VIRTUOSO pianist David Helfgott met with rapturous applause when he performed at a school concert to raise funds for young musicians to travel to Sydney for an international festival.
Helfgott shook the hands and patted the heads of students as he made his way towards the stage to perform a 30-minute recital at Gooseberry Hill Primary School last Thursday.
The sold-out community event opened with performances by music students as the audience awaited the arrival of the musical prodigy who lived in Perth for many years.
Helfgott did not disappoint as he performed with characteristic gusto and finished with a frenetic rendition of Flight of the Bumblebee.
Principal Patrick Bourke said having Perth’s world-renowned pianist at the school was something of a coup.
Funds from the ticket sales brought the school closer to reaching the $53,000 needed to send 70 young musicians to the Australian International Music Festival in July.
Students selected from the School of Instrumental Music program will perform at the Sydney Opera House, Darling Harbour and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and participate in workshops with tutors from around the world.
Young musicians from China, Japan, the USA and Australia selected to play at the festival will share in a cultural experience where music is the common bond.
Parent Helen Botica said Gooseberry Hill Primary was the only school in WA planning to send music students to the event.
The Helfgott recital and other fundraising events in the past four days raised more than $8500 for the fundraising appeal and put the school only $10,000 short of its target.
“The support received from our principal Patrick Bourke and our deputy principal Fiona Elsegood from helping us set up at 6am to planning events at school has gone above and beyond.”
Helfgott will wind up his west coast trip with a 70th birthday celebration on Saturday at Mundaring Weir Hotel before flying to Vienna as part of a world tour.
He last played at the hotel two years ago for his 30th and final annual performance, but an offer to celebrate his milestone was an invitation he could not refuse.
The event will feature a recital by Helfgott and a screening of Shine, the 1997 biopic of his life that catapulted the pianist on to the world stage.
Hotel owner Jens Jorgensen said he had a wonderful friendship with Helfgott and his wife Gillian and at his last performance presented the couple with the keys to the hotel.
“David is a very loyal and wonderful person because after the film came out, he had offers from all over the place but he always returned to Mundaring Weir to play for us,” he said.
“We are planning a birthday surprise for him on Saturday night.”
On the eve of his 70th birthday, Helfgott said top of his bucket list was the desire to play as well as he could and keep working on his music.
“I love working with young people and enjoy their company,” he told The Gazette.
“The students at Gooseberry Hill Primary School were so responsive to the music and made me feel so welcome.”
When asked by students about how to succeed, he said stay true to your goals.
“I tell them work hard and then work harder, and hold on to your dream and you will achieve it.”
He advised parents of talented musicians to be gentle and supportive.
“Don’t push or press them too hard, let them follow their dreams wherever life will lead them,” he said.
For Helgott, music is his world.
“I love my music and it is my life and my passion, and has been a great companion to me in my life.”
He described his greatest crisis as the loss of his inner music, then the fog lifted and he could hear again.
“I was like a lost soul without my inner music, but the music came back after a number of years when I performed Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto 3 at the Royal School of Music in London (1969).
“The professors gave me a standing ovation and it was one of the greatest moments of my life.”
Helfgott recovered from a long period of mental illness to rise again and with the support of his wife Gillian; he re-emerged as a concert pianist and then came Shine, the award-winning film based on his life.
Over the years, he has played at many mental health charity events and is patron of The Buttery, a therapeutic community in NSW for people with addiction and mental health challenges.
Helfgott and his wife stay with family in Mt Lawley when they return to Perth from their home in Bellingen, on the mid-north coast of NSW.