David Helfgott of 'Shine' Fame Is Talented, but Has His Limitations

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 11, 1997 | Go to article overview

David Helfgott of 'Shine' Fame Is Talented, but Has His Limitations


Byline: Bill Gowen

"You truly are an inspiration. And to those people who say it's a circus, then with your celebration of life you've shown me that the circus is a place of daring and risk-taking and working without a safety net - and giving us your personal poetry."

- Geoffrey Rush's tribute to David Helfgott, in accepting the Oscar for best actor for portraying the Australian pianist in "Shine."

And now, if we are to believe what we've been hearing and reading lately, "the circus" comes to town this weekend.

Helfgott, subject of director Scott Hicks' acclaimed film, is currently performing "The Shine Tour," which will include concerts at the Auditorium Theatre at 8 p.m. Saturday and Monday. It is this tour that has raised considerable controversy throughout the classical music community.

To put it simply: Is Helfgott, at this stage in his life, a capable enough musician to perform concerts of difficult music for which the public is charged (in Chicago at least), $20 to $65? From evidence so far, the answer is no. Helfgott's playing has been panned in nearly every city he has performed, starting March 4 in Boston.

When music critic Richard Dyer of The Boston Globe called Helfgott's performance "... shapeless and utterly incoherent," among other things, the comments were reprinted in Time magazine and sent over the wires. Other critics joined in: Tim Page of the Washington Post said "He (Helfgott) generally seemed to be operating on a measure-by-measure basis, without memory or anticipation." And so it's been, in nearly every city in which Helfgott has appeared over the past month.

Rush's comments in his Oscar acceptance speech reflect those by Helfgott's wife, Gillian, director Hicks and others in the pianist's entourage, who insist that this tour is about much more than music - it is "a celebration of life."

Hicks answered Dyer's Boston criticism with the following, reported last month by the Associated Press: "I think there are some critics who perhaps act as sort of self-appointed guardians of elite culture," Hicks said.

So what do we as critics do? Do we ignore events like "The Shine Tour" as strictly popular culture phenomena and not review them, or are we obligated to listen and offer our opinions?

My feeling is that in cases like this, water will find its own level. In other words, we can blast Helfgott's musicianship all we want, but the public will eventually decide how successful a revival of his career (after a 12-year absence because of treatment for a mental breakdown) will be. In other words, if Helfgott plays the piano poorly, return engagements will dry up. "The Shine Tour" may end up as a one-shot deal.

There is a parallel case:

I remember the commotion over the late conductor Antonia Brico in the mid-1970s, back when a woman conducting a symphony orchestra was a real rarity. A biographical feature film was released titled "Antonia: Portrait of a Woman," in which Brico criticized the classical musical establishment for not giving her a chance "to play my instrument - the orchestra," as she put it. A recording was made with New York's Mostly Mozart Orchestra, and a North American concert tour took place.

Brico's concert in Chicago was at the same Auditorium Theatre where Helfgott will play Saturday and Monday, and her lifeless interpretation of Brahms' Symphony No. 1 was panned by the Chicago critics.

What happened? Brico's career quickly faded. Her legacy turned out to be not her own career but her pioneering work (along with that of Chicago's Margaret Hillis) which paved the way for the many gifted female conductors working today, including JoAnn Falletta and Catherine Comet.

Will Helfgott's career fade, too? It's too early to tell, but in the long run, only the greatest musicians can sustain a classical music career, particularly pianists, for whom supply far exceeds demand. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

David Helfgott of 'Shine' Fame Is Talented, but Has His Limitations
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.