Helen Brinkman caught up with Australian keyboard specialist and Pinchgut Opera’s artistic director Erin Helyard to talk about the upcoming Telemania concerts and working as a professional musician in Australia and overseas.
Erin, it’s wonderful to have you back performing with NZ Barok in October. Can you tell us more about the concerto you will be performing in the Telemania concerts?
All of Bach’s harpsichord concertos were originally written for the Collegium Musicum held at Zimmerman’s Coffeehouse in Leipzig. These were the closest that Bach came to playing public concerts, and many of his harpsichord concertos were transcriptions of exisiting works. This Concerto in F is a transcription of the Brandenburg Concerto no. 4 in G. He adapts the solo violin in the Brandenburg for harpsichord and it is a wonderful piece that also showcases the recorders.
What originally drew you to playing early keyboard instruments?
I guess it was my love of history, first and foremost. I was always fascinated about how people lived and thought in the past, and when I discovered that Bach never played a piano when I was very young I was determined to find out what he played … and with the help of a public library and public radio I had access to a treasure-trove of information and recordings (which I dutifully recorded on a cassette recorder). So I started taking harpsichord lessons when I was around 14.
You are passionate about promoting discourse between musicology and performance, be it through published texts or to the wider public via social media. What impact do you think this has had on your present day audiences?
I’m not sure, to be honest! I guess I hope that it might just spark a little bit of curiosity and interest with people about what is an enormous body of knowledge. If you can awaken people to the beauty and sophistication and elegance of this music, then I think we appreciate it all the more, and that in turn leads to refinement and discernment, all good things. It is a bit like wine tasting, isn’t it? If you don’t know much about wine then you don’t really know what to look out for in the wine you might like (or dislike)! But if someone tells you a little bit about how the grapes are made, how they are mixed, why it tastes as it does, and so on … then you start to unlock more appreciation about the complexity of wine. The same is for music of all types, I reckon.
Away from your busy musical life, what do you do when you have some free time?
I love cooking! I am a huge fan of Australian and New Zealand gins. And I’m a bit of a gym rat too … I like the discipline of weight-lifting and enjoy improving my form. It is the same with my harpsichord playing … you are constantly improving and refining it. It’s a life’s work, and is endlessly rewarding, and the same goes for weight-lifting.
You have had such success as Artistic Director and co-founder of Pinchgut Opera and the Orchestra of the Antipodes with many international awards. What motivates you in these roles and what are you looking forward to in the future?
I love most of all making music with others. What a privilege and honour it is to do so, I might add, and to do so in front of an audience. Since COVID I never take any opportunity to perform for granted. Live music is extremely precious and nothing—not even the most exciting recording—can replace the intimacy and impact of a live performance. So I’m motivated equally by my love of the repertoire and the joy of music-making and collaboration. It is rare for me to work with big orchestras as they are so expensive … but I must say I’m so looking forward to Pinchgut Opera’s production of Handel’s Rinaldo at the end of the year in Sydney. Four trumpets, timpani, oboes, bassoons, recorders, and strings. Luxury!

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