Benoît Kaufman

Born: July 21st, 1946, Paris (France)
Nationality: stateless (1946-1965) / French (1965-)

Eurovision record
In 1989, Benoît Kaufman, who was the musical director of Television Suisse Romande (TSR) at that time, was the chief conductor of the Eurovision Song Contest held in Lausanne. Apart from the Swiss song ‘Viver senza tei’ by Furbaz, he also led his orchestra for Luxembourg’s entry ‘Monsieur’ by Park Café and took over the baton from Henrik Krogsgård half way through the Danish effort ‘Vi maler byen rød’, when Krogsgård joined the backing musicians behind Birthe Kjær on stage as part of the choreography of the performance. Four years later, Kaufman orchestrated the Swiss Eurovision entry ‘Moi, tout simplement’, performed by Annie Cotton, but left the conducting in the contest itself to Cotton’s producer Marc Sorrentino.

Benoît Kaufman (to the left) during the rehearsals of the 1989 Eurovision Song Contest in Lausanne in a discussion with Israeli guest conductor Shaike Paikov

Biography
Benoît Daniel Kaufman, born in Paris one year after the end of World War II, was the son of a Polish father and a Lithuanian mother. “Actually, she was half Lithuanian”, Kaufman comments, “but her father was English. My father was a Polish Jew and lived in the town of Mińsk Mazowiecki, east of Warsaw, but he came to France in 1933. He was extremely poor… and a self-taught musician. Once in Paris, being a communist, it was not long before he was heavily involved in the Popular Front movement, whilst he eventually became the conductor of a one-hundred-person strong choir; in the war, most of its members perished in Nazi extermination camps. My father was lucky: he had blue eyes, spoke fluent German and nobody was aware that he was Jewish! He passed most of the war in a prisoner-of-war camp, but he survived… Because neither of my parents possessed the French nationality in 1946, I was born stateless… a bizarre situation, which lasted until I was enlisted in the French army to perform my military service. So it was not until 1965 that I was given the French nationality.”

Benoît Kaufman grew up in Paris in the years of reconstruction after World War II. As could be expected given his father’s background, music became an integral part of young Benoît’s life early onwards. “I must have been three or four when I discovered the piano. My dad sent me to a private teacher, Madame Lyshevski, whose lessons I followed until I was thirteen. She was an excellent teacher, not only at the piano, but at music theory as well. Meanwhile, I did well at school. As a boy, I dreamt of becoming an engineer, but music was always there in the background. Because I loved the piano, I followed courses at the Conservatoire National Superieur in Paris for four years (1958-’62), winning first prize in several piano exams and studying theoretical subjects as well… harmony, arranging, composition… things like that. I could have become a good classical musician, who knows! Meanwhile, I listened to Radio Luxembourg and Europe 1. Pop music interested me enough to interest myself. When I was about twelve, I met Claude Ciari, who was just two years older than me, but even at that age he was a genius at the guitar. He was the first real musician I encountered. He was a fan of Chat Atkins and Jørgen Ingman… and I was amazed by the world he showed me. I decided I wanted to play the guitar as well. By the time I turned fourteen, I was determined to make it as a musician.”

By that time, young Benoît had picked up his first experience in the entertainment business, providing the piano accompaniment for singer Maryse Mélie and playing the guitar in a nightclub band. “That was in the Folies Pigalle! With my moped, I went there in the evening hours, after school. I was far too young to be between those nude danseuses, but, to tell you the truth, they did not really interest me. I was there to become a more experienced musician. I more or less taught myself to play the guitar. Except in jazz music, pianists were not much in demand at that time, so I was left with little other option than change my ways. Claude Ciari sucked me into different groups, such as Les Boutons Dorés and Satellites. Beat groups were very fashionable at that time. It was not only a matter of personal development; I still was in conservatory and my parents did not have enough money to afford my studies. I had to learn to keep my head above the water myself. Later, I acquired the reputation of being very tough with fellow-musicians. It is perhaps the determination with which I started pursuing my goal of making it in light-entertainment music as an adolescent which is the reason behind this… Once I put my mind to something, I will continue until I have accomplished it in the exact way I envisaged it when setting out.”

Benoît Kaufman (centre stage) performing with his band Les Champions, early 1960s

In ’61, Kaufman followed Claude Ciari into a new group, Les Champions. Originally a quintet consisting of Jean-Claude Chane (vocals), Claude Ciari (solo guitar), Alain Santamaria (rhythm guitar), Benoît Kaufman (bass guitar), and Willy Lewis (drums, later replaced by Yvon Ouazana), Les Champions performed covers of rock ‘n’ roll material such as ‘Jailhouse rock’. After Chane left in ‘62, the group continued as an instrumental quartet, earning a record deal and recording six EPs and one single, containing moderate chart successes such as ‘If I had a hammer’ and ‘Loin’ (both 1963). Moreover, Les Champions became the accompanying band of Danyel Gérard in the studio as well as on stage, while the band was coupled to American rock ‘n’ roll icon Gene Vincent for a series of concerts in Paris. Les Champions disbanded shortly after Ciari’s decision to pursue a solo career in 1964.

“Les Champions were too sophisticated to be really successful”, Kaufman comments. “We had the reputation of being good musicians, but we were no rockers like everyone else, disdaining the addition of show elements to our concerts. Our idols were the Shadows with their wonderful and recognizable sound. Of course we were not nearly as good, but we attempted to imitate their style. Though we never topped the charts, there was no reason to complain. From the money I made, I was able to buy myself my first car, a Triumph. Why I decided to play the bass guitar? The reason was simple: nobody else wanted to play it! Slowly, I became involved in writing some of the group’s rhythm arrangements as well, whilst also coming up with some compositions which we recorded and performed. One of these was ‘1293 m G.O.’, which became the signature tune of Radio Europe 1 for some time. Meanwhile, I had decided to leave the conservatory, preferring to continue my classical piano studies privately with my old teacher, Madame Lyshevski. I stayed with her for some more years. When Les Champions stopped, I went on a road trip with my car, finally reaching Örebro in Sweden. There, I received my military papers, forcing me to return to Paris to present myself for military service. I served for sixteen months in 1965 and 1966, playing in the Sixth Infantry Regiment Big Band, a huge ensemble of one-hundred and ten musicians. As it was impossible to march with a piano, I became the band’s drummer!”

When Kaufman was discharged in 1966, he was twenty years old: “The following two years, I often did not know on the one day with whom I would be playing on the next. I went to the bars and cafés in Paris where all musicians used to meet, looking for opportunities for gigs here and there. When you were lucky, you were invited for several weeks of performances. For some time, I played the guitar in the band with which Michel Polnareff toured France. In effect, I became the band’s musical director, writing the rhythm arrangements and occasionally playing the piano as well when there was nobody else available to do the job.”

Benoît Kaufman’s first attempt at a studio arrangement, ‘William Stormy’, a moderate hit for Simone Langlois in 1969

The key moment in Kaufman’s career was when he was invited to play at a recording session in Studio Vogue in Paris, somewhere in the latter half of 1967. “I received the invitation from Mimi Rosso, a session guitarist of the old school who was some forty years my senior. He was the titulaire of arranger Jean Claudric, meaning that Jean always invited Mimi when he needed a guitarist. Mimi wanted to help me. In the middle of a session for singer Pierre Perret, Jean withdrew into the sound cabin. At one point, he said: “Mimi, please come over here… and bring Kaufman as well”. Claudric was puzzled by the guitar sound on the sound tape. He was convinced he heard an extra guitarist playing, though I was the only guitarist in the orchestra for that particular recording. I said: “Mimi, that is ridiculous… that is ‘picking’.” I had been finger picking on the guitar from my fourteenth year onwards… Claude Ciari had taught me that. It turned out I was the only one in the record business at that time familiar with this technique. Jean and Mimi were amazed. Claudric immediately understood the possibilities of this novelty and said: “Mimi, I want Kaufman for all my sessions!” This was an essential moment, as Jean Claudric was one of the most important record arrangers in those years. Literally from the next day onwards, I did seven or eight recording sessions a week. I had never earned so much money! For me, this was the start of more than fifteen years in the Parisian recording business.”

Before long, Kaufman received his first request to write an orchestration for a session: “I had always been involved in writing scores for the groups I was in, but these included rhythm instruments only. Bearing in mind that I was originally a pianist, this was easy for me. Once I had entered the studio business, I was involved in sessions daily and met many producers. One of them was Jacques Plait, and he was the first who asked me if I had the ability to write orchestrations and conduct a studio orchestra. Of course I had… I had four years of piano and music theory studies at conservatory level under my belt! Plait, who worked for RCA, offered me the possibility to work with Simone Langlois, a cabaret singer in the tradition of Edith Piaf. He asked me as the guy he originally wanted to do the job was not available. The song, ‘William Stormy’, was composed by Jacques Debronckart, who was not familiar with traditional notation and had written out the music in a most peculiar way, which did not make my job much easier. It took me three or four days to come up with an orchestration for some fifteen musicians for this song of just three minutes… I kept on making new versions over and over again. The funny thing is… ‘William Stormy’ was a modest hit for Simone Langlois – in fact the only hit success in her career. Later onwards, she called me the best arranger she had worked with in her life! In short: this one arrangement paved a little way for me in the studio business.”

After the success of Simone Langlois’ ‘William Stormy’ (1969), Kaufman continued working with Jacques Plait for a while, taking responsibility for the arrangement of another hit, ‘Ma jeunesse passée’ for Patrick Abrial (1970), whilst also remaining involved in sessions as a guitarist, playing for the likes of Michel Sardou and Demis Roussos. “It took me a while to make my real breakthrough as an arranger”, Kaufman admits. “That is why I had to continue working as a guitarist simultaneously. All of that changed in 1972 when I was approached by Georges Aber, a producer. Aber was not a good musician, but he was clever and wrote French lyrics to American songs. One of the artists he worked with was Michel Chevalier, who he believed was the new Johnny Hallyday. One of those covers, ‘Je veux t’aimer’, became a massive hit. I had arranged and recorded that song with Chevalier. From that moment on, my name as an arranger was established. I had become un arrangeur incontournable. Georges Aber introduced me to Jacques Revaux, head of record company Trema and producer of Johnny Hallyday, Michel Sardou, and, later onwards, Sylvie Vartan. Those were the main artists I worked with in the following years.”

One of Kaufman’s biggest chart successes as an arranger, the song ‘L’indifférence’ by Gilbert Bécaud (1977)

In the 1970s, Kaufman wrote studio arrangements for many different artists, including Marcel Amont, Sévérine, Marie Laforet, Sophie Makhno, La Bande à Basile, Lenny Kuhr, Adamo, Patrick Topaloff, and Marie Myriam. He was responsible for the scores to many hit recordings, such as ‘Soldats ne tirez pas’ for Gérard Lenorman (1974), ‘Elle était belle’ for Hervé Vilard, ‘La java de Broadway’ for Michel Sardou (1977), and ‘L’indifférence’ for Gilbert Bécaud (1977). Moreover, he (co-)arranged a string of albums by Johnny Hallyday and Sylvie Vartan. Kaufman: “It took me a while to find my own style as an arranger. I admired some of my colleagues, mainly Jean Claudric, Christian Chevalier, and François Rauber, each of them being good friends at the same time. Later, I also worked for Michel Legrand. Undoubtedly, I underwent the influence of all of them. The key moment for me, however, was when Georges Aber asked me to do a cover version of Neil Diamond’s ‘Canta libre’ for Michel Chevalier. Aber wanted me to reproduce the style of the original, but, as he was not able to express clearly what he had in mind, I had to listen to Neil Diamond’s album ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ myself. I was immediately blown away by this lush and overwhelming symphonic style! From that moment onwards, I returned to it whenever the opportunity arose… in my arrangements for Michel Sardou, for example.”

With some of the artists he worked with in the studio, Kaufman did concerts as well. In the second half of the 1970s, he conducted the orchestra for stage shows by Claude François and Gilbert Bécaud, whilst he arranged and conducted several Sylvie Vartan concerts, amongst which her performances at Paris’ Palais des Sports (1981) and in Las Vegas (1983). In those years, Kaufman also developed activities beyond the scope of the arranging business. He became the managing director of his own record studio in Paris, Studio Joana, in which he produced several film soundtracks. Moreover, he composed music for France Ecran, a company producing cinema jingles. In 1978, he released a solo album, ‘Johnnyrama’, on which he sang his own disco re-arrangements to Johnny Hallyday’s most popular hit successes. In collaboration with lyricist and singer Sophie Makhno, he worked on albums with children’s repertoire, whilst he very occasionally composed pop songs, most notably perhaps ‘Veiqui l’Occitan’ for Joan Pau Verdier in 1974. Kaufman, being asked why he has so much more arrangements than compositions to his credit: “I could have chosen that path, but songwriters are a different race… in order to be successful, they have to convince producers to pick their songs. I prefer others asking me to do a job instead… and that is how arrangers work. I prefer to be paid for a job and ask a big price. Begging others to do you a favour… that is really not my style!”

In the early 1980s, Kaufman continued working as an orchestrator with many recording artists, most notably Michel Sardou. Others include Jean Guidoni, Franck Olivier, Jacques Mahieux, and Maryse Nicolaï. For Enrico Macias, he penned the synthesizer-oriented arrangement to his smash hit record ‘Le mendiant de l’amour’ (1980). In 1982, however, Kaufman bought a house in Palm Springs, California, aiming at a breakthrough in the American business: “Initially, I travelled back and forth from France to the US, working in both countries. In Paris, apart from my pop arrangements, I composed music for films and TV series. More and more, however, I stayed in California. I have to admit that I was fed up with the mentality in France. In America, I worked for TV stations as a composer, wrote ballets and film soundtracks, and the odd pop arrangement. In New York, I played the bass guitar in jazz clubs. Generally speaking, though I took life as it came, my years in the USA did not bring me what I hoped for – that is: professionally. In Palm Springs, I met Elizabeth, still my wife today. Our children were born in California, but at Elizabeth’s initiative, in 1985, we moved back to Europe – to Switzerland, to be more precise. A return to France would have been out of the question for me.”

Geneva, 2008: Benoît Kaufman meeting up with Sylvie Vartan, an artist he worked with extensively in the 1970s and 1980s in France as well as in the USA

Settling down in the Francophone part of Switzerland, Kaufman developed several professional activities in the music business. He wrote arrangements for songs recorded by Robert Miras and by Benoît’s Belgian wife Elizabeth Granec. After a while, he founded his own production company, Topaze, and bought the Lakeside Studio in Gland, canton Vaud, his working base for nearly twenty years. As a producer, he teamed up with dozens of Swiss artists such as Berni de la Loye and rock group Tafta. Between 1987 and 1991, Kaufman was the musical director of TSR, the television station of the French-speaking community in Switzerland. As such, he wrote music for countless television productions, ranging from TV films to jingles. In 1989, when TSR organized the Eurovision Song Contest in Palais Beaulieu, Lausanne, Benoît Kaufman was the show’s musical director and chief conductor. Kaufman: “When TSR found out I had settled down in Switzerland, they approached me. In the four years I worked for them, I literally wrote hundreds of music pieces for all kinds of different programmes. Of course, the Eurovision Song Contest was a massive project. Unfortunately, budgets available for television became smaller and smaller in the 1990s. That was the reason why TSR, after a while, could not offer me a fulltime job any longer.”

In 2010, Kaufman sold his studio and publishing company, ceasing his activities in the music business. Though he has practically retired, in 2011, he embarked on a special project. Kaufman: “A friend of mine was involved in La Branche, a clinic for children and adults suffering from psychiatric disorder. It is situated in Mollie Margot, not far from Lausanne. This friend wondered if I was willing to compose a song for the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation running the clinic. I decided to give it a go: I recorded a song and rehearsed it with fifty patients. At the concert, the audience was amazed… here were patients suffering from autism and people usually unable to memorize anything – now they were singing and dancing. The cantonal government of Vaud heard about this and approached me to continue working with La Branche’s patients on a regular basis, because I had achieved more progress with some of the patients in terms of level of communication than the clinic’s regular teachers ever had. I am not a teacher in the true sense of the word… I do not look into detail into their illness; instead, I try to open them up by making them sing. In a way, I treat them the way I used to work with musicians. Being strict and very demanding! To my own surprise, I like the job… I had never thought of myself as a teacher before. In France, studio musicians were often frightened to work with me. I always heard they appreciated my arrangements, but thought my character was unbearable. I feel it is better that way than the other way ‘round! I simply want things my way… exactly my way. With many of the patients at La Branche, this turns out to be a successful approach. In a sense, I have thereby now come full circle!”

Benoît Kaufman in Vevey (Switzerland) overlooking Lake Geneva, July 2013

Benoît Kaufman in the Eurovision Song Contest
Benoît Kaufman was involved in the Eurovision Song Contest as a conductor just once, in 1989, but, before that, he made his mark in pre-selection shows in France and Belgium. According to Kaufman, he must have written “several orchestrations for entries participating the French Eurovision selection shows, but I cannot remember any of them”. We can be sure that one of these songs was ‘La vie tu sais’ (music: Colin Verdier / lyrics: Sophie Makhno), a bumpy up-beat tune with which Colin Verdier tried to win the ticket to represent France in the 1977 festival in London. In the French final held in Paris, Kaufman conducted François Rauber’s orchestra himself for Verdier’s performance. In the end, Colin Verdier came fourth, some distance behind Marie Myriam and her ‘L’oiseau et l’enfant’. When confronted with a video of ‘La vie tu sais’, Kaufman exclaims: “From the moment I hear the first tones of that song, it all comes back to me! I could write out the entire orchestration here on the spot, so to speak. Colin belonged to the entourage of Sophie Makhno, with whom I worked a lot in those years.” One year later, in 1978, Kaufman conducted another entry in the French Eurovision heats, ‘Alors prends le soleil’, performed by Jean-Paul Cara.

In 1986, just after Kaufman’s return from the United States to Europe, his Belgian wife Elizabeth Granec tried her luck in the Belgian Eurovision finals with ‘Mon pays, c’est la terre’ (composed by Elizabeth herself in collaboration with Alex Busanel). Benoît Kaufman naturally took care of the instrumentation, though, this time, there was no live orchestra to accompany the pre-selection show. Just like in 1977, Kaufman’s involvement ended with defeat against a song which would eventually win the international Eurovision final; in this case, Sandra Kim’s ‘J’aime la vie’. The final score for Elizabeth Granec’s entry in the Belgian preliminaries has not been recorded.


Benoît Kaufman conducting the orchestral accompaniment to Colin Verdier’s ‘La vie tu sais’ in the 1977 French Eurovision pre-selection

After Céline Dion’s Eurovision win for Switzerland in 1988 with ‘Ne partez pas sans moi’, the 1989 contest was held in the Palais Beaulieu Congress Centre in Lausanne. Switzerland’s Francophone broadcasting service Television Suisse Romande (TSR) organized the competition and naturally chose its own musical director at that time, Benoît Kaufman, to be the contest’s chief conductor. His first assignment was to bring together an orchestra able to accompany all entries. “I wanted an orchestra specifically brought together for the occasion”, Kaufman recalls. “TSR had its own classical orchestra, but that would have been unable to perform certain music genres properly. I included some of that orchestra’s string players into my ensemble, but the brass players were utterly unsuited to play pop music. In those days, budgets at TSR were huge and the broadcaster’s management immediately honoured my wish to get all key players from my orchestra from Paris – the first trumpet, first trombone, and first violin players were all French. It would have been even better to have brought in musicians from the USA, but that was too impractical. The drummer I picked was André Ceccarelli, France’s most famous jazz drummer and one of the best percussionists worldwide.”

“For the remaining places, I organized auditions in Lausanne, Geneva, Zurich, and Berne, during which I tested some 750 musicians. This took me two months. One of the pianists I chose was Rui dos Reis, but I picked two more. Why I needed three pianists? Well, as my style of arranging is usually quite complicated, I needed two musicians to translate the synthesizer and keyboard sounds into piano parts played in pop style… and then one more classically oriented pianist, which was Rui. For roughly the same reasons, I needed two guitarists as well. Bringing together the right musicians took me months, but in the end there was a good group of fifty-five musicians suitable for a manifestation like the Eurovision Song Contest. My only mistake was one of the guitarists, a Serbian guy living in the vicinity of Lausanne. I picked him because I knew him and wanted to do him a favour, but I should not have… he was drunk all the time and messed up in the rehearsals and the concert. It was a catastrophe! He became my bête noire, a nail in my coffin.”


Eurovision 1989: Benoît Kaufman conducting Furbaz and their ‘Viver senza tei’, the only-ever Swiss Eurovision entry to date to be sung in the Romansh language. The arrangement to the song was penned by Georges Walther and former Eurovision conductor Hardy Schneiders

One of the main tasks of a Eurovision Song Contest’s chief conductor was to go through all orchestrations coming in from the participating countries, checking if all scores could be played by the orchestra. Kaufman, however, turns out to have gone one step further: “I rewrote all arrangements which came in! Here and there, I found some mistakes, which I adapted, but the main thing was… none of these scores had been written with my orchestra in mind. Most of them were much too modest and small… I enlarged all of them. Now that I had this wonderful big orchestra, the arrangements needed to be adapted to suit such a comprehensive ensemble. Did I get any comments from the guest conductors when they arrived for rehearsals? Well, no, probably none of them noted the difference! Quite the opposite, it sounded perfect. Yes, you are right, technically speaking my name should be added to that of the original orchestrator for all the scores in that year’s competition.”

“After some six months of preparations”, Kaufman continues, “there was no reason to feel stressed. Everything had been prepared to perfection, even the sound technique - something I had paid special attention to in the weeks leading up to the contest. The rehearsals with the orchestra and the guest conductors went well, without any hiccups. I was happy that TSR honoured my request to allow me and the orchestra to open the competition with a short instrumental piece I had written myself in the style of film composer Lalo Schifrin… In fact, I had composed two excellent pieces, but for production reasons they let us do just one. Apparently, they did not want me to make too much money! Having your own music played on primetime for an international audience of millions of people was extremely lucrative. Even with this one piece, I earned a fabulous amount.”


“I was happy that TSR honoured my request to allow me and the orchestra to open the competition with a short instrumental piece I had written myself in the style of film composer Lalo Schifrin”. Kaufman conducting the Eurovision orchestra in Lausanne in 1989

In advance of the participating entries, Céline Dion, the winner of the previous year, gave a reprise of her winning entry, subsequently being allowed to promote her new release ‘Where does my heart beat now’ in a playback performance. “I would have liked to do Céline’s performance in a different way”, Kaufman recalls. “Around that time, the Yamaha keyboards appeared on the market. I disposed of the newest type, probably as the only person in Europe at that time. The sound this keyboard produced was quite revolutionary. I suggested to Céline’s management to have her accompanied live on stage by one of my musicians playing that keyboard. Though I tried my best convincing these guys, they refused, as they did not believe in the viability of my idea. It was hard to get to talk to Céline herself, as the entourage of people around her was so extensive. She was not yet the world star she turned into later. To have her on stage miming two songs, to my mind, was a missed opportunity.”

Three of the twenty-two competing entries - West Germany, Austria, and Iceland - were performed without any live orchestral backing. Of the nineteen remaining songs, Kaufman conducted two, the Swiss song ‘Viver senza tei’ by the Furbaz quartet and ‘Monsieur’, with which the Luxembourgian group Park Café came to Lausanne. As Luxembourg’s arranger Gast Waltzing played the trumpet on stage during Park Café’s performance, he relinquished his role as conductor of the orchestra to Kaufman. Moreover, uniquely, Kaufman substituted Danish conductor Henrik Krogsgård half way through the performance of Denmark’s entry ‘Vi maler byen rød’, in a brilliant choreography which involved singer Birthe Kjær inviting Krogsgård to come onto the stage to sing and dance along to her tune with the rest of the backing group. Kaufman: “That was a funny gag, a very original idea. Krogsgård was a very pleasant guy to work with. As for the Swiss home entry, the girl playing the piano in Furbaz, Marie-Louise Werth, turned out to be an excellent musician. What was more, she and her backing group were very nice people, which made my job of accompanying them all the more rewarding.”


Eurovision 1989: Benoît Kaufman substituting Danish conductor Henrik Krogsgård half way through the performance of Denmark’s entry ‘Vi maler byen rød’

According to Kaufman, the Greek and Spanish entries, ‘To dikó sou astéri’ by Mariánna and ‘Nacida para amar’ by Nina respectively, were the best songs in the competition: “These two songs really eclipsed all the others… beautiful melodies and well performed. That Greek girl was beautiful… she had genuine charisma coupled to a fantastic voice. For Sweden, Tommy Nilsson competed, whom I had worked with before in Japan during a short spell there. I had written some arrangements for him. It was a funny coincidence to meet him again at the Eurovision Song Contest. Of all conductors, Noel Kelehan was the one I admired most. Everyone knew he had won the contest twice with Johnny Logan. What struck me while watching him conducting my orchestra, was his rigid technique. He refrained from making any superfluous movements, instead sticking to minimalist gestures which were one-hundred percent clear… in short, a perfect and effective conducting technique.”

In the end, to almost everyone’s surprise, Yugoslavia’s effort ‘Rock me’, performed by the band Riva, walked away with the victory medals. Kaufman: “Let me just say this: that song was hopeless, absolutely hopeless! After the competition was over, TSR asked me to record a CD with instrumental versions of all winning entries from the start of the Eurovision Song Contest onwards in 1956. It would have been my wish to record these versions with my Eurovision orchestra, but they refused to pay for that and therefore I did this production all by myself in the studio, just using synthesizers. The revenues of this CD went to the International Red Cross.”

Though Benoît Kaufman never returned to the competition as a conductor, he wrote the orchestration to Switzerland’s Eurovision entry in 1993, ‘Moi, tout simplement’, an excellent ballad in the style of Céline Dion’s winning entry of 1988. It was performed by a young Canadian vocalist, Annie Cotton. In the ’93 contest in Ireland, ‘Moi tout simplement’ did very well, finishing third. “In a normal situation, I would have conducted this song”, says Kaufman. “Marc Sorrentino, Annie’s producer, had asked me to rework the demo arrangement into an orchestration for the Eurovision orchestra, but he insisted on conducting it himself. And, after all, why not? He paid me for my work and he decided to conduct the orchestra himself… that is not a crime! After all, writing an orchestration is simply a job and this was down to being a good professional doing what my client wanted me to. The song was very strong and I was really satisfied with that orchestration, as it sounded excellent. The fact that he took the bow instead of me did not change my life!”


Benoît Kaufman’s strong orchestration to Annie Cotton’s ‘Moi, tout simplement’ was no doubt a big factor in Switzerland earning a third spot on the Eurovision scoreboard in 1993. Conductor: Marc Sorrentino

Other artists on Benoît Kaufman
Parisian bass guitarist and arranger Joël Rocher: “I worked with Benoît Kaufman as a session musician on many studio productions in the late 70s and early 80s. At that time, Benoît collaborated closely with Sophie Makhno, to whose entourage I belonged. Kaufman owned a studio in Bagnolet, Paris, where we recorded much of our material. He is an excellent musician.” (2011)

Rui dos Reis was the pianist in Kaufman’s 1989 Eurovision orchestra: “When working with the orchestra, he is Maître Benoît… he is the boss. At the same time, he is a good professional who knows his job. When I conducted the orchestra in the contest in Oslo in ’96, I found out that it is necessary to be tough with musicians sometimes, because otherwise they will feel your insecurity and take advantage of it. Conducting is fifty per cent music knowledge and fifty per cent psychology… Over the years, I worked with many different conductors. Kaufman is not the kind of Mahler despot who keeps on rehearsing with the orchestra for the sake of rehearsing. If you do exactly what he wants you to do, you are fine. Depending on the style of music, many musicians also like playing in an orchestra to meet up with old friends and have a good time… and Benoît does not like that. He simply wants you to do your job and play. I had no problems with him whatsoever.” (2013)

Links & sources
  • Bas Tukker interviewed Benoît Kaufman in Vevey (Switzerland), July 2013.
  • Thanks to Joël Rocher and Rui dos Reis for sharing their memories of working with Benoît Kaufman with us.
  • Photos courtesy of Benoît Kaufman and Shaike Paikov.

  

Songs conducted
1989: Monsieur
1989: Vi maler byen rød
1989: Viver senza tei

Musical director
1989: Lausanne