David Helfgott

David Helfgott (L.A. Music Center; 3,201 seats; $ 55 top) Presented by Andrew Kay, Jim McPherson, Steven Baruch, Richard Frankel, Thomas Viertel and Marc Routh. Reviewed March 25, 1997. Program: Andante & Rondo Capriccioso (Mendelssohn); Prelude in G minor (Rachmaninoff); Un Sospiro, La Campanella, Ballade No. 2, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 (Liszt); "Appassionata" Sonata in F minor (Beethoven), encores by Gottschalk, Khatchaturian and Rimsky-Korsakoff. The hottest soloist right now in the endangered realm of classical music isn't an overfed tenor with bedroom eyes and a ringing high C, nor a fiddler of stupefying dexterity. At 49, Australia's David Helfgott is, instead, an only-partially recovered former mental patient, a pianist full of happy smiles but imperfectly endowed in technique and interpretive skills. His Los Angeles Music Center debut, the night following the Oscar ceremonies (where Helfgott had also performed his specialty quickie, Rimsky-Korsakoff's "Flight of the Bumblebee"), drew a luminary-spangled audience --- including several cast members from the movie that started it all --- which stood and cheered and blew kisses as response to an evening of pianism both muddled and loving. Thanks to the success of "Shine," the Scott Hicks-directed Australian film that may or may not relate his rise, fall and resurrection, Helfgott's current American tour, which began in Boston on March 4, has played to packed houses and bids fair to continue. Tickets for his two L.A. Music Center performances this week sold out within hours; two more dates, at Pasadena's Civic Auditorium on April 28 and 30, are also sellouts; a recently announced Aug. 25 gig at the Hollywood Bowl --- this time with orchestra, to include the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto that has become Helfgott's "signature" piece --- has already piled up a healthy advance. And for what? Critics along Helfgott's trajectory have, virtually unanimously, deplored his tentative, flawed and mindless playing of programs packed with worn-out repertory pieces. Members of the entourage, including Hicks and astrologer-turned- mothering-wife Gillian Helfgott, pooh-pooh such hostility as the outcries of "self-appointed elitists." Even the recent dimming of the sheen of "Shine" itself --- the revelations by members of Helfgott's family that its saga of a young genius driven mad by an overprotective father and by the specter of an unconquerable piano concerto is without foundation --- hasn't hurt ticket sales. The RCA recording of Helfgott taking on (and obviously laboring under) some of Rachmaninoff's killer repertory, including the notorious Third Concerto, has topped the classical charts for weeks, despite its depressing content of unfocused and inaccurate playing. None of this seemed to matter at the Music Center as the blissed-out Helfgott made his mad dashes to and from the piano, bathed the hall in his baby-faced smiles, crooned along with his own pathetically feeble music-making, paused in its course now and then for some arm calisthenics --- and seemed to be enjoying himself beyond the reach of words. The triumph that night was not his, however --- and certainly not Beethoven's or Liszt's --- but that of a fantastically well-oiled hype machine. Pious pronouncements, echoes of the ones that resounded when the Three Tenors were last in town, would have it known that this kind of grotesque falsification has, in Scott Hicks' words, "drawn a large new audience into classical music." Maybe so, but you don't arrive at the truth by telling lies. AU: Alan Rich

David Helfgott (L.A. Music Center; 3,201 seats; $ 55 top) Presented by Andrew Kay, Jim McPherson, Steven Baruch, Richard Frankel, Thomas Viertel and Marc Routh. Reviewed March 25, 1997. Program: Andante & Rondo Capriccioso (Mendelssohn); Prelude in G minor (Rachmaninoff); Un Sospiro, La Campanella, Ballade No. 2, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 (Liszt); “Appassionata” Sonata in F minor (Beethoven), encores by Gottschalk, Khatchaturian and Rimsky-Korsakoff. The hottest soloist right now in the endangered realm of classical music isn’t an overfed tenor with bedroom eyes and a ringing high C, nor a fiddler of stupefying dexterity. At 49, Australia’s David Helfgott is, instead, an only-partially recovered former mental patient, a pianist full of happy smiles but imperfectly endowed in technique and interpretive skills. His Los Angeles Music Center debut, the night following the Oscar ceremonies (where Helfgott had also performed his specialty quickie, Rimsky-Korsakoff’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”), drew a luminary-spangled audience — including several cast members from the movie that started it all — which stood and cheered and blew kisses as response to an evening of pianism both muddled and loving. Thanks to the success of “Shine,” the Scott Hicks-directed Australian film that may or may not relate his rise, fall and resurrection, Helfgott’s current American tour, which began in Boston on March 4, has played to packed houses and bids fair to continue. Tickets for his two L.A. Music Center performances this week sold out within hours; two more dates, at Pasadena’s Civic Auditorium on April 28 and 30, are also sellouts; a recently announced Aug. 25 gig at the Hollywood Bowl — this time with orchestra, to include the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto that has become Helfgott’s “signature” piece — has already piled up a healthy advance. And for what? Critics along Helfgott’s trajectory have, virtually unanimously, deplored his tentative, flawed and mindless playing of programs packed with worn-out repertory pieces. Members of the entourage, including Hicks and astrologer-turned- mothering-wife Gillian Helfgott, pooh-pooh such hostility as the outcries of “self-appointed elitists.” Even the recent dimming of the sheen of “Shine” itself — the revelations by members of Helfgott’s family that its saga of a young genius driven mad by an overprotective father and by the specter of an unconquerable piano concerto is without foundation — hasn’t hurt ticket sales. The RCA recording of Helfgott taking on (and obviously laboring under) some of Rachmaninoff’s killer repertory, including the notorious Third Concerto, has topped the classical charts for weeks, despite its depressing content of unfocused and inaccurate playing. None of this seemed to matter at the Music Center as the blissed-out Helfgott made his mad dashes to and from the piano, bathed the hall in his baby-faced smiles, crooned along with his own pathetically feeble music-making, paused in its course now and then for some arm calisthenics — and seemed to be enjoying himself beyond the reach of words. The triumph that night was not his, however — and certainly not Beethoven’s or Liszt’s — but that of a fantastically well-oiled hype machine. Pious pronouncements, echoes of the ones that resounded when the Three Tenors were last in town, would have it known that this kind of grotesque falsification has, in Scott Hicks’ words, “drawn a large new audience into classical music.” Maybe so, but you don’t arrive at the truth by telling lies. AU: Alan Rich

David Helfgott

L.A. Music Center; 3,201 seats; $55 top

Production: Presented by Andrew Kay, Jim McPherson, Steven Baruch, Richard Frankel, Thomas Viertel and Marc Routh.

Crew: Reviewed March 25, 1997. Program: Andante & Rondo Capriccioso (Mendelssohn); Prelude in G minor (Rachmaninoff); Un Sospiro, La Campanella, Ballade No. 2, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 (Liszt); "Appassionata" Sonata in F minor (Beethoven), encores by Gottschalk, Khatchaturian and Rimsky-Korsakoff.

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