Four Hands at the Érard and Evolution of the Piano: Erin Helyard talks French music and French pianos for Adelaide Festival 2022

Reading Time: 4 minutes

French composers and historic French pianos will be highlighted in two shows as part of the Chamber Landscapes program at Adelaide Festival 2022: “Four Hands at the Érard” and “Evolution of the Piano”. We had a chat to Erin Helyard, who will be performing in both shows.

Four Hands at the Erard
Image: Brett Boardman

A few weeks ago, we published an interview with Erin Helyard, in his capacity as Artistic Director of Pinchgut Opera ahead of their season of French opera Platée, which he was conducting. You can read that interview here.

 

Together with Stephanie McCallum, you will perform French works in an Adelaide Festival show entitled “Four Hands at the Érard”. Could you please tell us a little about how you chose the works you would perform at this concert?

As you might have guessed, I am an enormous Francophile. We are very privileged to have a very special instrument at UKARIA for the festival, a beautifully restored straight-strung Érard piano from 1856, generously loaned to us by philanthropist Judith Neilson. This French piano was considered to be the pinnacle of piano technology in the nineteenth century and Stephanie and I wanted to choose works that sounded particularly glorious on the transparent clarity that these extraordinary instruments can bring to these masterworks.

 

You have worked with Stephanie before performing duets on historic instruments. How long have you been working together and how did you each discover your shared passion for historic instruments?

Stephanie taught me harpsichord at the Con when I was an undergraduate and since then has basically taught me everything I know about piano and keyboard playing. She is a superb pianist, of remarkable artistry, and when we started working together on historic instruments she adapted so quickly to the different touches and together we have taught each other so much, I think. As an Alkan specialist she was especially thrilled to play the Érard pianos as this was Alkan’s favourite type of piano. We have recorded two highly-acclaimed albums of four-hand works on Érard pianos.

 

Are you and Stephanie both based in the same city? Or will rehearsals happen in Adelaide in February/March?

We will rehearse in Sydney before coming to Adelaide.

 

Do all musicians dream of playing on historic instruments?

No, sadly. Often, they aren’t curious to play or try out anything but the standard “Steinway-type” piano. But then again, here in Australia, we don’t have much access to different kinds of pianos. But that will change over time, one hopes.

Four Hands at the Erard
An example of a restored Erard Piano from https://antiquepianoshop.com/online-museum/erard/

 

 

What is the oldest/most historic instrument you’ve played on? Is there a historically significant instrument in your sites?

I’m playing an original Kirckman harpsichord from the 1770s at the Adelaide Festival with the Australian Haydn Ensemble. That is the oldest instrument I’ve ever played (that works!).

 

What’s significant about the pieces you will perform in “Four Hands at the Érard”?

They were all written for straight-strung (and not cross-strung, like a modern Steinway) pianos, so they are perfect for the Érard.

 

Who is your favourite French composer?

Ravel.

 

You’re also delivering an illustrated talk with Stephanie McCallum entitled “Evolution of the Piano”, again as part of the Chamber Landscapes program. The talk features compositions from 3 French composers, Alkan, Faure and Lambert as well as Hungarian composer Liszt. How do these compositions complement the talk you’re going to deliver?

Stephanie and I want to show how composers responded to the shift in piano technology: from straight-strung to cross-strung. In a space like UKARIA, this will be very exciting for everyone who is interested about the most popular instrument on the piano!

 

Anything else you’d like to tell us about your Adelaide Festival shows?

I’m thrilled to be back in Adelaide. There is something for everyone in this year’s festival.

UKARIA Cultural Centre – Photo by Randy Larcombe

KEY INFO FOR FOUR HANDS AT THE ERARD & EVOLUTION OF THE PIANO

WHAT:

Adelaide Festival 2022 Chamber Landscapes

Four hands at the Érard – SOLD OUT BUT THERE IS A WAITLIST

Evolution of the Piano

WHERE:

UKARIA Cultural Centre, Mount Barker Summit, South Australia.

WHEN:

Four hands at the Érard  – 13 March 5pm

Evolution of the Piano – Monday 14 March 11am (public holiday Adelaide Cup)

HOW MUCH:

(Prices exclusive of transaction fee)

Four hands at the Érard: Adult $69; Festival Friends $59; Concession (Pensioner, Health Care Card holder, MEAA member) $55

Evolution of the Piano: $29

HOW:

Join the waitlist or purchase your tickets via the event pages provided.

Do you have a favourite French composer?

 

Subscribe

Enter your email to subscribe to new article notifications about all things French and francophone in Australia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *