Saturday 22 April 1978


Born: April 2nd, 1948, Enskede, Stockholm (Sweden)
Nationality: Swedish

In due course, the short impression below will be replaced with a more extensive career overview

In the 1970s, Bengt Palmers worked as a record producer; the greatest success to his credit in that respect is ‘Moviestar’, an international hit for Harpo in 1975. From the 1980s onwards, Palmers mainly worked as a film composer and scriptwriter for movies such as Sällskepresan (1980), Strull (1988), and Joker (1991). Using the pseudonym Ben G.T. Palmers, he also worked on Hollywood productions in the United States. More recently, Palmers was a jury member in the Swedish TV talent show Fame Factory.


Between 1975 and 1979, Bengt Palmers conducted four entries in the Swedish Eurovision Song Contest heats, amongst which one winner: ‘Det blir alltid värre framåt natten’ in 1978, which was sung by Björn Skifs, with whom Palmers had a close working relationship in those years. Subsequently, Palmers travelled to Paris with Skifs to conduct the orchestra for him in the international final; Palmers had written the arrangement to Skifs’ ballad in collaboration with the song’s composer, Peter Himmelstrand. Three years later, in 1981, Bengt Palmers and Björn Skifs teamed up again and wrote a song which won the Swedish preselection, ‘Fångad i en dröm’; Palmers wrote the orchestration, but had to leave the conducting in the Swedish heats and the international final to Anders Berglund.


Country – Sweden
Song title – “Det blir alltid värre framåt natten”
Rendition – Björn Skifs
Lyrics – Peter Himmelstrand
Composition – Peter Himmelstrand
Studio arrangement – Peter Himmelstrand / Bengt Palmers
Live orchestration – Peter Himmelstrand / Bengt Palmers
Conductor – Bengt Palmers
Score – 14th place (26 votes)

Country – Sweden
Song title – "Fångad i en dröm"
Rendition – Björn Skifs
Lyrics – Bengt Palmers / Björn Skifs
Composition – Bengt Palmers / Björn Skifs
Studio arrangement – Bengt Palmers
Live orchestration – Bengt Palmers
Conductor – Anders Berglund
Score – 10th place (50 votes)


The following article is an overview of the career of Israeli pianist, composer, and arranger Nurit Hirsh (נורית הירש). The main source of information is an interview with Ms Hirsh, conducted by Bas Tukker in Tel Aviv, December 2011. The article is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Nurit Hirsh's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2011

  1. Passport
  2. Short Eurovision record
  3. Biography
  4. Eurovision Song Contest
  5. Other artists about Nurit Hirsh
  6. Eurovision involvement year by year
  7. Sources & links

Born: August 13th, 1942, Tel Aviv (Israel)
Nationality: Israeli

Composer Nurit Hirsh (נורית הירש), who is one of only three female conductors to have participated in the Eurovision Song Contest, penned two Israeli festival entries; ‘Ey sham’ for Ilanit in 1973, which came fourth and was Israel’s first contribution to the contest; and, five years later, ‘Abanibi’, with which Izhar Cohen stormed to victory in the international festival final in Paris. For both entries, Nurit worked with lyricist Ehud Manor.


Nurit Hirsh is the daughter of a mother and father who immigrated to Israel during the interwar period from Poland and Czechoslovakia respectively. “My father was a man who earned his money with many different jobs," Nurit explains, "but, at heart, he was a musician. In his spare time, he played the violin; what was more, he was an excellent opera singer – actually, he was so good that he could have been a professional singer. Occasionally, he performed at soirées. One of my earliest childhood memories is of my father, singing an aria for me. Opera has since been my favourite music genre.”

In a family where music was so important, it comes as no surprise that the daughter became interested in it as well. At five, she first tried her hand at the piano. “... and, one or two years later, I already accompanied my father on stage. My music teacher at primary school was so enthusiastic about my abilities, that he convinced my parents to send me to a private teacher. At that time, I knew at heart that I was a musician. I never thought about being anything else, although I was a good pupil and a hard worker in all subjects at school. As a young adolescent, I started earning some valuable extra money for the family by providing the piano accompaniment for singers from the Israeli Opera. Little was I to know that my daughter Ruth (Ruth Rosenfeld - BT) was to become a professional opera singer!"

"But I did more during my teenage years; I also played the piano in ballet studios; I improvised in bars and clubs, while I also taught students who were one year below me the first principles of music theory. As for my career plans, I hesitated between composing as a career and accompanying classical singers as a pianist. In the back of my mind, I had this ideal of going to Vienna to accompany opera singers.”

Things were to turn out differently, however. From 1960 to 1963, Nurit performed her military service in the renowned Army Entertainment Group, which has been a career starter for many future Israeli light entertainment artists. 

“I did not want to spend my obligatory days in the army as a secretary, doing boring administrative work. Therefore, I applied for the army orchestra, a fully-fledged classical orchestra. I started studying the clarinet privately with Jacob Barnea, who was the clarinettist of the Israeli Philharmonic. After an audition, I was accepted to the army orchestra. By that time, however, I had started to have grave doubts about a classical career; all those classical musicians were practicing for at least five hours a day. To me, they were nerds and I thought their lives were utterly boring! Therefore, I submitted an application for the Army Entertainment Group, where I was invited to do an audition. I pulled it off and they decided to have me!"

"In the Entertainment Group, I played the piano and the accordion, I sang, and I composed. I distinctly remember that three of the first songs I ever wrote were arranged by Yitzhak Graziani, who was the conductor of the Israeli Defence Forces Orchestra. He invited me over to his house. He was great both as a musician and as a personality; a man with loads of charisma. Being the young girl that I was, I was very excited that he wanted to work with me. Still in the army, I was taught music theory by a very gifted musician called Yitzhak Sadai. Perhaps more important still, being the jazz freak that he was, he introduced me to jazz. He opened that door for me, so to speak.”

Performing her military service

While still performing her military service, Nurit started studying at the Tel Aviv Music Academy, where she majored in piano (1965). At the conservatory, she also took courses in chamber music with Eden Partosh and in composition with Mordechai Seter.

“By now, I knew I wanted to be a composer, but it was important to me to have the theoretical background of an education in classical music. I was very happy that I was allowed to start studying while I was still in the army, because I was keen not to waste any time. I consider myself lucky to have had such able, internationally recognised teachers. As a private student, I followed an orchestration course with with Noam Sheriff and took conducting lessons with Laslo Rott. Rott had high hopes for me as a conductor, but I only wanted to learn the basic techniques – nothing more. In those days, only the thought of being a conductor performing on stage gave me pain in my stomach. It was only in the course of the years that my self-confidence grew!”

“There was never a moment in my life when I realised I had a talent for composing. I just did it. It has been with me for as long as I can remember. I published my first song in 1962, while I was still in the army.” 

Nurit’s real breakthrough as a composer came in 1965 with the song ‘Perach halilach’, which she wrote for Chava Alberstein. With this song, Alberstein was catapulted to the top of Israeli entertainment as a folk artist. 

In a studio session (early 1970s)

“Chava and I first met in 1964, when she performed some of her songs in the Hammam Art Club in Jaffa, where I occasionally worked as a pianist. She was a little girl with a guitar, a couple of years younger than me. I decided to write her a song: ‘Perach halilach’. The lyrics were by Uri Asaf. It was an instant success and a pivotal moment in the careers of Chava and me. Everybody in Israel knows the song; many people say ‘Perach halilach’ is my best composition. From that moment onwards, I was considered as one of Israel’s leading composers of light entertainment and pop music. Israel is a country of machos; for me as a young woman it was not always easy to be accepted in the music business as a composer, but I did it! I was taken seriously, as people realized I was good at what I did, composing and arranging my own work.”

Since the early 1960s, Nurit Hirsh has built up a repertoire of over 1,000 songs. Some of her best-known work from the 1960s includes ‘Rega lifney’ for Edna Lev, ‘Hachaziki lanu etsba’ot’ for Ron Eliran, and ‘Itach bildayich’ for Yehaoram Gaon. She also worked with the likes of Offira Gluska, Hedva Amrani, Shaike Levi, and the trio Shlishiyat Gesher Hayarkon. In 1969, two of Nurit’s compositions were admitted to the final of the Israel Song Festival (Festival Hazemer ve Ha’pizmon), both of which were to become classics in their own right, ‘Baderech chazara’, interpreted by Avi Toledano and ‘Ose shalom bimromav’, which was performed by Yigal Bashan. The former song, which was later recorded in Spanish by Raphael Martos, was a considerable chart success, but ‘Ose shalom’ has over the decades won a status which Nurit could never have envisaged when she composed it.

“I took the words for 'Ose shalom' from the Kaddish, one of the most important prayers for Jews. At burials, we bless the dead with this Aramaic prayer. Everyone with a Jewish background all over the world knows the words. My music to the words became so popular, that it was adopted to the repertoire of synagogue services, not just in Israel, but in the USA and all over the world. Nowadays, many people believe it is an ancient folk song. It makes me very proud that it is sung in synagogues from Tel Aviv to as far away as Buenos Aires and Los Angeles. Recently, I discovered it had even been performed at a special occasion in the Kremlin in Moscow. I freaked out when I discovered that; I mean, in Russia – they aren't even Jewish! Without a doubt, it is the most important song I wrote in my life. Although I am secular, I feel very Jewish inside. I believe it is of the utmost importance that our children and grand-children learn about the history and the spirit of the Jewish people. With ‘Ose shalom’, I feel I have contributed in my own way to preserving this Jewish heritage.”

With Ilanit (mid-1970s)

Towards the end of the 1960s, Nurit built up a tight working relationship with the hugely popular singing duo Ilan & Ilanit. Ilan was the stage name of none other than Shlomo Zach, destined to become Israel’s most important music producer. Among Nurit’s first compositions for the duo are ‘Beikvotaich’ and ‘Bein shnei levavot’. In 1970, Ilanit participated in the Israel Song Festival with a song written by Nurit, ‘Ahavata shel Tereza Dimon’, finishing second. Another chart success which Hirsh penned for them as a duo, ‘Bashana haba’ah’, was released internationally in the USA as ‘Next Year’ and in West Germany as ‘Dieses Jahr, dieses Jahr’. In 1971, Nurit conducted the orchestra as Ilan & Ilanit represented Israel at the Athens Song Festival in Greece with ‘Veshuv itchem’, which finished third and was the audience’s favourite.

From 1972 onwards, Ilanit pursued a solo career. With Nurit Hirsh as her composer, arranger, and conductor, she did not just participate in the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest (see below), but also in the 1974 World Popular Song Festival in Tokyo (Japan) with ‘Shiru shir lashemesh’, which reached the finals and came ninth; at this occasion, Hirsh was awarded with an Outstanding Composition Award. In 1973, Nurit and Ilanit travelled to Brazil to deliver a special guest performance at the Open Air Song Festival in Rio de Janeiro; there, Ilanit performed ‘Bashana haba’ah’ and ‘Ahavata shel Tereza Dimon’ with Nurit conducting the orchestra. In the 1970s, Hirsh wrote some of Ilanit’s most remarkable solo successes, such as ‘Kvar acharai chatzot’. In later years, the special relationship between singer and composer was borne out by more hit songs, including ‘El haderech’, ‘Hine yamim ba’im’, ‘Lalechet shevi acharayich’, and ‘Nechama’.

As Nurit Hirsh, to use her own words, “loved the zest of competing” at that time, she participated in many festivals in Israel and abroad in the course of the 1970s. In 1971 alone, she represented Israel in three international song competitions: apart from her appearance in Athens with Ilan & Ilanit, she took part in the Split Song Festival (Yugoslavia) with ‘Na’ari bayam beito’, performed by Edna Goren and, in a Serbo-Croatian version (‘Moren plovi dragi tvoj’), by Ibrica Jusić; and in the Viña del Mar Song Festival in Chile, where she obtained the second prize with ‘Hora nova’ performed by Aliza Azikri; for the last-mentioned performance, Hirsh conducted the orchestra herself. In 1979, Nurit came second again, this time in the Castlebar Song Festival (Ireland) with ‘I Want To Tell The World About You’, which was interpreted by a local singer; in this contest, Hirsh was awarded with the medal for best arrangement in the competition.

Conducting a television orchestra 

Throughout her career, Nurit Hirsh has been particularly active as a composer of music for children, most prominently in the IBA Children’s Festival, which she won on three occasions: with Edna Lev and ‘Lassie shuvi habaita’ in 1976, and twice with Yardena Arazi, who interpreted ‘Shuvi harmonica’ in 1984 and ‘Lo na’atsor’ in 1985. Moreover, two of her compositions came first in Festigal, an alternative annual children’s song event held during the Hanukkah vacation time. Internationally, Nurit obtained first prizes in the 1972 Malta Children’s Song Festival with ‘Makhela Aliza’, and in the 1979 Portuguese Children’s Song Festival with ‘Papa Popeye’. More recently, from 2006 onwards, Hirsh has come up with a cycle of song material which has become part of the curriculum of over 2,000 primary schools across Israel. 

“A programme was developed at the request of our Ministry of Education,” Nurit explains. “Through my compositions, children learn about history, literature, and of course music. I even wrote a song about the Israeli alphabet to help the young children mastering it. At the end of the school year, I visit many schools around the country for end-of-the-year concerts. It is very rewarding to work with those youngsters, conveying them my message in a playful way, through music. Once again, the feeling that I can make a contribution to the future of my people and my country by educating children about Jewish history and Eretz Israel is most important to me.”

Back to the 1970s, a decade in which Nurit Hirsh penned songs for all important Israeli popular vocalists, including the likes of Shlomo Artzi, Miri Aloni, Chocolata-Menta-Mastik, Hakol Over Habibi, Lior Yeini, Ron Eliran, and Ehud Manor’s wife Ofra Fuchs. Her compositions included the hit songs ‘Balada lashoter’ for Oshik Lavi, ‘Ben yafe nolad’ for Rivka Zohar, and ‘Layla tov le’ahava’ for Yehoram Gaon. In 1975, Nurit took a break from her regular working activities in Israel, spending a year in Los Angeles, United States, to study avant-garde and electronic music. Meanwhile, she had also started making her mark as a soundtrack composer. 

Nurit in the studio with close harmony group Hakol Over Habibi, early 1980s

“In 1965, a film director knocked on my door. After having heard ‘Perach halilach’, my song for Chava Alberstein, he decided, without knowing me at all, that I was the right person to write the music to a half-hour publicity film of his. Though I protested I had never written a soundtrack in my life, he would have nothing of it… and I got this commission. True, it was not a film which made headlines, but it gave me the confidence to work in the movie business later onwards.” 

Between 1970 and 1997, Nurit composed and arranged the soundtracks to fourteen Israeli motion pictures, most prominently the Academy Award nominee The Policeman (1972) by director Ephraim Kishon. Later onwards, Hirsh scored another of Kishon’s films, The Fox In The Chicken Coop (1978), as well as titles such as Lupo (1970), Imi ha-generalit (1980), and Ha-bachur shel shuli (1997). Meanwhile, she has always continued writing songs, although the way these are recorded is different from the old days, as she explains.

“By the start of the 1980s, the studio business had changed profoundly, and forever. It was the time when synthesisers and computers took the place of arrangers and big orchestras. Nowadays, anyone can sit at home, writing and producing his own music without needing an arranger, let alone an orchestra. I cannot say that I am sad about it; it's just a different approach. To me, it doesn't really matter how music is being made, as long as it's good. As a consequence of these developments, I have not worked with big orchestras for a very long time now. But still, in the last movie I worked on, and for which I had a very limited budget available, I decided to spend this money on five musicians to play the soundtrack. It was not even about credibility for me; I just want to be satisfied about my work, preferring to have real instruments and genuine musicians to play the orchestrations – even when it costs me money.”

With journalist, film director, and author Ephraim Kishon (1989)

Nurit was responsible for some major 1980s hits in Israel, including ‘Ata li eretz’ for Yardena Arazi, ‘Chelkat elohim’ for Rivka Zohar, ‘Bapardes leyad hashoket’ by Yehoram Gaon, and ‘Tni li yad’ for Boaz Sharabi. Moreover, material penned by her was recorded by the likes of Ofra Haza, Doron Mazar, Ilana Avital, and Aviva Hed. Later onwards, Hirsh also worked with up and coming stars such as Dafna Dekel and Sarit Hadad, but, in fairness, from the 1990s onwards, she has focused on other projects than writing for Israeli pop stars.

Nurit Hirsh composed the signature melodies and background music to many radio and television programmes, most prominently the Israeli news bulletin Erev chadash, but also to entertainment programmes such as Krovim krovim and Ephraim Kishon’s Sara & Ephraim, as well as to the children’s series Parpar nechmad and Habayit shel fistuk. Furthermore, in the world of theatre, Nurit composed, arranged, and conducted several musical productions for the Habima National Theatre in Tel Aviv, of which Ephraim Kishon’s Sallach shabati, which ran for three consecutive seasons (1988-90), was most successful. Moreover, she wrote the music to the theatre pieces such as Not A Word To Morgenstern by Ephraim Kishon, Azit by General Motta Gur, as well as several children’s stage shows.

Recognised as one of Israel’s most prolific musicians, Nurit Hirsh was invited on many occasions to perform abroad. In 2000, she gave a concert in Buenos Aires (Argentina) with her daughter, soprano Ruth Rosenfeld. In September of that same year, Nurit and Ruth travelled to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan on a tour sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 2004, Hirsh paid a visit to the World War II death camp sites in Poland and performed in Cracow for an audience of a thousand Israeli students. On several occasions, she crossed the Atlantic to work in the United States, playing her music for Jewish congregations across the nation. In 2011, at the invitation of the Jewish community in California, she gave a lecture about Israeli music in Los Angeles. Around the same time, she again did a tour in South America, making stage appearances in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.

On stage with one of the Army Entertainment Groups (c. 2010)

In Israel, Nurit continues to compose and do some forty to fifty concerts a year, playing the piano and performing with different vocalists and vocal ensembles. In 2000, a special tribute concert in honour of Nurit was organized at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv, packed to capacity with 3,000 spectators, and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra providing the accompaniment. Moreover, she performed in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in 2005. 

“Over the last years, apart from my work as a performer and composer, I am also trying to enjoy some leisure time, reading books and going on holiday now and again. Performing my work on stage, however, is still something which I love doing. There is this special programme centring on my songs, which I perform with an excellent group consisting young talented singers-actors and musicians. We have taken it all over the country, but also abroad.”

Nurit’s oeuvre was published in six song books which include music and lyrics. She received several awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting of the Israeli Association of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ACUM) in 2001, the Lifetime Achievement Award from Tel Aviv’s Bar-Ilan University in 2006, and, in that same year, the Woman of the Year Award from the Lions Club Israel.

Nurit in 2011


After the Israeli broadcaster IBA had been late in submitting its application for the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest, Israel finally made its debut in the competition one year later, when the festival was held in Luxembourg. Choosing to play the safe card, it was decided upon to pick one of the country’s most popular female singers of the moment, Ilanit, to do the honours. Lyricist Ehud Manor (1941-2005) and composer Nurit Hirsh were requested to write a suitable song. 

“We really wrote it for the occasion,” Nurit recalls. “Ehud Manor was a great personality to work with, a guy full of charisma. He came up with the words, entitled ‘Ey sham’, which translates as ‘Somewhere’. Upon that, I composed the melody and wrote the arrangement. Occasionally, it is good to say to musicians, "Be creative", but not in a Eurovision Song Contest! I did not want to leave anything to chance. I wrote the scores for every single instrument.”

In Luxembourg, it was Nurit Hirsh herself to conduct the orchestra during Ilanit’s performance of ‘Ey-sham’. The 1973 contest was the first Eurovision edition which saw a woman conducting the orchestra – in fact, two women, as Sweden happened to have a female conductor too, Monica Dominique

“I realised that it was special," Nurit comments, "but I was prepared for what was coming, as I had already conducted at festivals in places as far away as Greece and Brazil. I always was the only woman amongst the orchestra leaders. Especially in Greece, with this same macho culture as in Israel, I was considered as a kind of novelty."

"On the other hand, I could use the situation to my advantage; simply, by being a woman, looking these guys in the orchestra straight in the face and telling them exactly what I wanted. I'm not a conductor by profession, but during my student days I had mastered the basic techniques, I used to my advantage, because I insisted on conducting my own compositions and arrangements in festivals. To my mind, I was the only person who should do it, as I always want a perfect rendition and I completely trust myself! I'm a perfectionist; for example, when I first wrote an arrangement which included a harp, I took private lessons with a harpist to learn about the peculiarities of this instrument.”

Nurit and Ilanit during rehearsals in Luxembourg - 1973 Eurovision Song Contest

Just one year after the massacre at the Munich Summer Olympics, going abroad to represent Israel in any competition was an affair which involved major security measures. 

“Ilanit and I were accompanied by armed guards – tall, rectangular guys. They reminded me most of refrigerators! Moreover, there were local policemen with motorcycles accompanying us from the hotel to the auditorium and back. At that time, it was necessary to have all these precautions; in Israel, Arabs even put bombs in garbage cans to kill Israelis. You cannot imagine the amount of tension which we felt back then when going abroad. Ilanit was more relaxed under the circumstances than I was… Ilanit always was cool. She even took a quick nap shortly before the live broadcast, while my hands were shaking while trying to button my pink blouse."

"In Israel, there is a myth which has persisted until this day; people believe Ilanit was wearing a bullet-proof vest under her dress to protect her from a terrorist attack; but this is simply not true. Before we went on stage, Ilanit and I simply prayed that we would be alive after this… and that was it! During the performance, I forgot about what could happen to us and I returned to being my normal self, who is always excited to play and to perform in front of an audience, trying to transmit my energy to the other musicians.”

The Israeli entry, which was performed last of all seventeen songs participating in the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest, finished fourth, all the more respectable when taking a look at the podium, consisting of Anne-Marie David with ‘Tu te reconnaîtras', Mocedades with ‘Eres tú’, and Cliff Richard with ‘Power To All Our Friends’. 

“Reaching the fourth spot behind those three was an honour,” Nurit smiles. “My favourite melody was ‘Eres tú’, a beautiful hymn. In truth, we were never aiming at winning in Luxembourg. Especially as it was the first time Israel took part in the contest, we were there to do well for our country’s sake. I was not thinking of my own success at that moment. We wanted to perform well and make our compatriots proud. During our performance, the streets in Israel were empty. People all over the country were glued to their TV sets, as they felt it was a special moment for Israel.”

Nurit conducting the orchestra in rehearsal in Luxembourg. While Ilanit is performing ‘Ey sham’, one of the Israeli armed guards is cautiously keeping an eye on what goes on behind the camera. In the orchestra, pianist Jean Roderes can be detected

Five years later, in 1978, Israel was again represented in the festival by a song composed, arranged and conducted by Nurit Hirsh; what was more, this song, the disco-esque ‘Abanibi’, performed by Izhar Cohen and The Alpha Beta, turned out to be the runaway winner of that year’s edition of the Eurovision Song Contest, held in Paris – the first winning Israeli entry ever. Different than ‘Ey sham’ in 1973, ‘Abanibi’ was not a song which had been written with Eurovision in mind, as Hirsh explains.

“As so often over the years, I again teamed up with Ehud Manor. We brought out the best in each other, writing dozens of songs together. He was a person always full of original ideas… at one point, he said to me, "Nurit, I have a great plan. Let’s participate in the IBA Children’s Song Festival with a song in the Bet Language!" The Bet Language or B Language was an alternative version of Hebrew which children used as a game. They reduplicated each syllable by repeating it with a letter ‘b’ leading it. They spoke it so fast that they were able to hold secret conversations amongst each other which their parents could not understand. Of course, it was a wonderful idea! We put the song together over the phone. I wanted the title to be the Bet-Language equivalent of ‘I love you’, so the chorus became, ‘A-ba-ni-bi o-bo-he-bev / A-ba-ni-bi o-bo-he-bev o-bo-ta-bach’. These words were actually my invention, although the original idea was Ehud’s!"

"Upon that, I composed the music to the chorus. Then I asked Ehud to give me the words to the first verse, to which I added the music. All along we wanted it to be a happy tune for children to sing along to. Nonetheless, given the theme of the song, I thought we needed a more romantic and slower part as well. So I composed a romantic interlude and then Ehud wrote the lyrics needed for this bit, "Love is a beautiful word, it is a wondrous prayer, it is a language." I fitted this bit in the middle of the song.”

Nurit with lyricist and friend Ehud Manor

“When the song was ready, we made a demo with five of the musicians with whom I usually worked in the studio and a random singer who happened to be available at that time, Izhar Cohen! Izhar, who was a household name in Israeli showbiz already at that time, was a friend of both Ehud and me. When we had done the demo, however, all of us thought that this song was too good for a children’s festival! Only at that point, we decided that the Israeli Eurovision preliminaries were a better option. As Izhar had been such a perfect interpreter on the demo, we decided to keep him as our singer."

"When the song was chosen for the selection programme in Israel, I picked five young vocalists to back-up Izhar. We coined them The Alpha Beta. During the preparations of the pre-selection in Tel Aviv, I gave the IBA production team a hard time, as I insisted on the Selina String Ensemble synthesiser in the orchestra. I had first heard this musical instrument in the Bee Gees soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever and was enchanted by its special sound. Since I felt this particular synthesiser was essential for the unusual sound I wanted to create in ‘Abanibi’, I even threatened to withdraw from the competition if I was not provided with one. Wow, I was very tough! The IBA crew were desperate, because where in Israel could they find this instrument? In the end, they found out about a local musician who had one in his studio and hired it from him. The rest is history; we won the competition in Tel Aviv and went on to represent Israel in Paris!”

Whereas the orchestra for the preliminaries in Israel for all entries was conducted by Yitzhak Graziani throughout the 1970s, this veritable maestro never accompanied an Israeli entrant to the international contest. In Paris, 1978, Nurit Hirsh once again took charge of the orchestra for the song which she had composed and arranged herself.

For the German pressing of Izhar Cohen's single of 'Abanibi', a photo of one of the rehearsals in Paris was put on the record sleeve

“It was great to have that big orchestra there in a festival. Even with an upbeat disco song like ‘Abanibi’! To have electronic music is fine in a discotheque, but, to my mind, a live orchestra with strings and brass will always be the heart of music. For ‘Abanibi’, I didn't only write the score for every instrument, but I also worked on the choreography of Izhar and his backings! From my thirteenth year onwards, and especially during my days in the Army Entertainment Group, I had been dancing in many different styles, so I was aware that delivering a performance was not about the vocals only, but just as much about movement. Together with a professional choreographer, I put together a choreography for the performance in Paris. Working with the French orchestra proved very easy. There was nothing much in rehearsals that required my attention.”

“After the dress rehearsal, which was held on the same day as the contest itself, I heard people whispering that we had a chance. Immediately, music publishers from all over Europe thronged around me and Ehud, the songwriters, as they were eager to do a deal with us about publishing the song in their countries. Now you have to know that Ehud, who was always busy studying or working on some project, had only come to Paris because I had begged him to. In Luxembourg, he had not been there, and I thought he should be with the rest of us as part of the team. In the end, he decided to do me the favour. He strolled around the congress centre in Paris in sandals, looking casual. He didn't think of winning, let alone about making money."

"So, of course Ehud, confronted with all these business-like types, said, “I do not want anything to do with all of this! I understand nothing of it!” There I was, with as little knowledge about music publishing as Ehud – after all, I was just a composer – but I sat myself down on this thick carpet of the congress hall’s foyer, crossing my legs to a lotus position. I must have looked like a hippie! One by one, these publishing guys offered me contracts. Although I was completely new to this business, I instinctively understood what to do. In a game of bargaining, I did what I could to get a maximum percentage of the money the record would make. I must have signed my name dozens of times that afternoon! When contracts were in English, I could check them before putting my signature under it. If they were in another language, however, I just had to trust the person with whom I was doing a deal.”

The Israeli delegation celebrating the Eurovision victory in Paris: kneeling in the middle, from left to right: lyricist Ehud Manor, lead vocalist Izhar Cohen, and Nurit Hirsh. Behind them, Izhar’s backing group, the Alpha-Beta

“All of these men thought we were a potential winner! It gave me a bit of self-confidence going into the show. Money is just money, and even at that time, although I was still quite young, I was fairly level-headed about that. As in Luxembourg, the main concern for Izhar and me was to bring honour to Israel. During the big night and the voting, I didn'tt feel nervous at all. As usual when it really mattered, Izhar’s delivery was brilliant. We turned out to be the runaway winners, but I remember we remained quite down-to-earth – except for Izhar, who went crazy. In a way, though, the success was too much for me at that time, as it was for Izhar. I decided to persist in my original idea to spend a holiday in the United States with a friend and catch a flight from Paris straight to Los Angeles. Funnily, Ehud did a similar thing. He went to Cambridge to finish his thesis in English literature. Izhar returned to Israel and was received as a god at the airport in Tel Aviv – an honour he definitely deserved!”

Did winning the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest change Nurit’s life? “No, in a way Eurovision was just another competition. In the 1970s, I participated in song festivals around the world and I was used to winning prizes. Of course, Eurovision was a very important competition. Winning the contest was nice, but I simply kept on working as a songwriter in Israel. As for ‘Abanibi’, I like it a lot, but I do not think of it as my most impressive composition. It is what it was meant to be; a catchy, folkloristic tune. Of all my songs, I would rather pick ‘Ose shalom’, which is now sung in synagogues across the globe. ‘Abanibi’ should be compared to whipped cream over a cake…while ‘Ose shalom’, on the other hand, is about the Jewish spirit which I also feel inside of me; in other words, a song which provokes far more profound emotions!”

Over the years, many cover versions of ‘Abanibi’ were recorded by artists such as Rika Zaraï and Connie Francis. Eurovision icons such as Jahn Teigen (Norway) and Jørgen Ingman (Denmark) also created their own version of it. Nurit’s preferred version, though, is from Taiwan. 

“A guy named Harlem-Yu, who is a famous singer and actor there, recorded a very modern, powerful version in Chinese. Some years ago, Israelis who spent their holiday in China, told me they had heard it. As Israel does not have a mutual copyright agreement with either China or Taiwan, I did not receive any royalties for this version. The song sold so well in the Far East, that it was recorded in other languages as well. In Thailand, it was even included in a movie. What I am very proud of is that, as far as I know, for none of the cover versions a new arrangement was written. Apparently, producers believed my arrangement was so good it did not require adaptation!”

After 1978, Hirsh did not feel the particular urge to try her hand at the Eurovision Song Contest again. “I'm much different," Nurit concludes. "Participating in a Eurovision Song Contest isn't challenge anymore, especially after winning first place. It's in my character to rather move on and work on new, exciting projects... which is what I have done until the present day!”

"The contest changed a lot in recent years - I wouldn't say it deteriorated, because every generation does its job and I also changed... but the change was brought about by televoting. The older generation doesn't take part in televoting as eagerly as the young people do. Without the contribution of the elderly in the final result, the contest has become a youth event for the twelve and thirteen-year-olds, whereas it used to be an international festival for all ages. It's too much of a show now. Music no longer takes centre-stage. Of course there are the backing tracks which I don't like; to me, the core of music will always be the orchestra. I couldn't see myself writing a song for a competition like this. I can't write songs for young people full of hormones and rock 'n' roll, you know! Having said that, I still watch the contest - and, now and again, you can still enjoy good voices."


Songwriter and friend Kobi Oshrat says, “Nurit and I met for the first time when we served in the entertainment groups of the Israeli army. She had just started writing music then and, coincidentally, I sang one of her melodies with my group. Later onwards, she wrote many great hits with lyricist Ehud Manor, including Israel’s first Eurovision entry, ‘Ey sham’. Nurit Hirsh is one of the finest composers in Israeli music and among the creators of the soundtrack of our country.” (2012)

Two Eurovision winners - Nurit Hirsh with Kobi Oshrat


Country – Israel
Song title – "Ey sham"
Rendition – Ilanit (Hanna Dresner)
Lyrics – Ehud Manor
Composition – Nurit Hirsh
Studio arrangement – Nurit Hirsh / Boris Jojić
(studio orchestra conducted by Boris Jojić)
Live orchestration – Nurit Hirsh
Conductor – Nurit Hirsh
Score – 4th place (97 votes)

Country – Israel
Song title – "Abanibi"
Rendition – Izhar Cohen & The Alpha Beta (Reuven Eretz / Lisa Gold-Rubin / Yitzhak Okev / Nehama Shutan / Ester Tzuberi)
Lyrics – Ehud Manor
Composition – Nurit Hirsh
Studio arrangement – Nurit Hirsh
Live orchestration – Nurit Hirsh
Conductor – Nurit Hirsh
Score – 1st place (157 votes)

  • Bas Tukker interviewed Nurit Hirsh in Tel Aviv, December 2011. Thanks to Nurit and her partner Moishik Linden for their hospitality
  • Many thanks to Amir Herschkovitsch for doing some valuable research into Israeli popular music history on my behalf
  • All photos courtesy of Nurit Hirsh


The following article is an overview of the career of Danish multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and kapellmeister Helmer Olesen. The bulk of the information was provided by Mr Olesen's daughter, Helen Ann Buemann. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Helmer Olesen's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2012

  1. Passport
  2. Short Eurovision record
  3. Biography
  4. Eurovision Song Contest
  5. Other artists about Helmer Olesen
  6. Eurovision involvement year by year
  7. Sources & links

Born: January 4th, 1934, Hvidovre, Copenhagen (Denmark)
Died: June 11th, 1997, Copenhagen (Denmark)
Nationality: Danish


Helmer Olesen was the arranger and conductor of the 1978 Danish Eurovision entry ‘Boom boom’, performed by the quartet Mabel. This song was the first participation from Denmark in the festival after an absence of 12 years.


Helmer Andreas Olesen was born in Copenhagen, the only child of Anton and Annette Olesen. Both of his parents were from Aalborg (Jutland), but settled down in the Danish capital to start a new life together. In Copenhagen, Anton Olesen found work at a water supply company. Though neither of his parents were particularly musically talented, they regularly attended folk dancing events, which in Denmark usually involve accordion accompaniment. They were quick to discover that their son was interested in the instrument. Helmer was given his first accordion when he was four years old. As he made steady progress, he was sent to another private teacher who started giving him violin lessons in 1941.

At the Sankt Annae Institute, a catholic private high school for boys in Amager, he acquainted himself with the piano. One of his fellow students was Franz Ratz, later to become the conductor of the DR Radio Symphony Orchestra. Already at that time, both boys harboured ambitions to have an orchestra of their own. Furthermore, in his teenage years, Helmer Olesen learnt to play the trumpet and the flute as well as mastering various percussion instruments. In the 1950s, Olesen played various instruments, but mainly the trumpet, in several Danish jazz and dance orchestras, most notably Kai Ewans’ band. Professionally, though, he earned most of his money as a photographer, having been taught the basics by a good friend, clarinettist and band leader Ib Renard.

The Bob Azzam Orchestra in 1960, with Helmer Olesen on the far left

In 1958, Olesen got in touch with Bob Azzam, a Lebanese-Egyptian singer and band leader who lived in Geneva, Switzerland. In Azzam’s band, Olesen played the trumpet, piano, flute, and many more instruments for several years, entertaining a Saudi sheikh and touring Central America on cruises across the Caribbean. In those years, the multi-instrumentalist taught himself instrumentation and arranging. 

During Olesen’s time with Azzam, the ensemble scored a number of hits in France and beyond, such as ‘Fais-moi du couscous, chérie’ and particularly ‘Ya, Mustapha’, which even entered the British charts and stayed there for no fewer than twenty-three weeks (1960). Still in 1960, the Bob Azzam Orchestra was awarded the ‘Grand Prix du Disque’ in France for another of its single releases, ‘Viens à Juan-les-Pins’. Most of the covers for Azzam’s records in those years were designed by Olesen.

Upon his return to Denmark in the mid-1960s, Helmer Olesen found work as a session musician in the recording studios. With his arranging experience with Bob Azzam under the belt, it was not long before he became heavily involved in the business as an arranger too. Teaming up with singer and producer Johnny Reimar, Olesen was responsible for the orchestrations to a string of Danish hit successes, including ‘Når jeg tænker på lille Alvilda’ for Johnny Reimar himself (1969), ‘Bli’ væk fra vort kvarter’ for Peter Belli (1970), and ‘Jeg har set en rigtig negermand’ for Lille Bo & Familien Andersen (1970).

Conducting a studio orchestra (1970)

Other artists Olesen worked with in the 1960s and early 1970s as an arranger include Otto Brandenburg, Annette Klingenberg, Dorthe Kollo, as well as bands such as Bjørn & Okay and the Walkers. For Johnny Reimar, he arranged and conducted some fifteen ‘Party’ medley albums, which were best sellers all through the 1970s. On top of all this, Olesen released some instrumental albums under his own name, including ‘Dansk top træffere’ with his own trumpet arrangements to local hit successes (c. 1970).

Helmer Olesen developed a close working relationship with fledgling pop singer Birthe Kjær, writing practically all orchestrations for her studio recordings for some 15 years. Most of Birthe’s hit songs were arranged by Olesen, most notably perhaps ‘Mucho amore’ (1969), ‘Pas på den knaldrøde gummibåd’ (1970), ‘Sommer og sol’ (1971), and, later onwards, ‘En enkelt gang’ (1976). In 1976, Johnny Reimar commissioned Olesen to arrange the album ‘Walk a mile in my shoes’, recorded in Copenhagen with American gospel legend Clara Ward.

In 1975, while continuing his involvement with Johnny Reimar’s recording projects, Olesen founded a production company of his own, Magnet Music Production. For Magnet Music, he produced two albums with pop singer Henning Vilén, ‘Telefonen’ (1976) and ‘I skovens dybe stille ro’ (1978). Moreover, he helped bringing about several jazz projects, including ‘Swingtime’ by the Cox Band and an LP with vocalist Palle Holgersen. In the 1980s, he teamed up with folk singer Ole Stolle and worked as a session trumpeter on recordings with rock bands Peanuts and Rock Nalle. Lastly, in 1994, Olesen wrote the arrangements to Johnny Reimar’s successful medley album ‘25 års jubilæumsparty’.

With Birthe Kjær, early 1970s

Away from the recording studio, Olesen wrote dozens of jazz arrangements played by the DR Radio Underholdnings Orkestret, the light-entertainment orchestra of Danish Radio, from the early 1970s onwards. He was the Kapellmeister of his own orchestra from the mid-1970s onwards. In 1976, he conducted the annual Royal Ball for the first time, a commission he kept for years. With his big band, he entertained audiences with potpourris of golden oldies and popular hits at the Promenade Pavilion in Copenhagen’s famous Tivoli park for an impressive number of twenty summer seasons (1977-96), earning him the epithet Mr. Evergreen

He was the mentor of vocalist Lene Siel, who sang with Olesen’s orchestra in Tivoli for three consecutive summer seasons. In 1995, Olesen and his orchestra provided the musical accompaniment on the occasion of the wedding celebrations for Prince Joachim of Denmark and his spouse Alexandra Manley. That same year, Olesen stood at the cradle of the birth of ‘Kapelmesteren’, a monthly for members of the Danish Association of Kapellmeisters which still exists today. 

He kept on working as a studio producer until shortly before his death, finishing several recordings with the Niels Bernhart Orchestra in May 1997. Succumbing to an incurable disease, Helmer Olesen passed away in June of that year, aged 63.

Olesen (to the right) in the recording studio with sound engineer Morten Nilsson, May 1997


In 1978, Denmark returned to the Eurovision Song Contest after voluntarily staying away from the competition for twelve years. On February 25th, 1978, a pre-selection show was organised in the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen with six acts taking part, including former Eurovision winner Grethe Ingmann. The orchestra accompanying the artists, aptly dubbed the Grand Prix-orkestret, was formed of musicians from the DR Radio Big Band and several freelance orchestras regularly performing at Tivoli, including Helmer Olesen’s own band. Each participating team chose its own conductor; apart from Olesen, Ole Kurt Jensen, Peter Kragerup, and three other maestros, neither of whom ever made it to the international Eurovision Song Contest as a conductor, stood in front of the orchestra that night for one performance each.

The eighty-eight jury members made a surprise choice, preferring a quartet of four young rock musicians, Mabel, with a self-penned song called ‘Boom boom’, over the Olsen Brothers and their ‘San Francisco’. ‘Boom boom’, as the title suggests an uncomplicated up-tempo sing-along effort, was arranged and conducted by Helmer Olesen. What ensued was a veritable ‘Mabel mania’ in Denmark with a huge record success, but, in the end, a disappointing sixteenth position in the Eurovision Song Contest final in Paris. In an attempt to reconstruct the story of Mabel and Helmer Olesen, we were lucky to find two of Mabel’s group members, percussionist Christian Have and guitarist Michael Trempenau (in arte: Mike Tramp).

Christian Have explains how the four young boys were coupled to Olesen, “Johnny Reimar was the managing director of our record company. He was a close friend to Helmer and introduced us to each other while we were preparing for this Eurovision project.”

“Helmer was an obvious choice, as we worked at the same record company and he was always around in the studios," Trempenau adds. "We had met him many times before we actually got to work with him. By the time Helmer came in, we had already completed the recording of ‘Boom boom’. He added an arrangement for horns and strings.” 

“Olesen’s contribution to the song was quite important”, Have states. “‘Boom boom’ was originally called ‘Message From My Heart’ and was in the style of Queen’s ‘39’ with a more traditional rock instrumentation. We had not thought of the Eurovision Song Contest and the style needed for such a competition. It was obvious we needed a different arrangement, a different approach, and Olesen did a masterful job on it.”

The Mabel quartet celebrating their win in the 1978 Danish Eurovision pre-selection in Copenhagen

Apart from his orchestration, Helmer Olesen turns out to have come up with the performance’s main gimmick as well. Christian Have, instead of playing a regular drum kit behind his three colleagues, now stood next to them with a big kick drum with a giant pink heart painted on the drumhead. 

“That is the thing everyone seems to remember from our performance,” Have laughs. “At the rehearsals for the pre-selection show in Tivoli, Copenhagen, there were sound problems. I was supposed to play regular drums, but the sound technicians found themselves unable to mike it up properly for our performance. Talking about this to Helmer, who was our musical director, he just put to me a very simple question, “What was it that made you want to become a drummer in the first place?” I told him about seeing the Royal Danish Life Guards, a marching band and how, as a child watching them passing us by in the streets, I was fascinated by the big kick drums in the band. That answer gave Helmer the idea that I should play one of those big kick drums on stage – a highly practical solution to the sound problem and fulfilling my childhood dream at the same time!”

“When we won the Danish final,” Trempenau recalls, “Helmer was our proud dad. He was a sweet guy. He was always in for some fun and obviously enjoyed music and life in general. In Paris, he had a great time.” 

Have agrees, “Olesen was highly likeable and very patient with us. His professionalism and experience were very interesting for us, a bunch of young rock musicians. He always managed to spread good vibes and energy around himself, which benefited us and the orchestras in Copenhagen and Paris, too. Having him on our team meant we were practically assured of a good atmosphere!”

In spite of Olesen’s loose approach, the Danish team experienced some difficulties during rehearsals in Paris, as Christian Have recalls. “Unfortunately, in terms of light and sound, we were not given the amount of time needed to get it right. There was no opportunity for a proper sound check, and Helmer and we ourselves knew that we had some challenges in that respect which we would probably not be able to overcome.” 

Helmer Olesen in 1978. Photo taken from the official press kit of the Danish delegation to the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest

Trempenau agrees, “It was more about doing what the TV production crew wanted than attempting to bring about the best possible sound for our music. Everything had to be done in a rush and, as a result, the details of our song were forgotten about. In those years, everything was live and we were playing our own instruments. In mixing the sound of our instruments with the big orchestra behind us, the French sound engineers made some grave mistakes.”

“Of course, we were all slightly disappointed about coming 16th,” Have continues. “Given all the setbacks mentioned and, on top of that, the fact that we had to sing in our native tongue, the result was not all that surprising.” 

“Singing in our own language was not a plus,” Trempenau feels. “Nobody cried, though, because all of us longed to get back to simply being a rock band again. From the first moment, we had felt slightly out of place in this Eurovision extravaganza. When Denmark returned to the contest, our record company got us in the Danish finals without us giving it much of a thought… and finding ourselves in the international final in Paris was kind of weird! Looking back on our band’s history, Eurovision was a side step and we slightly regretted having taken part in the first place… but there you are!”

“Helmer Olesen deserves credit for his arrangement, which added some interesting elements to our song,” Trempenau concludes. And Christian Have says, “Unfortunately, we did just one or two more recordings with him the following year. After that, our ways parted. Though our group split up long ago, we meet up regularly. Looking back on the old days, we think of Helmer very fondly. He was a great musician and a great human being.”

From 1979 to 1983, the Danish broadcasting service DR preferred to have just one musical director and conductor for their pre-selection show and the international contest, Allan Botschinsky, thus denying other arrangers the opportunity to conduct their own work. Though Helmer Olesen possibly wrote more arrangements for the Danish national final, his participation with Mabel in Paris was his only involvement in the international arena. When Mabel participated in the 1979 Danish pre-selection, their song was not arranged by Olesen, but by Stefan Klinkhammer instead.

Mabel on the Eurovision stage in Paris 


So far, we have not gathered memories of other artists about Helmer Olesen.


Country – Denmark
Song title – “Boom boom”
Rendition – Mabel (Chris O. Have / Andy Larsen / Peter Nielsen / Mike Tramp)
Lyrics – Mabel (Christian Have / Andy Kulmbak / Peter Nielsen / Michael Trempenau)
Composition – Mabel (Christian Have / Andy Kulmbak / Peter Nielsen / Michael Trempenau)
Studio arrangement – Helmer Olesen
Live orchestration – Helmer Olesen
Conductor – Helmer Olesen
Score – 16th place (13 votes)

  • Heartfelt thanks to Helmer’s daughter Helen Ann Buemann for providing us with the bulk of the information provided in this biography (2012)
  • Thanks to Mabel’s Christian Have and Michael Trempenau for sharing their memories of working with Helmer Olesen on the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest project
  • The standard work on Danish Eurovision history: Jørgen de Mylius, ‘Det Danske Melodi Grand Prix 1957-2000’, ed. DR Multimedie: Copenhagen 2000
  • All photos courtesy of Helen Ann Buemann


The following article is an overview of the career of French multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and conductor Yvon Rioland. The main source of information is an interview with Mr Rioland, conducted by Bas Tukker in Boulogne-Billancourt, August 2011. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Yvon Rioland's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2011

  1. Passport
  2. Short Eurovision record
  3. Biography
  4. Eurovision Song Contest
  5. Other artists about Yvon Rioland
  6. Eurovision involvement year by year
  7. Sources & links

Born: August 2nd, 1936, Tours (France)
Nationality: French


Bass player Yvon Rioland penned the arrangements and conducted the orchestra for two consecutive Monegasque Eurovision entries, ‘Une petite française’ (interpreted by Michèle Torr in 1977) and ‘Les jardins de Monaco’ (by Caline & Olivier Toussaint, 1978). On both occasions, Monaco finished in 4th place.


Yvon Rioland was born the son of a servant in the French Army’s Civil Service; his mother worked as a journalist for nearly 40 years. Both of his parents liked playing music in their free hours, performing with amateur orchestras in Tours. Young Yvon was sent to music school to receive some basic theoretical knowledge, upon which his mother gave him a violin. As it was obvious fairly soon that he had been blessed with some talent, Yvon was sent to the National Conservatory of the Region of Tours when he was only nine years old; here, he studied the violin (1945-54), obtaining his diploma with a first prize of excellence. 

“Meanwhile, I also attended primary and secondary school,” Rioland adds. “My parents never forced me to study music, but, obviously, they stimulated me a lot. After all, they were both keen musicians in their spare time! At the conservatoire, I had some marvellous teachers. As an adolescent, it was my ambition to succeed as a classical musician and I enthusiastically played the violin in the students’ orchestra at the conservatory. Gradually, however, it dawned to me that it would be extremely difficult to find a job; there were no professional classical orchestras in the Touraine area.”

“In Tours itself, however, there were lots of dance orchestras which performed in bars and clubs. In 1954, I was asked to replace the guitarist in one of those bands who had to leave to perform his military service. I realized this was a good opportunity to earn some money. I bought myself a guitar and listened to the records which were popular in those days. That way, I managed to master this instrument fairly soon. I played in that orchestra for some two years. Upon that, I joined another group of musicians from Tours who were contracted to entertain the guests on the cruise ship Bretagne which sailed the Mediterranean. It was a huge adventure! Leaving from Marseilles, we found ourselves on Corsica, Sardinia, in Greece, Turkey, crossing onto the Black Sea, visiting Batum, Odessa, and Yalta in the Soviet Union. They had not seen French people there in decades! We did this trip twice in two years.”

Yvon Rioland (third from right, playing the guitar) with an entertainment orchestra, c. 1960

Upon his return in Tours (1957), Rioland founded an entertainment band of his own. “In the 1950s, when France was still a full member of NATO, American army units were stationed all over the country. Very often, evenings of entertainment, so-called bals américaines, were organized for the troops. There was ample opportunity for musicians to find work at such soirées. I formed a group of 5 musicians, two of them being French and the two others Americans."

"Friends in Switzerland regularly sent me new records from the USA; this enabled us to play the latest hits from America. We were regularly invited to entertain the Americans in the Chinon Castle, which is in the immediate vicinity of Tours. We worked a minimum of five evenings a week, performing in soldiers’ clubs and officers’ messes in the Touraine region and beyond. On one occasion, we even received an invitation to play at the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe, which was in the Palace of Versailles at that time. In those days, my ambition was to be a jazz violinist. I had already started playing jazz during my days at the conservatory, but it was not until I founded my orchestra that I had the opportunity to prove myself at the violin, rather than at the guitar only.”

In the summer months of 1958, Rioland was called up for military service himself. “It seemed to go on forever. These were the days of the war in Algeria and, several times, General de Gaulle extended the duration of conscription, as a result of which I served for 30 full months and was released in November 1960 only. I was lucky not to have to serve in Africa myself. I spent my days decoding transmissions for the air force, first in Bordeaux and later in my native Tours. As a matter of course, I also became a member of the Air Force Orchestra – a fully-fledged professional orchestra. With me playing the guitar and violin, I was useless when we went on parade, which happened very often – but that problem was solved by giving me the cymbals!”

On tour with the Marc Taynor Orchestra in 1962, Yvon Rioland can be detected in the front row holding the yellow guitar

After his release in late 1960, Rioland played the guitar in night club orchestras across France, notably in Mulhouse, Angoulême, and Lyon. In 1961, by coincidence, he found himself in Marseilles, where he was offered the job of guitarist in the Marc Taynor Orchestra. Taynor was an orchestra leader of some reputation, performing with his musicians at bals populaires and with singing artists alike. 

“Working with Taynor meant I could earn 7 times more than I had done so far with any other orchestra. We played every night of the week. Later that year, Taynor’s orchestra was contracted to accompany the popular TV show Le petit train – my debut on television. These programmes were recorded in Paris… Taynor also took me to the Paris recording studios – a big honour indeed, because he usually hired other musicians than his own when making studio recordings. It was my ambition to settle in Paris once and for all, realizing that much work could be found there. Nevertheless, I stayed with Taynor’s band until 1963, travelling from Marseilles to Paris and back regularly.”

In 1963 and 1964, Rioland was the guitar player in the orchestra of the renowned Olympia Music Hall in Paris. Conducted by its maestro Daniel Janin, Rioland worked with the fine fleur of entertainment music from France and beyond, including Edith Piaf & Théo Sarapo, Jacques Brel, Sylvie Vartan, Johnny Hallyday, The Everly Brothers, and even The Beatles. One year prior to joining Janin’s orchestra in l’Olympia, Rioland became involved in an interesting studio project. 

Yvon Rioland (second from right) as a member of Les Fingers (1963)

“In Paris, I met a guitarist called Jean-Claude Olivier. We became good friends. Jean-Claude wanted to form a guitar group, recreating the beat sound of the Shadows from England and the Ventures from America. Jean-Claude Olivier himself was to be the solo guitarist, with Marcel Bourdon playing the rhythm guitar, and Jean-Marie Hauser – another close acquaintance of mine – taking care of the drums. For the fourth and last spot, they were looking for a bass guitarist and Jean-Claude wondered if I was interested. Although I had never played the bass guitar before, I wanted to give it a try and joined the group. We called ourselves Les Fingers. Our records sold very well and we also did some touring across France.”

“We were rather successful, but I still decided to leave after about a year. That was in 1964. The reason for this was simple. In the meantime, I had become heavily involved in studio sessions in Paris as a bass player. It was thanks to Marc Taynor, Daniel Janin’s orchestra in L’Olympia, and of course Les Fingers that my name as an able musician was established. Studio sessions paid better than working in a regular orchestra. I was part of a new generation of musicians slowly taking over the recording studios in Paris. We replaced men who usually could not read notes. Usually, arrangers had to simplify music notation to enable them to play the scores. When more and more musicians with a conservatory education like me appeared on the scene, this amounted to a revolution! For the older guys, it was a catastrophe… faced with the threat of losing their work, they nicknamed those upstarts arriving from all corners of provincial France les requins, the sharks.”

For the remainder of the 1960s and most of the 1970s, Yvon Rioland was one of France’s most sought-after studio musicians, working with the most important Parisian arrangers of the day and playing the music for all big shots in French show business. 

Yvon (wearing dark glasses) having a conversation with Jean Musy in the recording studio (1970s)

“I cannot begin to tell you for how many artists I played the bass guitar on their albums. On a regular day, I spent three sessions of three hours each in the studio; one in the morning, a second in the afternoon, and the last one in the early evening hours; really hundreds of sessions a year. Initially, I played the guitar and the bass guitar, but gradually it was the bass guitar that arrangers invited me for. In a short time, I had become quite proficient at playing the bass, being able to play the four-string and the six-string version and having no trouble whatsoever in sight-reading scores which had become more and more complicated over the years."

"Arrangers usually invited the same musicians over and over again, when they found them reliable and capable; and, without wanting to brag, I was on top in the Parisian recording business as a bass guitarist – together with Francis Darizcuren, who is of the same generation as me and had the same kind of classical background. After a couple of years, I had managed to build up some authority in this microcosm of the recording studios, which enabled me to suggest friends and young musicians to the studio arrangers. Jean Musy and Tony Rallo were just two of the guys who I managed to introduce into the studio world.”

“With studio work available in abundance, there was little time left for making tours. On many occasions, artists for whom I played in the studio, asked me to join them on stage while they were touring in France or abroad. Apart from the summer months, when there was not that much session work going on, I usually refused; I simply could not afford to leave the studio for too long, as it would not be easy to win back my place once it had been taken by another musician."

Charles Aznavour (second from right) with Yvon Rioland (far right) and the other members of Aznavour’s orchestra on tour, early 1970s

"Nevertheless, I sometimes did some short tour projects. A breath of fresh air now and then was nice, after all! In 1967 and 1968, I worked with Mireille Mathieu as a violinist and bass guitarist during the summer months. In 1969, I accompanied Gilbert Bécaud in Paris and Brussels. His orchestra was conducted by Raymond Bernard. When Gilbert asked me to stay in his orchestra for the remainder of his 6-month-tour, I had to turn the offer down… Sometimes, artists found it hard to accept my priority was in the recording studio. Still in the 1960s, I also did concerts with Claude Bolling, Leny Escudero, and Tom Jones. Beside my work in the studio and on stage, I also regularly appeared in TV shows, working with Raymond Lefèvre and many other orchestra leaders.”

One of the longest-standing collaborations in Rioland’s career was with that most acclaimed of all French performing artists, Charles Aznavour. “In 1969, Aznavour insisted that I joined his orchestra. I accepted and was able to take many of my friends from the recording studio with me, such as drummer Jean-Marie Hauser. I more or less formed the orchestra for Charles. I stayed with him much longer than I had planned initially, even going on world tours taking us all the way to Australia, Brazil, and the United States. In America, we travelled across the continent, performing for one week in each of the major cities. We were received at the White House by President Nixon, while Brazilian football legend Pelé was our host for 3 days on his private island. Working with Aznavour was magical; he sang in 4 different languages and he bonded with audiences wherever he went. Sometimes, he came back to sing 10 or 15 encores on one night! Thanks to Charles, I came to countries I would never have visited otherwise and met many interesting people.”

In the mid-1970s, gradually, Yvon Rioland the studio musician became Rioland the arranger; he was asked by record producers, who knew of his classical background, to write scores. Initially for artists such as Jean-Claude Daigle and Colin Verdier from the Polydor label, but fairly soon almost exclusively for the AZ record company which was run by Jean Albertini. 

Yvon Rioland in 1977 - photo taken from the official Monaco 1977 Eurovision Song Contest press kit

“Playing bass in studio sessions remained my main source of income even then, but these arrangements were interesting to work on! Jean Albertini asked me for his label. It was a huge experiment, because I had never before written arrangements for any record, but Jean trusted me and I gradually got the hang of it.” 

Very often in collaboration with Michel Ganot, Rioland penned the arrangements to songs such as ‘Emmène-moi danser ce soir’ (1978) by Michèle Torr, ‘Quand tu danses’ (1976) by C. Jerôme, and ‘Pas de slow pour moi’ (1979) by Jean-François Maurice – Jean-François Maurice being the stage name of none other than Jean Albertini himself.

“I particularly liked teaming up with C. Jerôme, because he was such a friendly guy," Rioland comments. "AZ was a relatively small label, for which a tight group of people wrote and produced virtually all material; apart from Jean Albertini, there were Paul de Senneville, who owned a record studio, and Olivier Toussaint. Jean allowed me to co-compose songs which were used as B-tracks on single releases, which, financially speaking, was quite interesting. I introduced musicians to Jean and Disques AZ who later had an impressive career, such as Richard Clayderman and Nicolas De Angelis. Although most of my scores were written for AZ, I always remained a freelancer, allowing me to also do the arrangements for singers such as Christine and Bernard Bozec, who were under contract with other record companies.”

Yvon Rioland backing up Serge Reggiani on stage (late 1990s)

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the record business changed dramatically, with less and less room for studio orchestras. “After some years, there was hardly any studio work left. With my old friend Jean-Marie Hauser, I tried to adapt to what was en vogue at that time by recording some instrumental disco material, but this did not really catch on. Therefore, I gradually moved toward the stage once more. In the aftermath of Michèle Torr’s Eurovision participation in 1977, I was the conductor of her concerts in L’Olympia – for me, one of the highlights in my career. After that, I also conducted the orchestra in Olympia for the stage shows of Michel Delpech, with whom I had toured in the early 1970s when he still worked with another arranger and conductor, Roland Vincent."

"In the 1970s and 1980s, I worked with the Canadian singer-songwriter Jean-Pierre Ferland for some time, both in the studio and on stage. My main artistic alliance, however, was with Serge Reggiani. I was Serge’s bass player for some thirty years – until he died in 2004. I had a very good working relationship with Serge and his conductor Raymond Bernard. Until the very end, Reggiani was a very insecure man who needed to be reassured time after time. Behind all the pain he felt, however, he really was un grand monsieur.”

Serge Reggiani’s death in 2004 heralded the end of Rioland’s career as a musician on stage. He has continued to work behind the scenes, however, mainly with film composer Alexandre Desplat, who wrote the soundtracks to the Harry Potter movies. Initially penning some of the arrangements to Desplat’s work, Rioland switched to copying the scores for him and helping him registering his music at the French Association of Authors, Composers, and Publishers (SACEM) later onwards.

At home in Boulogne-Billancourt, August 2011


Rioland was an orchestra member in several editions of the French Eurovision pre-selection already, prior to becoming involved in arranging and conducting the Monegasque entries to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1977 and 1978. The principality’s TV station TMC trusted Jean Albertini’s record company AZ with choosing suitable entries for both of these editions of the contest – as well as of that of 1979, in which Rioland was not involved as an arranger or conductor.

In 1977, Monaco was represented by Michèle Torr with a chanson composed by Paul de Senneville and Olivier Toussaint with lyrics by Jean Albertini, entitled ‘Une petite française’. For the orchestration, Yvon Rioland collaborated with Michel Ganot, who had worked for AZ for several years already and was responsible for the arrangement of C. Jerôme’s signature hit ‘C’est moi’ (1974).

“Monaco always had itself represented by record companies from Paris," Rioland comments. "There was no selection programme in Monte Carlo and we did not have to present our song there. One day, Jean Albertini simply told me AZ had been commissioned to produce the Monegasque entry. As I wrote a lot of arrangements for AZ in those days and for Michèle Torr in particular, I was the natural choice to do the orchestration for ‘Une petite française’ as well. I wrote the rhythm and brass elements of the arrangements, while Michel Ganot took care of the strings. I had invited Michel to work on the song myself."

Michèle Torr on the Eurovision stage in London, backed up by guitarist Nicolas De Angelis

"Just at that time, Jean Albertini, for one reason or another, wanted to stop working with Michel, but I thought that was unfair and offered him to share this commission. This decision was mine to take and Jean Albertini could not do anything about it, but Jean was adamant that, whatever happened, Michel would not be the conductor of the song in the Eurovision Song Contest. Jean wanted me to do that job. He told Michel, "If Yvon does not want to do it, we will ask somebody else – as long as it is not you!" Initially, Michel was quite angry with me, because he would have loved to do Eurovision, but in the end, he had to accept the facts. I for one was very keen to conduct the Eurovision orchestra, so I had no reason to turn the offer down!”

The 1977 Eurovision Song Contest was held in London’s Wembley Concert Hall. “Of course, I was exited at the prospect of conducting this BBC orchestra consisting of over 50 musicians! I had only been writing arrangements for a couple of years and it was the first time ever I conducted an orchestra in a television broadcast. Not that I was worried at that prospect, because, as so many classical violinists, I have absolute pitch and conducting a light-entertainment orchestra is not the most difficult thing in the world anyway. Moreover, I was familiar with the parts of all musicians, as I had copied the scores for all of them while preparing this Eurovision project in Paris. The orchestra in London consisted of different generations of musicians, ranging from very young to quite old. One thing united them all, however; the commitment to give their absolute maximum for each of the participating artists. Michèle Torr was a very nice girl to work with, as I knew from previous experience. I had selected two artists accompanying her on stage, Nicolas De Angelis on guitar and Françoise Walle as a support vocalist.”

With 18 countries participating in the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest, Monaco managed to obtain 96 points and a highly respectable 4th spot. “All of us were satisfied," Rioland recalls. "Speaking for myself, I have always been a true competitor and I want to win any game or contest I participate in, but coming 4th in this international festival was simply a very good result. Being part of the festival in Wembley was a fantastic experience in general, with the English organization doing its utmost to make sure all delegations had a good time. Backstage, among all contestants, the atmosphere was very relaxed. Perhaps even more satisfying; ‘Une petite française’ did well in the charts in France and I went on to work with Michèle Torr in the immediate aftermath of the contest, conducting the orchestra for a series of concerts in the Olympia Concert Hall and even in a television show hosted by Michel Drucker.”

Yvon Rioland conducting the orchestra for Michèle Torr in a series of concerts in the Olympia Concert Hall, Paris (1977)

Because the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest had been won by Marie Myriam’s ‘L’oiseau et l’enfant’ for France, the 1978 festival was held in Paris. The venue chosen for the event was the Palais des Congrès in the western suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine. Monaco once more participated with a creation composed by Paul de Senneville and Olivier Toussaint; the title of the up-tempo effort was ‘Les jardins de Monaco’, with the lyrics by Jean Albertini and Didier Barbelivien celebrating the romantic surroundings of the parks in Monte Carlo. It was interpreted by Olivier Toussaint and Corinne Sauvage, a session singer from Paris who took on the stage name Caline. 

“It was a song in a totally different genre than ‘Une petite française’. More commercial, for a start. As for the singers, I knew Corinne quite well from the recording studio. She sang backing vocals for numerous artists – Michel Delpech, to name just one – and she was very good at that. The song was always intended to be a boy-girl duet and therefore Olivier took care of the male part. Toussaint was simply the writing partner of De Senneville and Albertini; with De Senneville, he wrote all material for Richard Clayderman, such as ‘Ballade pour Adéline’. As far as I know, Olivier had no ambitions to be a star himself, but perhaps they could not find anyone else. It was once again Jean Albertini who asked me to arrange and conduct the song.”

With Caline and Olivier Toussaint, Monaco finished in 4th place for the second year running. “Not bad with twenty countries competing, eh!" Rioland thinks. "The contest in Paris was less glamorous for me than the one in London the year before. In England, Jean Albertini had booked rooms for the entire delegation in the Hilton; now, however, as all of us lived in Paris, we came to the rehearsals by car and went home immediately after. As a result, we were not really able to enjoy the positive atmosphere of the manifestation. There were lots of friends conducting for other delegations; Jean Musy, Alain Goraguer, and Daniel Janin, while François Rauber, a brilliant arranger with whom I worked a lot in the 1960s, was the chief conductor. Honestly, though, there was not much contact between us – not as much as there would have been if we had been abroad. Nevertheless, everything went fine. I took my pianist of the recording studio, Gérard Daguerre, with me to replace the regular pianist in the orchestra while I conducted our entry. Gérard had played the piano part in the recording studio and I thought it was fair to ask him for the Eurovision concert too.”

“Participating in the Eurovision Song Contest as a conductor was a most pleasant experience,” Rioland concludes. “I had never even dreamt of conducting an orchestra for such a huge TV audience! On top of that, Eurovision was an opportunity to meet interesting musicians from all over Europe. The contest did not really change my career, as I kept on doing the same work as I had done before.”

Caline & Olivier Toussaint - promo photo taken in the run-up to the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest


So far, we have not gathered memories of other artists who worked with Yvon Rioland.


Country – Monaco
Song title – “Une petite français”
Rendition – Michèle Torr
Lyrics – Jean Albertini
Composition – Paul De Senneville / Olivier Toussaint
Studio arrangement – Michel Ganot / Yvon Rioland
Live orchestration – Michel Ganot / Yvon Rioland
Conductor – Yvon Rioland
Score – 4th place (96 votes)

Country – Monaco
Song title – “Les jardins de Monaco”
Rendition – Caline & Olivier Toussaint
Lyrics – Jean Albertini / Didier Barbelivien
Composition – Paul De Senneville / Olivier Toussaint
Studio arrangement – Yvon Rioland
Live orchestration – Yvon Rioland
Conductor – Yvon Rioland
Score – 4th place (107 votes)

  • Bas Tukker interviewed Yvon Rioland in Boulogne-Billancourt, August 2011
  • Photos courtesy of Yvon Rioland & Ferry van der Zant