Clayderman still in tune with his audience

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French pianist Richard Clayderman performing at one of his concerts in China. He has held around 500 concerts in nearly 100 cities in the country since 1992. [Photo provided to China Daily]

When he first performed in China with five concerts in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong in 1992, French pianist Richard Clayderman and his team seemed out of tune with their surroundings and were not, initially, confident about the tour. You could say they were feeling off-key.

"The country was quite different compared with what it is today. There were no huge buildings and people dressed only in blue or gray. They looked curiously at us," the pianist recalls. "However, once I stepped on stage in Beijing, there came a huge applause from an audience of nearly 20,000. They gave me the confidence to start a new career in this country."

China is now the country where Clayderman performs the most. Since 1992, Clayderman, with his trademark blond hair and blue eyes, has held nearly 500 concerts in the country in nearly 100 cities. Every year, he gives about 50 concerts in China.

On Jan 18, the 66-year-old pianist will return to Beijing with a recital at the Great Hall of the People with some of his best known pieces, including Ballad for Adeline, A Comme Amour and Lyphard Melody. The recital is part of the ongoing 20th Meet in Beijing Arts Festival, one of the largest annual art festivals held in the capital from Jan 6 to Feb 4.

Clayderman will also perform adaptations of Chinese songs as well as interpreting some famous hits, both classical pieces and film themes, such as Star Wars and Les Choristes.

"I travel a great deal every year. One of my hobbies is to collect different kinds of music. In my repertoire, you can find music from every corner of the world, including my adaptations of Chinese songs," he says.

Before his first trip to China, the pianist listened to several Chinese songs, and they had an immediate impact.

Butterfly Lovers, one of China's most celebrated violin concertos, was one of Clayderman's favorites and, naturally, he will perform the piece during his upcoming recital. He has performed it not only in China but also in other countries, including Australia, Canada and the United States.

Clayderman's music can still be widely heard in China today, in shopping malls, restaurants and hotel lobbies.

Recently, he reached a younger audience by performing Hedwig's Theme, composed by John Williams for the Harry Potter film series, during the year-end gala broadcast on Chinese live streaming platform Bilibili on New Year's Eve. It received a warm feedback.

Born in Paris, where he still lives, Clayderman learned to play piano with his father, an accordion teacher, at the age of 5. At 12, he was enrolled to study at the Conservatoire de Paris and graduated in 1969.

In his 40-year career, Clayderman has sold more than 60 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling French musicians in history. Clayderman has 70 platinum discs to his name.

When he first toured China, the country was transforming with economic reforms and opening-up. Besides live performances, his music has been frequently broadcast on radio and television. Classical music was still in its infancy in the country when he first toured here and piano was considered a symbolic instrument of classical music then.

"I was impressed by his posters and the pictures on the cover of his albums. He looked very gentle and handsome," recalls Chinese pianist Yuan Fang, who was born in Shenzhen in 1982, started learning piano at the age of 4. She moved to Beijing to join the middle school affiliated with the Central Conservatory of Music in 1993, a year after Clayderman's debut in the capital.

"The melodies of Clayderman are easy to understand, delightful and beautiful. Some of my classmates learned to play his pieces," Yuan says. "We grew up with his music."

Yuan, who studied with German pianist Gerhard Oppitz while majoring in piano and chamber music at Munich's University of Music and Performing Arts, notes that one of Clayderman's major contributions is that "he inspired many Chinese people to get to know, and learn to play, the piano".

Clayderman fondly recalls his earliest interactions with Chinese audiences and his success in the country. "There were numerous moments which moved me, for instance, thousands of concert goers standing in the rain during open shows, young kids and their parents waiting in the cold wind outside theaters just to say hello to me. I feel grateful to all of them and love to perform for them. I was the lucky one chosen by history."

Having witnessed the fast development of China over the past 30 years, Clayderman, with his enduring popularity, also has cooperated with some Chinese classical musicians and is involved in music education in China.

He still practices for two hours every day, even during his tours.

"When I meet problems, I keep on practicing. I may fail in the first practice, and also in the second and third, but after 10 or 20 days, I will succeed. This is the experience I want to share with youngsters," he says.

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