year".  Among many other awards, David was given a Time for Peace Award at Carnegie Hall, chosen by the Ambassadors at the United Nations.

If that weren't enough for one year, David also released that year the acclaimed CD, "Brilliantisimo".  1998 was no less hectic with David recording "Brave New World" and touring Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Germany, Austria, South Africa, Hong Kong and Singapore.  Tan Shze Ee in the Straits Times (Singapore) wrote:

Helfgott is admittedly a performer of some precious genius. The most striking aspect of his playing lies in his appreciation of atmosphere, which, at times, can be quite a mesmerizing affair.

Now in his twenty-fourth year back on the concert stage, David continues to tour Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia to great acclaim and is still enjoying performing as much as ever.  He has released three CD's over the past few years, the latest, being available in May.  Called Helfgott Magic, this features many of his favourite works by Rachmaninov, Liszt and Chopin.

David is developing new and appreciative audiences the world over, an artist who has transcended previously-held views of performance and interpretation to touch and inspire whole new generations of music lovers with his special gift.


 

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