Ballad for Clayderman

With a soft touch and deft technique, French pianist Richard Clayderman has created his own brand of performing popular music tinged with classical, jazz and other stylings.

Richard Clayderman 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Richard Clayderman 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Richard Clayderman is a phenomenon. He has taken the art of performing pleasant melodies to the highest level, in terms of both entertainment value and record sales. The 58-year-old French pianist will, no doubt, wow his Israeli audiences as well when he comes to Israel to perform concerts in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa (March 1-3).
Clayderman made an impressive entry to the Israeli market in the early 1980s when he performed “Ballade pour Adeline” on evening TV talk shows. The scale of success of his debut recording was unexpected and, in fact, the pianist only got his chance to shine after coming through an initial test stage.
In 1976 Clayderman, then known by his birth name of Philippe Pagès, was invited by French record producer Olivier Toussaint and his partner Paul de Senneville to record a gentle piano ballad. De Senneville had composed the ballad as a tribute to his new daughter Adeline. The then 23-year-old Pagès was auditioned along with 20 other pianists and got the job.
“He was an interesting musician with a soft touch and good technique,” said Toussaint at the time, adding “and he looked good, too.”
Clayderman, who adopted his Swedish grandmother’s name when a record producer told him non-French speakers would not be able to pronounce his family name, said he was completely bowled over when “Ballade pour Adeline” made mega-hit proportions. “I thought if we had a small success I would be very happy,” the pianist recalls. “After a few months, it was a big hit in Europe and all around the world. I was very surprised and very happy.”
Overnight stardom notwithstanding, easy listening was not Clayderman’s first avenue of musical endeavor. At the age of 12, he was accepted by the Conservatoire de Paris and quickly made a name for himself as a highly promising student. However, his father became seriously ill, and ensuing familial financial difficulties forestalled a promising career as a classical pianist. Clayderman was forced to leave the conservatory and found work as a bank clerk and later as an accompanist to various French commercial artists such as Johnny Hallyday, Thierry Le Luron and Michel Sardou.
A few years later, “Ballade pour Adeline” changed all of that, selling 22 million copies in 38 countries. In fact, the Frenchman’s sales and output figures are truly astonishing.
To date, he has sold more than 70 million records, garnering more than 250 gold and 70 platinum discs in the process. He is also reputed to have recorded more than 1,300 songs and, at one stage, gave 200 concerts in 250 days. He has, however, cut down on his performances and now makes do with 50 or 60 a year.
Three decades after “Ballade pour Adeline,” he can now reflect on what it is that brings the crowds in.
“I think the piano is a nice instrument, and ‘Adeline’ is a nice melody, very simple, but it I think it touches the hearts of lots of people. Even now, after 30 years, I try to play the ballad with sensitivity, and I think this melody has something magic in it.”
Aesthetics probably also had something to do with it.
Anyone who caught Clayderman’s TV appearances here back then would probably have been taken by his striking dress sense – which normally consisted of an all-white suit with tails – blond locks, sparkling blues eyes and captivating smile. Maybe he was also trying to make the piano look sexy. “I think it was a good combination between the way I played the piano and my personality,” posits Clayderman. “But the most important thing is to play my music, to play the music for my audience.”
Mind you, it could all have been very different had he continued with his conservatory studies. But, says Clayderman, he has no compunction about missing out on what might have been a brilliant career as a classical pianist.
“When I was 15, I started playing with pop music bands, and I don’t regret not becoming a classical musician. Of course, my music is a bit of classical and a bit of popular music, and this is exactly want I wanted to do.”
Part of that, he says, is down to simple marketing statistics.
“There are many classical pianists all around the world, and I wanted to find my style, and I have been very lucky with my career. I always try to do something different with the music.”
That, says Clayderman, involves drawing on a variety of sources. “I listen to all sorts of jazz pianists, like Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, and also guitarists like Larry Carlton, and I play different styles, like ragtime. I think it is important to keep it interesting – for myself and for the audience.”
For his Israeli concerts, Clayderman has opted for popular material. His local program will incorporate soundtracks from movies such as West Side Story, Love Story and Schindler’s List. Naturally, “Ballade pour Adeline” will be in there as well.
Richard Clayderman will perform at the Jerusalem Theater on March 1 at 8:30 p.m; Gesher Theater in Jaffa on March 2 at 2 p.m. and 8:30 p.m; and at the Haifa Auditorium on March 3 at 8:30 p.m.

For tickets: Jerusalem: or *6226; Jaffa: or *2274; Haifa: or (04) 843-8477.