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Vocal quartet Il Divo's (from left) David Miller, Sebastien Izambard, Urs Buhler and Carlos Marin will raze the Singapore stage for a daring new concert.

Richard Clayderman, 62, has sold 85 million records and is officially the world's best-selling pianist. Over the course of 35 years, the clean-living pianist has recorded over 1,300 songs.

Belgian native and founding artistic director of The Philharmonic Winds, Robert Casteels, says Fun With Music will feature, apart from the lush melodies, a narrator, the world premiere of a special arrangement set for the Chinese instrument pipa and wind orchestra, and a sand artist.

Classical trills & spills

Just because a piece of music is decades or centuries old doesn't mean one can't breathe new life into it. Il Divo, Richard Clayderman and the Philharmonic Winds are no strangers to giving classical music a pop-makeover and boast multi-generational fanbases. Their upcoming performances will be anything but stiff sit-down affairs.
Apr 1, 2016 5:50 AM

Armani-clad crooners get their groove on

BEFORE there was One Direction, pop svengali Simon Cowell put together another pheromone-heavy boy band of sorts: Il Divo. The multi-national vocal quartet might be a couple of decades older but like their younger counterparts, they never fail to leave a trail of swooning female fans wherever they go.

Comprising Swiss Urs Buhler, Spaniard Carlos Marin, American David Miller and Frenchman Sebastien Izambard, the pop opera sensation will return to perform in Singapore next Monday.

The current world tour is to promote the Armani-clad warblers' recently released seventh studio album Amor & Pasion.

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The group often jokes on-stage that their women fans have to drag reluctant husbands and boyfriends along to the shows; but tenor Buhler acknowledges Il Divo are very aware of the effects they have on the opposite sex.

"They make us a big part of their lives - we have a fan from Istanbul who is in her 70s and she travels all over Europe, bringing bottles of champagnes to our meet-and-greets - so it's all very sweet," purrs the hunky 44-year-old with the honeyed vocals over the phone from Uruguay, where Il Divo was in the midst of the South American leg of the tour last month.

Since they were put together by Cowell in late 2003, they have gone on to sell over 30 million records and the centrefold-ready foursome are one of the world's biggest-selling classical crossover acts, alongside the likes of Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman.

They have put their lush lung-busting operatic touch to everything from pop hits, traditional folk songs and standards across nine studio, live, and compilation albums recorded in multiple languages.

Amor & Pasion is the first time they have made an entire record in Spanish. On it, they tackle well-loved classics such as Quizas, Quizas, Quizas (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps) and Besame Mucho; as well as pop oldies such as Gloria Estefan's Si Voy A Perderte (Don't Wanna Lose You) and Julio Iglesias's A Las Mujeres Que Ame (To All the Girls I've Loved Before).

The classically trained Buhler, who was formerly from the Dutch National Opera before he was talent-spotted by Cowell, says working with Colombian producer Julio Reyes Copello (Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony) was the most memorable thing about making the new album.

"He's a very accomplished musician and a classically trained pianist himself so it was great to work with someone like Julio who's not just a pop producer looking for what's hot or the Next Big Thing," he shares.

Their legions of female fans can also look forward to a sexier "live" show, inspired in part by the group recording in the language of love.

"It's much more exciting - we have dancers and we also dance ourselves," Buhler teases. "It's very colourful and more exciting than anything we've ever done before."

By Dylan Tan

Il Divo's Amor & Pasion World Tour stops by The Star Theatre on April 4 at 8pm. Tickets are priced from S$98 to S$278 (excluding fees) and are available from Sistic

Lulled into love by Clayderman's ivories

RICHARD Clayderman's "soft and romantic style of piano playing" might not be everybody's cup of tea but after more than three decades in the spotlight, he is used to his detractors calling his schmaltzy easy listening instrumentals elevator music.

"I live with that quote but I would mention that it is extremely rare to hear music in elevators!" quips the "Prince of Romance" via an email interview, a nickname given to him by the ex-US first lady Nancy Reagan.

The 62-year-old will perform in Singapore next week as part of his current world tour.

With 85 million records sold, he is officially the world's best-selling pianist but away from the public spotlight, the thrice-married Frenchman has led a life of ups and downs that taught him to count his blessings.

"I am lucky that many people enjoy my style, my touch, my way of playing the piano," Clayderman says.

Born a less-catchy Philippe Pages, his piano teacher father taught him to play the instrument and he was accepted into the Conservatoire de Paris as a child prodigy at 12. But when the former was struck by illness, Clayderman's career as a classical pianist came to a premature end as he worked as a bank clerk by day and studio sessionist by night to help foot the medical bills.

Things began to look up in 1976 when producer Olivier Toussaint picked him to record Ballade Pour Adeline, a track which they thought would sell about 10,000 copies.

Little did anybody think the lullaby-esque tune - composed by Toussaint's co-writer Paul de Senneville for his new-born daughter - would take the world by storm, shifting 22 million units and turning it into Clayderman's signature tune.

Sadly though, his father passed away a few months before that and never got a chance to see his son turn into a global star.

Over the course of 35 years, the clean-living pianist who doesn't drink or smoke has recorded over 1,300 songs and his unique brand of classical-meets-pop continues to inspire generations of piano players, some who impress him enough for their videos to appear on his website.

His advice for budding pianists is earnest - "Let your emotions flow and practise everyday" - and Clayderman remains modest about his success, citing passion as the key factor for his long-standing career.

"You know, I often wonder how it is possible that till today I am still offered so many opportunities to perform in so many different countries of the world," he says, adding the most memorable show he played was at one of the tallest waterfalls in China, Huangguoshu Waterfall, in Guizhou.

In fact, you never know where his music might pop up. "About 20 years ago in Mexico, we were on a road in the mountains (in the middle of nowhere) when we stopped our car on the side of the road to go into a bar as we wanted to drink something cold," Clayderman recalls. "In there was a cassette stand - at that time, there were no CDs yet - with three tapes: one of Julio Iglesias, another one of Michael Jackson and the third one of me!"

By Dylan Tan

Richard Clayderman plays The Star on April 5 at 8pm. Tickets from S$98-S$198 available from Sistic. For a chance to win tickets to the show and meet Richard Clayderman backstage, check @BTLifestyle on Instagram

Philharmonic Winds amps up the fun factor

OF all the comparisons to make, likening classical music to cricket might seem a little far-fetched. Yet, Robert Casteels, founding artistic director of The Philharmonic Winds, persists.

"Classical music is for everyone, but there is a level of exposure required," he says. "If I go to a cricket match for the first time, I'll just see a ball bouncing around and people running in pursuit of it. It won't make sense. Just like with cricket, music needs a proper introduction."

The Belgian native has been interested in conducting ever since he was on a school trip to a concert at the tender age of 12. After attending The Royal Conservatory of Brussels, he says: "It all just fell into place from there."

Having lived in Singapore since 1995, Dr Casteels has been with local wind orchestra The Philharmonic Winds since its inception in 2000. He jokes: "I'm like their grandfather figure!" Their upcoming concert, titled Fun with Music, is the ideal way to break in classical music novices, says Dr Casteels, because of all its added elements.

Apart from the lush melodies you'd expect from a classical concert, this one also features a narrator, the world premiere of a special arrangement set for the Chinese instrument pipa and wind orchestra, and a sand artist. The sand artist, Lawrence Koh, will be creating a new work in collaboration with The Philharmonic Winds after the success of his last piece. The images will be set to the piece Africa: Ceremony, Song and Ritual by Robert W Smith.

"Nowadays, people are very visual in the way we access and process information," says Dr Casteels. "The sand art is not meant to illustrate the music, but to tell a fuller story by using complementing art forms."

Also featured in the family-friendly concert is a special performance by Hidehiro Fujita, principal tuba of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, who'll be playing at the Singapore premiere of Fredrik Hogberg's Trolltuba. Alongside this performance, William Ledbetter will be narrating a retelling of the folk tale, Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Dr Casteels, 56, explains: "The narrator isn't like an emcee who's introducing the piece in a dry, academic fashion. Rather, the story about the three goats has a monster in it, and the tuba takes on that function in the concerto."

He adds: "There are many nuances and angles to a performance like this, and we think it will appeal to not just classical music lovers, but also to those who want to give it a try."

Apart from organising untraditional concerts such as this, The Philharmonic Winds also strives to make classical music accessible through outreach programmes, which they conduct through free concerts at the Botanic Gardens, public libraries and in the heartlands.

Dr Casteels says: "You have to get people over their initial fear of concerts, and once they've been entertained and feel that they've gotten something out of it, they'll want to experience it more and more."

By Avanti Nim

Fun With Music! will be held at the Esplanade Concert Hall on April 3 at 5pm. Tickets start at S$15, and are available from Sistic