Interview: Erin Helyard

Erin Helyard

Our 2024 Dunkeld Festival of Music guest artist—classical and baroque specialist, Erin Helyard—took some time out to answer a few questions for us about himself and some of the musical delights that are in store for this year’s festival.

Erin, tell us a little about yourself and what you do…

I am the Artistic Director of Pinchgut Opera, an early music company in Sydney that specialises in baroque opera and vocal music. I play on period instruments: the harpsichord, fortepiano, and organ, but also the modern piano too… anything with keys, really! Conductors in the modern sense didn’t exist before Mendelssohn … and most of the music I perform is from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. So what I do is direct from the keyboard, just like Handel and Mozart and many others. I’m also an Associate Professor at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, but very much part-time these days. I am, however, a full-time devotee about promoting discourse between musicology (the scholarly study of music) and performance.

Last year you won Limelight Magazine’s Critics’ Choice Australian Artist of the Year Award (congratulations!) – how did it feel to receive that recognition?

It totally came out of the blue! I had no idea. I knew I was nominated but really didn’t think I had a chance, as there were so many other wonderful people named. It is a great honour to receive this award. There haven’t been any awards in classical music in NSW since 2019, and Limelight is the only one to continue this one since the lockdowns, so it was extra special to receive this accolade.

This is your first appearance at our Dunkeld Festival of Music – what are you most looking forward to?

I work with singers a lot, so it is a nice change to be working with purely instrumental music. And the ASQ are phenomenal … so it is exciting to be able to work on some phenomenal repertoire with them. And it is always an honour to play concertos with anyone … Mozart and Bach! How lucky am I? I love the modern piano, it is the instrument I started my musicianly life on. I’ve never been asked to play harpsichord and modern piano in one concert before, and I thought it would be a marvellous idea to pair up these two beautiful instruments in a programme of Rameau and Debussy. Rameau was so influential to Debussy, he of course wrote a homage to the baroque composer which I’ll be playing. It will be fascinating to hear these two composers on the instruments they were familiar with.

Which piece of music are you most excited to perform with the ASQ?

I guess Mozart is the composer I feel the most affinity with, and I don’t play him nearly enough. So the E-flat Major concerto, K.449, is the one piece of music I’m most excited to play with the ASQ.

Some of the works you’re performing are reductions from larger orchestrations – can you tell us more about these?

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 already existing works. The Collegium Musicum orchestra was only one-to-a-part, so even if we are used to hearing the Bach concerto with larger forces, when Bach played them, it was probably only with a quartet or perhaps a quintet (with a violone). There is also a lot of evidence that Mozart’s piano concertos were also played one-to-part, but nevertheless Mozart tells his father that K. 449 (the one we are performing at Dunkeld) can be performed without wind instrument, “a quattro,” (i.e. with just the string instruments). So, we are actually performing both of these concertos at Dunkeld with forces that the composers expected or sanctioned.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your performances at this year’s Festival?

The keyboard instruments at Dunkeld are world-class. Two beautiful instruments by Marc Nobel (a harpsichord and an organ) and a stunning Steinway Model D. This is a unique chance to hear all of them in concert in a truly unique setting. I’m really honoured to be working with the ASQ.

Photo of Erin Helyard by Cassandra Hannagan


Join us at the 2024 Dunkeld Festival of Music. Festival 1 is currently at capacity, however packages still remain for Festival 2 (Sun 14—Tue 16 April).