Interview by Esther Basha (MGBH)
He is not merely the world’s best selling pianist. The media calls him the Prince of Hearts and Romance. For 40 years to date, his music and charisma has been conquering the world audience – one listener at a time. Today, with an impressive discography of over 170 albums, Richard Clayderman (MGBH) continues to tour around the world with his repertoire that he had mastered over the long and miraculous course of his career. Some label his style as “elevator music.” However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And considering the amount of fans that his music gained over the years, Richard Clayderman is delivering what most people want and laughing all the way to the bank.
PPM: Your stage name – Richard Clayderman – is a pseudonym. What is the story behind it?
RC: When I first met my two producers – Olivier Toussaint (MGBH) and Paul de Senneville (MGBH), which was over forty years ago, they were not completely satisfied with my real name – Phillipe Pagès. It was not so easy to pronounce in other languages. So, they asked me about other last names in my family. I knew of a Clayman or Claydman on my mother’s side, who had lived in Sweden in the 19th century. That’s all I knew about my great-grandmother. My producers became very interested in this name, and we decided that Clayderman would be ideal. As far as my first name was concerned – Phillipe – we thought that it didn’t really work so well with the new last name Clayderman. After trying on a few first names, we picked Richard. That is how “Richard Clayderman” was born.
PPM: Who was your first piano teacher?
RC: My father was a piano and music teacher. He gave lessons in the small apartment we lived in, in a suburb of Paris. Very often, I would hear the piano when he was teaching, and I was very fascinated with this black and white keyboard. He noticed that I was interested in the piano, so he taught me a little and slowly realized that I really enjoyed it. One day, he noticed that I was becoming more than interested… that I was really very captivated by the piano. So, he took me to one of his friends who was a teacher at the conservatory. That’s how I came to attend the conservatory, and that’s how I was initiated into classical music and had an opportunity to advance my training.
PPM: Tell us about your mother. As a child, what are some of the most vivid memories?
RC: My mother did not have background in music. She used to earn her living by cleaning offices as well as taking care of the housekeeping for a number of buildings where we lived. She was very involved in my education in terms of making sure I did my homework after school or practiced my piano. When I would play with kids outside, she would come and tell me, “Fifi, (my nickname is Fifi, for Philippe) you have to go practice piano.” She would always remind me how important the piano was. And I practiced very nicely… I never rebelled against practicing the piano… I truly enjoyed it.
PPM: Do you have any siblings?
RC: I have an older sister. We’ve always been very close, and we still are. I call her often. When I was practicing the piano, she was practicing the flute. She was a good flute player, but didn’t continue to play music professionally. She has always been very important in my life. She is three years older than me and always has good advice. She’s married with a child and lives on the Riviera in Antibes very close to where I used to live when I lived on the Riviera. So, for ten years, we lived next to each other. At the end of my garden, there was a little door, and this is how we would get to her house.
PPM: Who were some of your favorite composers during your study at the Paris Conservatory? You didn’t finish it, did you?
RC: Mozart, Beethoven (OBM), Chopin (OBM), Ravel (OBM), Schumann (OBM)… I was fascinated by all of these composers. I must say, however, that my favorite was Chopin. Unfortunately, very soon, my father became terribly ill, so I had to earn my own living and could no longer continue my studies at the conservatory. I ended up earning a living by accompanying other performers. From the age of 17 until I met my producers, I was an accompanist. I was lucky, because during those years, I had an opportunity to work with some of the most famous singers of that time – Johnny Hallyday (OBM) and Thierry Le Luron (OBM). And, a couple of years prior to meeting my producers, I accompanied a famous French star – Michel Sardou (MGBH) – who imitated politicians. He was also a singer and had all sorts of talents and performed many shows in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, and other French speaking countries. As his piano accompanist, I had the opportunity to learn a lot.
Originally, we expected sales of maybe 50,000 singles, but this ballad has sold more than 20 million albums, which has been quite surprising. That is how I started my career and our working relationship, and this year I am celebrating my 40th anniversary.
PPM: How did you meet your producers and under what circumstances did you start working together?
RC: One of the producers, Olivier Toussaint, called me one day on the phone. He explained to me that I was the lucky winner of the audition and offered me the opportunity to make a recording of the ballad called “Ballad For Adeline,” which became very successful in many countries around the world. That’s how I started my career. Originally, we expected sales of maybe 50,000 singles, but this ballad has sold more than 20 million albums, which has been quite surprising. That is how I started my career and our working relationship, and this year I am celebrating my 40th anniversary.
Last December, during a concert that took place in China on December 28th, everyone surprised me, and my birthday was celebrated in front of the audience with the orchestra playing Happy Birthday.
PPM: Your Zodiac sign is Capricorn – goal-oriented and kind. Do you like celebrating your birthdays?
RC: When I was a kid, I was definitely very happy to celebrate my birthday. However, as my birthday is December 28th , it has always been combined with Christmas! Nevertheless, I was always so happy to have a cake and blow out the candles. Nowadays, I must admit that I’m not so enthusiastic about it… As a child, I was happy to be one year older, but today not so much. For the past twenty years, all of my birthdays have been celebrated while I was on tour, and particularly, when I was on tour in China. Last December, during a concert that took place in China on December 28th, everyone surprised me, and my birthday was celebrated in front of the audience with the orchestra playing Happy Birthday. The audience was delighted to be part of the celebration. Of course, I had to look happy… but I wasn’t so happy to mark another year on the calendar!
PPM: Have you written your own compositions throughout your career?
RC: Not really. In fact, I am just an interpreter, and my two principal composers since my debut have been Paul de Senneville (MGBH) and Olivier Toussaint. They have that kind of talent, which I do not have at all, but we work closely with each other. It’s a team effort. On my end, I add my own style, personality, and sensitivity to the pieces.
The only other job that I had for a short period of time was a job as a bank clerk. I found out that the banking business was definitely not my cup of tea.
PPM: What other jobs have you had prior to becoming a professional pianist?
RC: The only other job that I had for a short period of time was a job as a bank clerk. I found out that the banking business was definitely not my cup of tea.
PPM: After forty years on stage, do you still practice piano daily?
RC: It is important for me is to have a piano wherever I am or, at least, a keyboard. On tour, I’m always provided with a digital piano keyboard in either the dressing room or my hotel room, so that I may practice for as long as I want without disturbing my neighbors. It‘s true that the quality of the keyboards have undoubtedly improved considerably over the past 20 years, and the touch of the digital pianos is very good, and I can practice whenever I want. I wish I could have a digital piano on the planes in order that I take advantage of being in the air and practice my piano.
When I first went to China, there were lots of bicycles and just a few cars… Today, there are lots of cars and very few bicycles.
PPM: What was it like for you to visit and perform in China for the first time? Do you remember your first impression of the country and its culture?
RC: The first concert I had in China was in Shanghai in 1987. This was a 25-minute-long concert for television, but the real concert I did was in Beijing in 1992. Originally, I think it was planned that the concert takes place in a 3,000-seat theatre, but they had to change that and rent the biggest theatre at that time in Beijing. This was called the Capital Theatre, which had twice or three times the capacity of the 3,000 originally planned. They were planning one show, but in the end, I performed three shows in a row, and this was the beginning of my incredible story in China.
At that time, it was quite a discovery. We knew a little bit about China, but it was quite a mystery. Nowadays, China is recognized as a super country, very powerful and rich. At that time, it was still poor, and I was very surprised…my promoters were very surprised that so many people came to the concerts. Since then, every year, I perform between 30 to 40 concerts in China’s main cities. I have been visiting China twice a year. Every time I noticed the difference in the development in terms of the number of cars, construction, buildings, and an incredible increase of everything in this country, which makes it very difficult today because of traffic jams. When I first went to China, there were lots of bicycles and just a few cars… Today, there are lots of cars and very few bicycles.
PPM: What personal qualities do you admire in people?
RC: I admire people who have the ability to remain humble, who do not boast, and who are able to speak about their career and success with humility.
PPM: You started a family pretty early. What was it like balancing family life and career?
RC: Indeed, I was very young when I married my first wife. I was 17, and in retrospect, it was too young to have a baby. I was on the road, on tour, most of the time, and hardly at home. That’s why my marriage lasted just a few years, and we got divorced. I have regrets about that period in my life, as I didn’t really have time to spend with my daughter. Later on, I remarried, and with my second wife we had our son Peter. At that time already I could devote more time to raising him, and I think he was brought up very well. We were living on the Riviera at that time, and I would fly back between tours as much as I could to spend time with him and take care of him. I would take him to school, restaurants, and have fun with him. It was the right time. I was in my thirties, so it was the right time to have a child. Not earlier.
I hear that many men hit their wives, and when I hear that, I can’t believe it. I wonder how that is even possible. In some cultures, it is a tradition for men to beat their women. For me, this is unacceptable.
PPM: What is the most important factor that brings peace in the relationship of a husband and a wife, in your opinion?
RC: I know some couples who need to argue in order to keep living. They cannot have a peaceful relationship. They love each other, but they fight continuously. As far as I’m concerned, I like peaceful relationships. I think what drives a peaceful relationship is love as love is essential to keep “a blue sky” in the relationship. I’m the opposite of aggressive or angry. In addition to love, it’s a matter of respect, which is very important. I hear that many men hit their wives, and when I hear that, I can’t believe it. I wonder how that is even possible. In some cultures, it is a tradition for men to beat their women. For me, this is unacceptable.
PPM: What is your favorite season of the year and why?
RC: Honestly, I love all seasons. My third wife and I used to have a dog named Cookie. We would walk together for hours in the forests and along the seaside in all seasons. I noticed that each time I was happy to discover another season. In some countries, especially those close to the equator, they do not have seasons. I love the change of seasons. Sometimes when I’m in Paris in the winter, I like to fly to another part of the world, like Latin America… Argentina or Brazil, and when it’s so cold in Paris, it’s very warm in these countries. So, I love to experience these changes and to be able to discover a new season.
I don’t drink wine, beer, champagne or any kind of alcohol. I have never drunk alcohol and I never will. I like still water.
PPM: Do you have a favorite food/cuisine?
RC: I like simple food like mixed salads. I like steak, chicken, lamb cutlets with rice. I also like Italian food like pasta and pizza. I don’t drink wine, beer, champagne or any kind of alcohol. I have never drunk alcohol and I never will. I like still water. For breakfast, I like fresh orange juice. I never drink coffee but I like tea in the morning. I’m not a fish lover… no lobsters or oysters and things like this. I am very French when it comes to being a cheese connoisseur – Camembert, Brie, Roquefort, goat cheese – I enjoy them all. I also like pastries. especially tiramisu. In any case, I try not to eat too much to keep fit and avoid gaining too much weight.
PPM: You make an impression of a kind and humble person. Do these two qualities come to you naturally or do you have to work on them?
RC: Actually, it is my nature. I’m not nasty with people. I don’t like to boast, so that’s the way I am. I was like that when I was young, and I’m still like that today.
PPM: Who were some of your role models throughout your life that influenced your personal development?
RC: For sure, my father has been my role model. He was very kind and very humble and not showy at all, and, no doubt, I am his son. It is unfortunate that he had a kidney disease and passed away when I was 22. He played a very important role in my life as a man and as a piano player. My biggest regret is that he passed before I started my own career. Sometimes I think of how he would have been so happy and delighted, and, perhaps, proud, if he had been able to see my career unfold over the past 40 years.
PPM: What are some of your favorite things to do during your time away from piano?
RC: When I am back in France between tours, I go and buy lots of DVDs. My suitcase is full of piano parts and DVDs. When I have time, I enjoy watching movies, but I like when movies are dubbed in French vs. have subtitles. I enjoy reading biographies of famous people like TV presenters, actors, and comedians. I also like watching TV.
PPM: How do you handle difficult moments in your life?
RC: I like to keep things to myself. I don’t really like to share my problems with others, except for my sister. I can speak intimately with her, more so than with any other people. I keep things private, and, I guess, this is my secret garden.
PPM: What is your favorite vacation spot and why?
RC: I tour continuously around the world, from Europe to the United States, from Asia to Latin America, and Australia. So, my most valued vacation spot is my house in the suburbs of Paris. My house is close to a forest, so I feel good there. Sometimes it’s nice not to have to catch planes, go through security, check into hotels and airports, get taxis and drive from one place to another. I enjoy staying put… in the same place!
PPM: How has your relationship with your audience transformed over the years of your career?
RC: When I started doing my concerts, for many years I was very shy and didn’t feel so comfortable on stage. So, I was stuck behind the piano and afraid to get closer to the audience. Although for the past 15 to 20 years, I feel more comfortable, and I go and offer the audience some sheets from the piano scores I use at my concerts. You cannot imagine how people enjoy this, as this is my way of shaking hands with people. They feel close to me, because they understand that I am close to them. And as I cannot talk to them easily, given the language barriers, this is my way of forming an emotional connection to my audience.
This is something I could never have dreamed of, and after 38 years on the road, I still wonder how this has been possible.
PPM: Would you call the way your career unraveled miraculous?
RC: The first concert I performed at was in Vienna in 1979. At that time, my producers and managers didn’t really expect that I would embark on a career as a recording artist or performer. However, much to our surprise, since 1979, I have been offered the opportunity to perform in an incredible number of countries… something like 70 different countries around the globe, and I’ve performed close to 3,000 concerts. It is quite unique for a piano player, and especially rare for a French artist, as very few French artists were offered the opportunity to perform in so many countries around the world. This is something I could never have dreamed of, and after 38 years on the road, I still wonder how this has been possible.
PPM: Do you have any plans of coming to perform in the US any time soon?
RC: In fact, I do. I will be in the US on tour from September 28th through October 6th performing in Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, Boston, and New York.