Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Philippe "Richard Clayderman" Pagès in Penang

My wife and I didn't quite know what to expect when we turned up at the Straits Quay in Tanjong Tokong yesterday evening for the Richard Clayderman concert. We had to ask the information desk on the direction to the convention centre. Helpful guy. Whilst walking there, we were joined by a lady who asked us to follow her. Turned out that she was from the E&O Management, and she had overheard us at the information counter.

So there we went into the lift that took us up to the sixth floor. We were quite surprised to see the immense crowd there. Because the doors into the convention centre were still shut, it added to all the excitement and anticipation. But there was a lot of exasperation too because the show was supposed to start at 8.30p.m. and people were still not allowed in to take their seats.

We bumped into a few old friends. Both Finian Lee and Johnny Phun were from my old days at the Ban Hin Lee Bank. As I do see Johnny occasionally, there wasn't as much catching up on old times as with Finian. I haven't seen him for, maybe, more than 10 years when we were part of the Information Technology Division: same division but different departments. We also bumped into Aik Eu and his family. He sits in my committee at the Swee Cheok Tong. And it turned out that his seats were just beside ours. Our tickets were numbered T48 and T49, while his were from T50 to T53. Wow, talking about coincidence, indeed!

From my seat in Row T, the stage was so very far away.

But there was an unpleasant surprise once we got into the convention centre. Somehow, the seating arrangements had not followed the layout plan that was shown to me when I purchased the tickets about two weeks ago. Then, I was rather resigned to having to sit five seats away from the aisle, stuffed in the centre of the row of seats. That wouldn't be too bad if my wife and I could still sit together.

However, the unpleasant surprise was that the organisers had added in more aisles between the chairs and suddenly, we found out that an aisle had come in between out seats. Never mind, my wife said. Okay, I told her. But the more I sat separated from her and being crammed on my right by a hefty guy who refused to budge even an inch, I decided to make a complaint. This can't be happening to me.

As luck would have it, I came across a smart young man (name of Kabir) who, somehow, stood out from among the rest of the people. When he confirmed that he was with the organisers, I told him about my predicament and showed him how the seating arrangement had split us up. Would you mind then, he answered, if he could find new seats for us? Would I mind? How could I mind. The only thing that mattered to me was to sit with my wife.

To watch the stage or to watch the screen??

Minutes later, Kabir came back and said he would like to upgrade our tickets and led us to a row of seats up in front but to the left of the stage. Although half of the musicians' back were to us, those new seats meant that we were still practically very close to the performance. Unfortunately, it also meant that Richard Clayderman's back was also to us and we couldn't see much of him unless we gazed up at the huge video screens. Nevertheless, we could see him clearly - actually, his side profile - when he stood up to connect with the audience.

But there was more. We learnt that there wouldn't be any autograph session at the end of the show. Looking at the capacity crowd, it would be impossible for any autograph session anyway. Everyone would want to meet Richard Clayderman in person and there were, I should estimate, perhaps some 2,000 people in the hall.

When I learnt that Richard Clayderman would not be appearing off-stage after the show, I made a small request to Kabir during the interval. Would Richard Clayderman, I asked, be able to do a small favour by autographing his record album? And I showed him the 1982 record that I had brought along with me. It was this very record that introduced Richard Clayderman to the British and from there, to the vast English-speaking audience worldwide. Well, no promises, Kabir said, and he disappeared with my record.

And soon enough, he reappeared with my record, the cover all autographed by the pianist himself. Richard Clayderman was in a good mood, Kabir said. What could I do but to thank him profusely. Kabir had gone way out to prove himself when there was no necessity for him to do so to a complete stranger. But he is in Corporate Affairs and I suppose this all came very natural to him. Very professional, indeed.

The only acceptable picture I have of Monsieur Philippe Pagès at the piano.

I have to admit that I couldn't recognise all or even recall some of the songs that Richard Clayderman played at his concert but certainly, I do remember that among them were Ballade Pour Adeline, a discofied interpretation of Beethoven à la Walter Murphy, one of the adagios from Aram Khachaturian's Spartacus, Earth Wind & Fire's September which set the audience clapping away, You Raise Me Up, the theme from the film show Titanic and, immediately after the intermission while I was still so engrossed with the autographed record cover, Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue which was the first song on Side Two of the record I was holding in my hands. Quite magical!

I gave up trying to keep track of the playlist after a while and decided to sit back and enjoy the show. But I still remember hearing the theme from Love Story embedded in a medley somewhere in the second half of the show. There was also a medley of Stevie Wonder party songs - My Cherie Amour, I Just Called To Say I Love You, Sir Duke and two or three more - which to me, was rather an odd choice because the Stevie Wonder segment was something that I would associate more with James Last. Anyway, that's only my opinion.

The support musicians were superb. Well, the Richard Clayderman retinue did include Oliver Toussaint who stayed firmly in the background and restricted himself to making the introductions during the show (but he's the one that co-wrote many tunes with Paul de Senneville) and French percussionist Daniel Ciampolini who mesmerised the audience with an absorbing display on the Hang. But this is the standard that is only to be expected from a musician who is almost a permanent member of Richard Clayderman's tour retinue.

No, I am referring more to the string section: a handful of local musicians that accompanied Richard Clayderman throughout the show. Always, there were six of them on the left side of the stage while on the right side were four others, including two cellists. Their playing were superb throughout and I really enjoyed the brief moment when one of them was thrust into the spotlight to play solo. I couldn't catch the fellow's name because of Richard Clayderman's thick accent but it could have been Penang's very own Lim Jae Sern.

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