Since the musicians of Johnny Hallyday had turned the guts of the French by offering a concert without a singer, on the forecourt of the Madeleine, on December 9, 2017, the tributes had piled up, rarely touching the fans in the heart: the disappointment of ‘a Netflix documentary that cheerfully skims over several parts of the idol’s career; the annoyance of seeing a stranger proclaimed “the voice of Johnny” by producers more interested in marketing than remembering; the weariness of television shows that are nothing but a parade of mini-stars of French song who come to get a notoriety check by singing “Que je t’aime” and “Gabrielle”.

And finally, at the Salle Pleyel, Wednesday 8 and Thursday 9 June, time stood still, and the emotion returned. Alternately artistic director, composer or pianist of Johnny between 1998 and 2017, Yvan Cassar is the first to avoid all pitfalls, the only one to have put music and memory at the center of his project.

The principle of “Johnny symphonic”? An orchestra of around sixty musicians and choirs who accompany Hallyday’s recorded voice.

Once the show is on, it takes a few bits to get used to what at first feels like a bad dream: Johnny is there, but he’ll never be there again. How to accept this painful heresy? The spectator must then take the time to seek the best way to live the experience. Close your eyelids and imagine the long, spread-legged figure? Open your peepers wide and stare into Johnny’s eyes, whose videos beautifully synchronized with the music play on the screens as the show progresses? To scrutinize the unique silver hair of Master Cassar, who flutters with his back to the audience facing his orchestra?

Divine, the musical arrangements respect the tastes and orientations of the deceased artist. We find here the touch of Cassar, an unclassifiable conductor, as comfortable in classical as in pop. Thus, the musician is not content to stick violins under the voice of Johnny. To prepare for this show, Yvan Cassar listened to dozens of recordings of concerts, rehearsals and studio sessions in order to find the appropriate voice takes, and to offer “a new reading”. Take, for example, “All the music that I love”, sung ten thousand times since its creation in 1973. Cassar dissected 55 versions of it, ending up choosing the rehearsals for the Bercy concert in 1995. The conductor liked this interpretation of Johnny à la cool. “I didn’t want him to give the impression of being in concert, but sitting next to us with his guitar”, explains Cassar, who thus invented acoustic arrangements, even inviting Greg Zlap, Prince of Harmonica and surprise of the director of the show, to accompany the orchestra for the time of a song. And the audience clap their hands like in the good old days!

The show effectively alternates moments of awe-inspiring awe-inspiring (“Live for the Best”, “On My Life”, “Something from Tennessee”…) and intimate sequences (“Marie”, “Love me Tender”…), offering the public to discover the instruments of American country music that Johnny was so fond of (dobro guitar, pedal steel, etc.). According to the pieces, Yvan Cassar distills a few traps in the introductions to blur the tracks and invite us to guess which song is about to start. At other times, the discerning Johnny fan ear instantly recognizes his classics. “That’s ‘L’Envie’!” The surprises follow: while the virtuosos unveil a shortened symphonic version of “Allumer le feu”, the screens project a smiling Johnny Hallyday who encourages the public to sing. A moment later, the crowd is on their feet!

When we hear “Quelques cris” (a piece written by Françoise Sagan and composed by David Hallyday) pierce the walls of Pleyel, we say to ourselves that the symphonic arrangements highlight Hallyday’s voice to make it even more moving, more heartbreaking , more moving, more breathtaking.

Picked up by the emotion leaving the room, one wonders: of his paradise of rockers, what could Johnny Hallyday have thought of such a show? We will never know and that does not change much, because we never really pierced the mysterious brain of the star during his lifetime. The only certainty is that Johnny spent his life wanting to make his audience happy, whom he cherished. And with “Johnny symphonique” (which will be on tour throughout France in 2023), Hallidians can finally vibrate again in a performance hall.