HELFGOTT RETURNS

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Indy Lifestyle Online
This time last year, few people had heard of David Helfgott. For despite training at the Royal College of Music, where he was proclaimed "an extraordinary pianistic talent", the troubled musician remained almost unknown here until Scott Hicks's recent biopic, Shine, brought his amazing life story to a wide audience. Since then, there's been a biography (his wife Gillian's I Love You to Bits & Pieces) and a best- selling album, and this week he arrives in Britain to play live for the first time since 1970, as part of a world tour.

The immense achievement that these concerts signify will not be apparent to those unacquainted with Helfgott's history. Born in Australia in 1947, the son of an impoverished Polish Jew, he began playing piano around the age of five, and had a prodigious early career, winning a host of prizes, as well as funding to develop his talent.

But his success was blighted by mental illness. Helfgott himself has noted the turning point in what he calls his "dommage" as being a conflict with his father in 1962, since when "I've stayed on the hook at a 15-year- old level". Against his father's wishes, he took up a place at the Royal College of Music, but following a triumphant performance of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto, he found himself "moving dangerously close to the edge". A nervous breakdown and more than a decade spent in and out of institutions followed, before he began playing again, at a wine bar in Perth, and set out on the long road to recovery.

He is not unscarred. Gillian Helfgott explains in her biography that "In simple terms, most of the time he is sick with happiness and excitement. A chemical imbalance in his brain speeds up his thought processes, hence the rapid speech; make him incredibly alert, hence the ESP-like qualities of being able to see, hear and feel more than would seem possible; and makes him easily distractable, although his concentration at the piano is almost superhuman."

Often eccentric, his performances are sometimes accompanied by Helfgott's own commentary on the piece at hand. But his return to the concert platform marks an incredible triumph over adversity, and with these UK dates you can see for yourself just how far he has come.

As well as his sell-out concert at London's Royal Festival Hall on Monday, David Helfgott is playing at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham on Wed 7 May, and at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham on 24 June. Ten readers can each win a pair of top-price tickets to see him play, as well as a copy of his best-selling CD, David Helfgott plays Rachmaninov. The first five readers to call each regional box-office (0115-948 2626 for Nottingham; 0121-212 3333 for Birmingham) between 12noon and 5pm on Mon 5 May, quoting "The Eye", will win. The next 20 people to call either number will, when buying a top-price ticket (pounds 30), be offered a free copy of his CD.

Debbie Gordon

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