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"Niemand hat so hoch Bach gespielt wie ich"


Busker who fiddled his way on to the stage

Bach under Waterloo bridge a prelude to violinist's role in Stratford play

David Ward
Tuesday May 15, 2001
The Guardian

Helmut Scholz is easy to spot among the cast of bewigged Restoration fops in a play at Stratford-upon-Avon: he is the one with the real hair.

Folds of grey fall from a balding pate and an equally grey beard cascades towards his waist like a waterfall.

He is also as thin as the bow he wields as he dances across the Royal Shakespeare Company's Swan Theatre while playing his violin during performances of William Wycherley's Love in a Wood.

"I love it," beamed Scholz as he sat in the sun on a theatre terrace overlooking the shimmering Avon. "I cannot say this is my dream come true, because I could never have dreamed that this could happen."

How Bohemia-born Scholz came to Stratford is the stuff of Hollywood romance. He was plucked from the spot where he busks on the South Bank in London and propelled into the spotlight within days. He is still blinking.

He has played outside the National Film Theatre for 10 years, performing his own compositions and Bach works for unaccompanied violin. He also plays with an accordion ist in clubs and pubs, and the two, modestly calling themselves the Virtuosos, have produced their first CD.

"I play under Waterloo bridge when the bookstalls have been cleared away," he said. "It's a brilliant acoustic, ideal for Bach. On a nice evening it's very good. There is immediacy there, a very direct dialogue with an audience, although sometimes it is cold and I have to fight the elements. And sometimes no one is there, and I just play. But once a woman gave me £10 because she had just got engaged."

He chose his pitch partly because of its sound and partly because of its proximity to the film theatre and the National Theatre.

"I had always wanted to do theatre and film work and thought quite a few interesting people might come by there. I love playing and moving at the same time. That's the kind of work I am after and that is what I practise when I am busking."

Hopes of a role in a National Theatre Peer Gynt came to nothing. But then Tim Supple, director of Love in a Wood, and Adrian Lee, composer of its music, strolled by.

"They found my phone number and asked me if I would be interested in playing at Stratford. I told them, 'Yes, of course'."

Scholz, who declines to give his age but says he is less than 100, trained as a teacher and has played in symphony orchestras and circuses. He began busking in Germany to pay legal bills in 1968.

"By the second week, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. That is where my life started. I learned that if you get a good spot and play well, you get a response from people. But if you play crap, you don't."

He has so far resisted the temptation to play to the crowds in Stratford's riverside gardens. "I'm seriously thinking about it. But people who come here are relaxed and on holiday. I think I want something more aggressive - I'm a bit of a Stones fan."

This week he has three days off. You will probably find him under Waterloo bridge.

                                         Image :  NIKOLAY MOUSTAKOV