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A night with the `Prince of Romance'
22/6/2005 8:52

Michelle Qiao/Shanghai Daily news

He's not getting any younger and neither are his Chinese fans but Richard Clayderman enjoyed another huge success in Shanghai last Friday night as he continues on his 13th tour of China, writes Michelle Qiao.

Piano teacher Zhu Hong last week bought an 880-yuan (US$106) VIP ticket to ensure he had a good seat at a concert given by his idol, Richard Clayderman, the man whose music years ago inspired Zhu to learn the piano.
Although his trademark fair hair is thinning and wrinkles are appearing on his handsome face, the 50-something French pianist was still greeted with thunderous applause when he walked onto the stage at the Shanghai Oriental Arts Center last Friday. And there wasn't an empty seat in the house. However, the concert was a little bit disappointing. Clayderman's piano playing was hard to hear over the too-loud recorded electronic music accompaniment. And the addition to the program of a traditional Chinese string band made up of five fashionable beauties may have been a bad idea. Also, many of the pieces he performed that he'd played a decade ago, like ``A Comme Amour,'' sounded tired and outdated. But the audience, mostly in their 30s and 40s, appeared to enjoy the familiar melodies that flowed from the fingers of the gracefully aging star. When he played the Chinese piece ``Butterfly Lovers'' (known in Chinese as ``Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai''), the entire audience clapped in time with the beat. A highlight of the night came later when the audience could not help singing the Chinese song, ``A Big River,'' to Clayderman's playing. That the audience found the concert totally entertaining is beyond doubt. ``My mother bought a Clayderman LP `Lyphard Melody' overseas in 1977 and I was rapt immediately,'' says 35-year-old Zhu, who is now a piano teacher at the Youth Center of Putuo District. ``His easy-to-listen-to music awoke my interest in learning to play the piano. Now I can play 300 of Clayderman's pieces. I have 12 students at present and they all like playing his music,'' he says. Zhu has collected 12 photo albums, 37 volumes of sheet music, 90 CDs and more than 10 LPs, LDs and DVDs of Richard Clayderman. He has even tried to arrange eight piano pieces taken from Chinese folk songs and movie music into Clayderman's style of presentation. Zhu is one of Clayderman's millions of Chinese fans who grew up listening to his romantic, schmaltzy music. ``His music belonged to that time, around 1986 when there was neither good light music nor pop music for Chinese young people,'' says Zhu. ``Clayderman's music filled in the blanks in the music scene at that time.'' And Clayderman knows all about his popularity in China -- after all, this is his 13th Chinese concert tour. Chinese fans have been buying his recordings for some 20 years and they would certainly agree with Nancy Reagan, widow of the US President Ronald Reagan, when she gave him the nickname the ``Prince of Romance'' in the 1980s. His first Chinese concert in Beijing in 1992 was such a hit that his sheet music and recordings became best-sellers almost overnight. Euphoria about his piano playing could be heard everywhere in the country. Over the past 13 years he has given more than 60 concerts in about 40 Chinese cities. His face and his melodies have become old friends to millions of Chinese. In recent years he has adapted many Chinese classics, pop and folk songs to win the hearts of his Chinese fans. In the Shanghai concert last Friday, he played a piece entitled ``Red Sun,'' a very popular song in China in the 1960s and 1970s. ``Clayderman is the first pianist that I ever heard,'' says Li Yanhuan, a local music critic. ``I still remember the blue cover on his first Chinese tape `Give a Little Time to Your Love.' Although classic music circles have always questioned his piano skills, they cannot deny the huge influence he has in China. ``Many musician friends of mine first started to play the piano after hearing his music. He is so famous that some of my friends who never listen to music still know his name.'' With more than 267 gold and 70 platinum discs to his credit, Clayderman has the reputation of being ``a popular pianist'' and ``a mediocre pianist'' at the same time. Chinese piano master Liu Shikun has called Clayderman as ``Piano Andy Lau'' -- Andy Lau is a Hong Kong pop star. ``His piano skill is only mediocre and what he has done has made no contributions to the development of the art of the piano,'' Liu had said at an earlier interview. ``The life of pop music is short because pop always requires a fresh feeling. But classical Western music is a life-long study. ``It's most likely that in 50 years time, nobody will know who Richard Clayderman was. But people will still know who Beethoven was in 500 years time. But I admit Clayderman's music sounds better than Beethoven as background music in hotels.'' Clayderman says both classic and pop music are for there to be appreciated. ``However, people have to live under various pressures in modern society and they need a relaxing, soothing atmosphere,'' he says. ``My romantic, relaxing music style meets this demand.'' Tian Jinghua, a piano master from Nanjing Normal University, bought some of Clayderman's sheet music to play. ``His piano melody is easy to remember and the chords go well with the melody,'' she says. ``But I got bored soon. There's not much to study about his music.'' If you type ``Li Cha De'' (``Richard'' in Chinese) on Chinese leading search engines, most stories coming back will be about ``pianist Richard Clayderman.'' He is the most famous ``Richard'' in China. On Chinese music BBS most notes say they love Clayderman's music. They love to enjoy his playing when they are relaxing or taking a bath or when they cannot sleep or when they sleep very late. Clayderman's best-known pieces are frequently mentioned in Chinese romance novels. A Chinese high school teacher even tried to broadcast his ``Give a Little Time to Your Love (Beethoven's Symphony No. 5)'' so her students could better understand Russian writer Maxim Gorki's prose poem ``Stormy Petrel.'' On his next visit to China, fans can expect another night of nostalgia. In the seats his middle-aged Chinese fans will lose themselves in the syrupy sounds that moved their young hearts. Memories are beautiful but sometimes memories are better than meeting again.