The Civic Theatre’s twinkling starlit ceiling, embroidered flamingo curtains and extravagant décor set the scene for an evening of nostalgia with pianist Richard Clayderman. Promoted as featuring music from his latest album, Romantique, the concert was to be accompanied by “a dazzling strings section”.
Strange amplified rumblings filled the theatre, the noise began, and the curtains opened to reveal a stage that looked like a rehearsal for a school show – black curtains behind, black boxes in extraneous places on the stage, a multi-coloured strip of lights above the stage and a towel covering the piano stool. The grand piano seemed to be too far back on the stage, making any sense of connection with Clayderman himself challenging. To the right were three fine-looking women, dressed in black, with their stringed instruments. A gorgeous backdrop befitting the elegance of the Civic Theatre and a screen showing what was happening on the piano’s keyboard would have enhanced this concert immeasurably.
The string players were magnificently professional and, to give Clayderman his due, he is a virtuoso who played his heart out, remaining on stage throughout the concert. However, his persistent mouthing while he played was distracting. I kept trying to lip read. Surely it wasn’t “Un, deux, trois …”.
What completely spoilt the show for us was the highly amplified recorded backing, mostly percussion, which dominated and drowned the live music. We went to this concert to hear a live performance! At times, Clayderman sat on his piano stool clapping away, trying to get his audience to join in, while the recorded music played on. The clapping rhythm disintegrated. Someone nearby looked at her watch. Clayderman started to play again. The percussion, which sounded like a computerised electronic backing from a keyboard, cracked on, loud and monotonous. Along with the disembodied recorded continuity announcements, the technology killed the performance, denying it even a breath of spontaneity and soul.
At various intervals, Clayderman would distribute his music among audience members in the front few rows. I watched with the same unease that I watch lolly scrambles – the greedy winners looked smug and those who missed out went away disappointed. The red roses that Clayderman handed out to the string trio looked horribly like plastic flowers from the $2 shop. Then there was the little act that started off with the amplified sound of a blow fly – I’m not kidding! Clayderman pulled out a red plastic gun and shot up in the air. A huge fairground stuffed toy fly was thrown onto the stage from the wings. And the point of this was…?
My spirits lifted when I heard the opening notes of “You raise me up”. It is a song that resonates hugely with me. A brave and beautiful East Timorese orphan lived with us while recovering from major surgery several years ago. She sang this song to our friends as a birthday gift to Iggy at his big birthday party. Even the toughest bloke at our party was seen mopping up his tears when Veronica sang her song. Last night’s performance, sadly, felt automated. Admire Clayderman’s piano playing as we might, the concert didn’t raise even the slightest welling of emotion – rather sad for a performance that was supposed to be Romantique.