The French pianist loved the classics before discovering the Stones; 40 years after his first disc he still straddles both worlds.
Who were your musical inspirations growing up?
I was surrounded by music from the time I was born. My father was a piano teacher and I often listened to him giving piano lessons to his students. Without a doubt, my father was my inspiration. He was also a very skilled accordion player, so sometimes he would play his accordion, and I would listen passionately to him. To me, it was magic when he played. Then, I attended musical schools and the conservatoire, and of course, my inspirations were Chopin, Bach, Schumann, Beethoven… all of these great composers. When I was 15 or 16, I heard rock and pop music on the radio. I heard the Beatles, and found myself more concerned with that kind of music than classical music.
Pianist Richard Clayderman. Photo © James McMillan
What were the recordings that really spoke to you?
In the 60s, there were many good records played on the radio stations so I can’t really single out specific titles except, of course, for the Beatles, their first hits, the Stones and Led Zeppelin. All of these great groups at that time influenced me.
Did you always know you wanted to play music as a career?
Of course not. In fact, it was my father’s secret wish that I become good enough with the piano so that I could be able to accompany artists and singers. But in the 70s, the idea that someone could embark on an international career with the piano was absolutely unimaginable. So today, I still consider it a miracle that I have been able to have an international career with my piano. Maybe the gods smile on me and my piano!
What were your most important experiences at the Conservatoire?
The capability to discover a piano score, to be able to evaluate it, and be able to play it to the best of my ability. This is something that takes a lot of practice and commitment. It’s something that we have to carefully and gradually work on in order to be able to play the piano in different types of surroundings, and in the best possible way.
Were there any teachers who really inspired you?
In fact, my father has been both very inspiring and very essential as he gave me the opportunity to enter the world of piano. At the conservatoire, I remember one particular teacher who gave me the pleasure to discover musical scores, to practice them, and to improve upon them.
Richard Clayderman. Photo © James McMillan
What prompted your foray into popular and rock music genres?
Well, there are many factors, but one of them is that my father became suddenly ill and, in the end, he passed away. So, I had to earn my living, and that’s how I became a piano accompanist in some music groups. Then, I was spotted by some people and I become an accompanist to some stars. That’s how I got into show business as a piano accompanist, and that is also how I was noticed by two record producers who asked me take part in a piano competition, and I was the winner of this competition, so I was offered the opportunity to record Ballade pour Adeline.
What were the most important lessons you learned as an accompanist for musicians such as Michel Sardou, Thierry Le Luron and Johnny Hallyday?
In fact, these artists are very challenging, and that made me have great respect for their performances and their art. These artists were, and continue to be, excellent artists, and I have to do my very best to be worthy of their confidence. By the way, when I happen to accompany an artist in a TV show, as a guest, I always pay attention to do my best and make the performance as enjoyable and as successful as possible.
Your repertoire spans a wide variety of genres – everything from the Beatles to Mascagni – what kind of music do you love the most?
You are right. I tend not to limit myself to one specific genre. I perform all sorts of different genres, though my main repertoire is dedicated to romantic songs which I have adapted with my piano. But during my concerts in Australia, I will, of course, play a selection of my originals as well as some beautiful love themes from movie soundtracks. Maybe I’ll play one classical title, one jazz title, and something I have not yet decided on. But my concert in Australia will definitely not be limited to one specific genre.
For you, what are the greatest pleasures of performing?
The time I find the hall is fully occupied and the audience is happy with my performing.
What are the challenges?
Any performance is a challenge, and I’m always committed to succeeding in my challenge as best I can. So, I do my best to be able to leave the stage with the feeling that I have done a good performance.
Do you have any habits or rituals before you go on stage?
Well, I usually touch the curtain for a few seconds!
What do you hope audiences will come away with after your concerts?
If they say, “Well, we had such a lovely time”, I would be delighted.
Richard Clayderman performs at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane May 30, Palais Theatre, Melbourne June 2 – 3 and International Convention Centre June 5 – 6