Music – Finsterwalde – “He embraces the people”: An evening with David Helfgott – culture

Potsdam (dpa / bb) – At first he takes the stage a bit awkwardly. Then he looks at the audience and beams, waves and winks mischievously – before suddenly his hands fly over the piano keys. Anyone who has ever met the Australian pianist David Helfgott knows how extraordinary his concerts are. The musician speaks while playing, muttering something incomprehensible to himself – and completely immersed in the world of sound. Around 500 spectators were able to experience it on Friday evening in the sold-out Cottbus cinema “Weltspiegel” – Helfgott’s penultimate stop on his short farewell tour before the exceptional 75-year-old pianist make its final appearance on June 17 worldwide. -famous Carnegie Hall in New York. The concert in Brandenburg’s oldest cinema took place as part of the Brandenburg Festival.

Helping God in Lusatia? Many could hardly believe that the world famous musician chose Cottbus of all places and not a metropolis like Berlin as his venue. According to the organisers, the pianist, whose life story was filmed in the Oscar-winning work “Shine – Der Weg ins Licht” (1996), chose Cottbus when his concert office presented him with photos of the old cinema, among other things.

The cinema is bathed in a soft light on this Friday evening. Helfgott receives thunderous applause for his interpretations of Bach, Beethoven and Chopin, among others. He looks a little battered in his bright blue silk shirt, has to fight a cold, but keeps getting lost in his playing on the grand Bechstein grand piano. Then he gives the audience two thumbs up, smiles and bows again and again.

It is known that at concerts the pianist sometimes kisses the guests in the front row with childish joy. In Cottbus too, he enters the crowd and shakes many hands. Mayor Holger Kelch (CDU) sits in the front row, visibly moved by the great affection of the musician.

“He is indescribable, bewitching (…). He embraces people”, says Walter Schirnik, describing the great friendliness of the artist. The president of the Brandenburg Festival works, among other things, as a composer, conductor and is himself a pianist. As artistic director of the Stuttgart Symphony Orchestra, he organizes a European tour for Helfgott. “His piano playing fascinated me from the first second,” enthuses Schirnik. Helfgott’s music is communication.

The 49-year-old shares how he saw the award-winning film about Helfgott’s life story before he even knew him personally. Nevertheless, he said he already knew “the David man”.

We know that the Australian’s childhood was shaped by an ambitious father who recognized his son’s talent at an early age and then despotically encouraged him. Adolescence took Helfgott to England on a scholarship, where he achieved early fame with his piano playing. But the mental injuries inflicted on him by his strict father and the high stress of early childhood and adolescence led to a nervous breakdown. As a result, Helfgott had to go through years of clinical therapy. Today, the pianist suffers from a particular autistic disease.

Schirnik says Helfgott’s wife, Gillian, who brought him back onstage, was important. She recognized that he had to communicate to people through his playing. For Schirnik it is above all “this love that he releases towards music and people”. It’s not about the technical perfection of his game. It’s been the norm for a long time. Helfgott talks about this elemental strength and power and his experience with music.

Director Cosima Lange is also among the guests this evening in Cottbus. She portrayed Helfgott in her documentary “Hello I am David! – Eine Reise mit David Helfgott” (2015). In one scene of the film, Helfgott dances with the director, who asks him if he wants to dance alone. Helfgott asks back, “Can you dance alone? Don’t you need other people? Don’t you need each other?”

© dpa-infocom, dpa:220604-99-545167/4

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