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.
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ago, like ``A Comme Amour,'' sounded tired and outdated.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