by Nguyen My Ha
So Richard Clayderman, once dubbed the Prince of Romance for his relaxing piano music, finally came to perform live in Ha Noi.
The world-renowned pianist recently made thousands of Vietnamese fans happy by performing the songs of their youth, about 20 to 30 years ago, in a live concert. A representative of VP Bank, the sponsor, came onstage before the event to explain that the concert was a tribute to its clients, who have over the years placed their complete trust in the bank.
You may have an idea of the kind of people who watched Clayderman perform live in the only show in the capital city last weekend. They are people in their 50s and 60s, some even in their 70s, who were willing to pay up to VND7 million (US$350) for two orchestra tickets to be able to see their idol up close.
The 3,800-seat auditorium of the National Conference Center in Ha Noi was packed to the rafters. You have to stand in long queues to go through a metal detector and get inside the hallway. It was supposed to start at 8pm but had not even started by 8.30pm Some organisers may blame it on the spectators' tardiness, but the star of the show is an internationally acclaimed pianist who has set a world record for the number of records, tapes and CDs of his music sold.
At 8.35pm, a woman sitting on the row behind mine started clapping, and some of the others joined her. A while later, the show began.
I used to be one of Clayderman's fans. In the 1990s, I used to have cassette tapes with The Best of Richard Clayderman printed on their covers. I used to like his music, listened to them on my SHARP player and even bought a scorebook to learn some of his hit songs. Ballade pour Adeline, A comme Amour or Les Fleur Sauvages, they were the sweet memories of a distant past, when entertaining events were few and far between.
During the tough times of the early 1990s, when we students fell for the Beatles and the Bee Gees and local groups performing their songs, Clayderman's music brought a gentle romantic touch to the eyes and faces of dreamy female high school or college students.
Long before Clayderman became famous in Viet Nam, a number of people were already more than willing to see him in person and spend quite a sum of money to watch him perform.
I must say I was disappointed, like many of my friends who went to the show.
"Disappointing" was the oft-repeated word used in newspaper reviews about the show. Critics described it as poorly done. I felt the same. The pre-recorded electronic accompaniment was too loud, Clayderman's moves were too predictable and the overall feeling the show generated was undesirable.
To me, the highlight of the show was the theme song from Schindler's List, played by violinist My Huong of the Viet Nam Academy of Music. SHE was the real star of the show.
But if you read further into the comments of the critics online, you'd be surprised to see that nearly all comments about the show were positive. "To me he's the best," or "No matter what, he's still the charming prince," really surprised me to the core. A friend of mine chatted with me on Facebook right after the show and said her mother-in-law, who's in her 70s, really loved it.
From a commercial point of view, any professional pianist would be delighted to have achieved the sales success of Clayderman who, according to Wikipedia, has to date 247 gold and 70 platinum discs.
"Those who went to the show last night were spectators," a famous guitarist remarked on Facebook. "They wanted to meet their idol." This is so hard for local musicians, who play good music to sold-out shows.
I personally think the organisers knew very well what they were doing. They brought in what their clients wanted, regardless of the criticism. They let their clients relive the moments of youth, long gone and revived briefly by Clayderman's music. And they granted the audience's wishes.
It doesn't matter what the critics and reviewers say online and in print. It's the fans who decide to pay for what makes them feel good.
I naively hope that in time, this wave of fanaticism will fade and people will pay much less for much more interesting music, played or written by local composers.
After the show in Ha Noi, Clayderman moved on to other concerts in other places, and believe it or not, he still has his own circles of fans who number in the millions. And when many people feel strongly about something, you'd be very careful about judging their taste, as no one can actually teach you about taste. You fall for what makes you feel good. That's it!
Today, you may have read articles criticizing parents for making their children study everything to become perfect, including playing the piano. British examiners of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) in the United Kingdom and Trinity College in Cambridge have been coming to Ha Noi during summer to test aspiring young Vietnamese musicians.
A parent has just asked me to help translate for her the records of her two sons, aged 15 and 10, who passed the Trinity College Test with grades of six and three, respectively. Both passed their examinations with distinction and flowery compliments from the teachers.
I earnestly hope that younger generations receiving early training in classical music will grow up and decide for themselves what to listen to. — VNS