Shine again: David Helfgott is back after 20 years

Shine again: David Helfgott is back after 20 years


norman lebrecht

March 07, 2017

The Australian pianist, subject of a 1996 film, has announced his first UK performances since that time.

He will appear at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, and the Barbican in London on May 27 and 29 with the following programme:

Chopin Ballade No 1 in G minor
Concert Etude No. 3 Un Sospiro
Liszt Jeux d’eau a la Villa d’Este
Liszt Ballade No. 2 in B minor
David Helfgott piano
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 3 (version for two pianos)
David Helfgott piano; Rhodri Clarke piano


  • Ungeheuer says:

    Give me a break! I am of course sorry, as I would for anyone else, about his disability and struggle. However, a fraud remains a fraud, in 1996 or 2017, no matter. The sad thing is that the crowds that flock to, say, Andre Rieu, Katherine Jenkins, Jackie Evancho, Sarah Brightman, Charlotte Church, Il Volo, Josh Groban, Susan Boyle and Andrea Bocelli detritus, to name a few, will again fall for this nonsense. Sad.

    • Andrew Condon says:

      + Nigel Kennedy

      • Tom says:

        Now that isn’t fair. Sure, Nigel Kennedy is idiosyncratic but there is no doubt that, beneath all the hoopla, he’s a genuinely first-rate musician. You can’t fake playing the Elgar Violin Concerto to a world-class standard.

        David Helfgott, by comparison, is a very able but not properly first-rate pianist. His story is of course compelling, but the fact remains that there are many – MANY – students at music college who can play Rachmaninov 3rd an awful lot better than his recording suggests he is able to.

        • Sue says:

          As an Australian I continue to be hugely embarrassed by David Helfgott. He’s even appeared in Vienna, for god’s sake!!! Perhaps after “Shine” he is viewed as some kind of freak show; I expect this is the case. But it only demonstrates that even Vienna – the home of Eurovision’s Conchita Wurtzel, after all – there must be a large demographic with no musical knowledge.

        • Andrew Condon says:

          What disappoints me about Nigel Kennedy is that he is obviously a gifted player but in an effort to appeal to a mass market and “popularise” classical music he has somehow engineered an image for himself where it appears that he is as, if not more important, than the work being performed. In the late ‘70s and ‘80s he could be stunning – but what is sad is that his recent classical come-back concerts (eg a Brahms with Gatti and the RPO and more recently an Elgar Concerto at the Proms) have all for me been marred by his egotistical manner, dreadful stage presence, stomping around the platform whilst playing, high-fiving the conductor and concertmaster and an ungainly playing style that most violin teachers would abhor. He’s certainly not as technically polished as he was in his heyday – and yet he still gets cheered to the rafters!

          • Minutewaltz says:

            I entirely agree.

          • Bruce says:

            His Brahms recording with Tennstedt and Walton with Previn are gorgeous — the real thing. I’m choosing to ignore everything he did after about 1985.

        • Jaybuyer says:

          Just checked my shelf; the Walton Violin and Viola were indeed with Previn. One of my favourite CDs. I want to book a flight to Italy every time I hear the opening of the Violin Concerto. His playing was ‘sunny’ in those days.

      • Alexander Davidson says:

        You may object to Nigel Kennedy’s marketing strategy, but he is a brilliant violinist. Yes, his image is unconventional, and, some would say, artificially contrived to be so, but he is probably more talented than any living violinist other than Ivry Gitlis, Ida Haendel, and Itzhak Perlman.

    • MWnyc says:

      No reason to pick on Boyle or Evancho or – especially – Brightman or Groban. As viewed from over here, at least, they do what they do perfectly well for their audience.

      They aren’t classical musicians, and – at least over here – they don’t pretend to be classical musicians and aren’t taken to be classical musicians. (That seems to be a peculiarly British issue.)

      Groban, in fact, now appears to be becoming a bona fide Broadway star.

    • Sue says:

      I wouldn’t refer to those people you name as “detritus”. Definitely not. (Don’t know about Boyle, though). Bocelli has a beautiful voice and he’s very good at popular music, as are the rest of them. The trouble is that the public views them as ‘classical music’ artists which isn’t their fault necessarily. They remind me of those 1950s films from the Joe Pasternak unit which people regarded as ‘classical music’ – “The Student Prince” etc. etc. Mario Lanza had a beautiful voice and longed for serious recognition in opera houses. Could it have been his fault that Pasternak marketed them as “classical musicians”. Oh, and that dreadful Katherine Grayson and her earlier incarnation Jeanette McDonald!!

      Back in the 1940s and during the war my mother was a fine pianist and she often played for patients as she was a nurse. They’d often request “Warsaw Concerto” from the film “Suicide Squadron” because they ‘loved that classical music’. Same for Rieu today; people view that as classical and the execrable man with the mullet continues to have them so believe.

      Let them enjoy that music, but not at venues for significant classical artists. Please.

      • Frankie says:

        What snobs a lot of the posters are! His concert at the Barbican is about half-sold. The people who go to the concert are listening to real live music, they will be encouraged to set foot inside a real live music venue and a few of them will come back again, perhaps to concerts that the posters here would feel more ‘worthy’.
        Heaven forbid that we should segregate venues into holy places for ‘real’ music and other halls for ‘ignorant masses’. Most of our venues are desperately trying to encourage a wider audience to all of their concerts. Gergiev in the same hall is sold out this weekend, as are Sun O))) later in the month (you mean you haven’t heard of them??!!) and Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales, and Adams’ Dr Atomic’ with an all-star cast next month.
        The average age at Wigmore Hall concerts is about 70! Unless we encourage new audiences the ‘holy’ venues will shut down because the ancient audience have all died off.

    • Halldor says:

      Considering that he’s been completely unheard in the northern hemisphere for 20 years, it’d be interesting to hear some evidence for the assertion that a “fraud remains a fraud”.

      And indeed, it’d be interesting to know how you define “fraud”? What has Helfgott fraudulently pretended to be? He plays his own concerts and (unlike at least one high-profile classical pianist) makes his own recordings. That you consider them substandard doesn’t make them dishonest – quite the opposite. And that people are more interested in hearing him play than better-equipped pianists is symptomatic of a wider problem with classical music – not with Mr Helfgott.

    • Bella says:

      Ah. You wanna kill classical music? Name shaming of those with improper taste will help. So if you like Jackie Evancho a bit but would also like to go to a Mozart opera – you’d better know your soddy taste is not wanted by Mr Ungeheuer. Back to the swamp!

      IQ 26.

  • Steinway Fanatic says:

    He’s almost as bad as Ivo Pogorelich.

  • Paul Davis says:

    Rach3 is Ghastly on 2pianos! What an idea. But the way he plays now, Piano2 will outShine him.

    • Sue says:

      I taught my students the film “Shine” for senior English back in 2004 and while the students felt sorry for Helfgott they tended to think he was more talented than he really was because he had ‘triumphed over adversity’. Don’t overlook this as a factor in the interest in this pianist.

      But, in the end, it’s not enough. Serious music-lovers dismissed him right away. His wife – a clairvoyant (!) – is behind his ‘appearances’. She knows as much about music as those who now go to his ‘recitals’. Sadly, he belongs in the circus freaks’ scene in Hitchcock’s “Saboteur”.

      • Malcolm James says:

        It’s rather like why people fell for the Joyce Hatto hoax. Given a heart-warming back story of triumph over adversity, even mediocre playing can seem inspired.

        • Bruce says:

          And remember, it came out that her husband, after hearing how terrible her actual recordings were, replaced them with recordings by Ashkenazy and other famous pianists because couldn’t bear to break her heart by having her hear how bad she really sounded (while dying of cancer). He came clean about it some time after she died.

      • Bruce says:

        “Don’t overlook this as a factor in the interest in this pianist.”

        I think it’s pretty much the only factor. Those with musical discernment who haven’t heard him before will be curious for a few minutes and then they’ll know; everyone else will be in love with the back story.

        • esfir ross says:

          How dare to compare D.Helffgot to Ivo Pogorelich, that is a genius , the greatest piano talent of our time. His D.Scarlatti’s unparallel, also Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Scrybin, Rachmaninov, Chopin. Pianist that equal to Grigory Sokolov.

          • Jaybuyer says:

            He seems to take Chopin’s 2nd Sonata literally – “Funeral March”. I’m glad you’ve got the time!

          • Steinway Fanatic says:

            “Is” a genius? No. “Was” a genius. Pogorelich’s playing sank to the lowest levels after his teacher (wife) died, and it never recovered.

  • Jaybuyer says:

    Come back ‘Joyce Hatto’. All is forgiven!

  • Marg says:

    Maybe he is the Florence Foster Jenkins of piano playing.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Having read Margaret Helfgott’s account of the Shine phenomonon, “Out of Tune’ it would appear that the whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by the movie industry. David’s father apparently did not abuse him and was actually a caring man. The movie is a disgrace to his name.