Mrs. Helga Hulse returned to Jamestown on Sunday afternoon from retirement in South Carolina to perform a concert of demanding and well-studied music on the piano, in celebration of her 90th birthday.
The concert was performed in the auditorium of Jamestown High School on the school's much-respected Steinway Concert Grand piano. The pianist was dressed in a flowing, black, floor length gown which was sprinkled with silver sparkles, her shining, white hair elegantly arranged on her head.
Unlike her many previous concerts in our community, she was prevailed upon to comment on each work she would be performing. Although she had arrived in town prepared to perform her entire 90-minute program from memory, she explained to her audience that she had suffered an unfortunate incident, just minutes before the concert was to begin: she found herself locked in the rest room and had to pound on the door until someone heard, and she was rescued.
Helga Hulse is pictured performing Sunday at Jamestown High?School.
P-J?photo by Vallory S. Isaacson
She explained that she was just shaken enough by the incident that she had decided to perform the first two works on her program with the music in front of her, just for safety's sake. She performed three works from Book I of J.S. Bach's ''Well Tempered Clavichord,'' and if she even glanced at the music in front of her, I wasn't able to detect the glance.
She followed the Bach works by two selections from the composition of Johannes Brahms, and finished the first half of the program with three etudes by Frederic Chopin, and then three preludes by the same composer. Her performance clearly demonstrated her love of the music and the degree of her own personality with which she endowed their performance.
The works were technically challenging. There were a few moments in which she seemed to struggle with their complexity, but in the end, she triumphed over them all, or perhaps I should say ''with them,'' rather than ''over them.''
Mrs. Hulce returned, after intermission, to perform two of the six elements of ''The Children's Corner,'' composed by Claude Debussy for his toddler daughter. She explained that these were examples of program music, in which the music is supposed to inspire a story in the minds of the listeners, and she encouraged each member of the audience to create a story of his own.
When ''Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum'' ended, the first of her two chosen works, the audience burst into applause, rather than treat the pair of works as a single offering, as the printed program requested. So, she stopped, acknowledged the applause, and talked more about ''Golliwoggs' Cake Walk,'' the second work. Golliwoggs were black, cloth dolls which came dressed in red pants, red bow ties, and wild hair. The music is interrupted several times by unexpected and passionate renderings of the ''love's death'' theme from Richard Wagner's dramatic opera ''Tristan and Isolde.'' Then she sat down and played it off, very nicely.
Her program concluded with Claude Debussy's fiendishly complex ''L'Isle Joyeuse, in A.'' Mrs. Hulse explained first how the work was made up of two dueling scales, the whole tone scale and the diatonic scale, with the Lydian Mode serving as a diplomatic go-between for the two. Her performance delighted the large audience, who gave extended ovations, ending with a literal floral parade of fans, bringing bright floral bouquets until her tiny frame was overwhelmed by them all.
All of the music in the concert was learned especially for this concert, as she had never played any of it before in our area, and was unaware of most of it having been played in the area by any other pianist. The concert ended in a reception for the audience, at First Baptist Church of Jamestown, sponsored by the Jamestown Association of Piano Teachers, which Mrs. Hulce had founded, in the 1980s, while she was still teaching here in town.