He’s outsold Britney and Beyoncé and played to bigger crowds than Take That. As one of the best-selling classical musicians of all time, and one of the biggest solo male touring artists in the world, he’s topped the international charts an impressive 30 times. This fun-loving musician thrills audiences around the globe with his impressive live shows… a “modern-day Strauss” on a mission to get the whole world waltzing.
Multi-award-winning André Rieu talks to Angela Sara West about the secrets to his sensational success, collaborating with Sir Anthony Hopkins and The Hoff, his forthcoming North American tour and his fairytale home in Holland, a castle made famous by D’Artagnan.
Dutch violinist and conductor, André Rieu, is a first-class act. With an impressive career spanning over 30 years, the charismatic entertainer delights fans around the world with his eclectic mix of waltz, musical scores, opera, pop and easy listening, and is a multi-platinum musical phenomenon like no other.
The high-spirited musician is universally recognised as a musical genius with the energy of a rock star, and acclaimed for his innate ability to create a symphonic party out of pop songs fused with classical music. Initiating a worldwide revival of waltz music, the charming classical comic brings not only humour to the world, but has the rare ability to convert even non-classical music lovers, touching the hearts of millions of people who discover a whole new musical world and get excited about classical music.
With his talk-of-the-town tours outselling A-list artists including Madonna, Coldplay and Elton John, he has sold over 40 million CDs and DVDs worldwide, received close to 500 Platinum and almost 300 Gold awards and had billions of views on YouTube. Last year, André’s successful shows outsold any other male touring artist in the world, including Bruce Springsteen.
If anyone knows how to stage a grand stage show, it’s André. With his Johann Strauss Orchestra, occasional choir and top-class soloists in tow, this international superstar has travelled the world, staging spectacular extravaganzas and show-stopping performances everywhere from London’s Royal Albert Hall to NYC’s Radio City Music Hall. His lively concerts display a winning formula of sensational music, interspersed with romantic moments and witty twists, and he delights audiences everywhere he goes. It’s always one big party whenever this flamboyant musical star is in town!
Musician on a mission…
The amiable Dutchman tells me he feels honoured to be dubbed the modern “King of the Waltz” by the world’s media. Playing music from all genres and decades, he’s the king of crossover, too. “I am very proud… But I play so much more than waltzes. There is really only ONE true King of the Waltz and that is my idol, Johann Strauss.”
Following in the footsteps of the great Austrian composer, André is a born entertainer with boundless enthusiasm plus a great sense of humour, which he brings to his uplifting shows, which showcase superlative sets matched with flawless melodies. Well-known for his infectious joie de vivre, his unique, unorthodox approach to classical music makes for an atmosphere that is electric, with sets that are out of this world. The energetic orchestra leader encourages his audiences to jump out of their seats and dance in the aisles, makes jokes, tells stories, and even indulges in a bit of slapstick comedy in between performing some of the most beautiful waltzes in the world, along with romantic songs and much-loved hits from musicals and films. Jam-packed with surprises, we defy anyone not to fall under this magical musician’s seductive spell!
For André, the excellence of the music is equally as important as the staging of his concerts. Exuding emotional melodies, a good deal of humour and top-class international soloists, his enchanting events engage and captivate audiences, bringing the glamour of the Viennese ballroom to millions across the world.
He says his concerts are about love and joy, and reveals that the most rewarding aspect of what he does is witnessing his fans’ enjoyment of his work. “Seeing all those happy people in the audience…. the fun they are having, the kisses, the dancing… People write me letters, saying, “André, I needed two weeks to come down after your concert.” Isn’t that wonderful?!!”
Cutting a romantic figure on stage, the conductor of waltz-based classics and his enthusiastic orchestra put their hearts and soul into each performance, injecting passion and emotion into every note, resulting in very happy, clappy, toe-tapping audiences, with whom he has a great rapport. Swaying with the music, clapping, dancing, jumping up and down… it ALL happens when this music maestro performs.
The violin Wunderkind is the very proud owner of a very valuable instrument which often makes an appearance on stage; his precious Stradivarius from 1732. “Yes. My first one was from 1667, but it was a little bit too small and more appropriate for a young girl, who now plays it. This one is perfect. It has a rich, passionate sound which reminds of me of the warm voice of Maria Callas.”
How it all began…
Born in the Dutch city of Maastricht, André was surrounded by music from birth and discovered his profound passion for music at a very young age. Along with Strauss, his music icon as a child was the celebrated classical composer, Mozart. “My mother always told a story that when I heard Mozart as a small child, I’d always say ‘Mooooi’, which means ‘Beautiful’.”
“My father was a conductor, so I can’t remember a time without music in our house. I had five siblings and all of my brothers and sisters played an instrument. I started playing the violin when I was five years old, but also studied the flute, piano and oboe. My mother picked the violin for me… and she was right. I loved the sound of it.”
It wasn’t long before the violin virtuoso discovered he had a very special talent. “I don’t believe I was a “child prodigy” – these children work very hard, studying for hours and hours per day. For me, playing an instrument was normal… I thought everyone did! I asked the other children at school, “Which violin do you play?” I simply felt at an early age that the violin was for me, and I fell in love with my teacher, which helped a lot, ha-ha!!
André continued his musical training at conservatoires in Liège in Belgium and Maastricht, and received his prestigious “Premier Prix” degree from the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.
At one point, the acclaimed conductor and violinist went off-piste, swapping his stick’n’strings for a piece of a pizza project. “My wife, Marjorie, and I had a very strict education, but when we were students, we tried to escape all of that and decided to break free. I locked up my violin, she threw away her books and we planned to open a pizzeria, in which I would play when the Pizza Paganini was being served. But that idea only lasted for three weeks, and I figured that if I wanted to play Paganini, I’d better go back and study!”
A milestone 30 years of the JSO…
In 1987, he founded André Rieu Productions company and his beloved Johann Strauss Orchestra, to which, he says, he is “practically married”.
“I started with a small ensemble of 12 people. The first rehearsal was at my sons’ school and it then grew bigger and bigger. We started playing at retirement homes, small theatres, then arenas and finally stadiums, like Toronto and Melbourne. It makes me so happy because we have reached people with what we do.”
André’s energetic orchestra now comprises a 60-piece ensemble and marked its milestone 30th anniversary this year at his eagerly anticipated annual concert in Maastricht, this year screened live into over 500 cinemas here in the UK.
André’s big break came in 1994, with the recording of the Waltz No. 2 by Shostakovich. The following year, he scored the perfect goal… Performing the same piece at AFC Ajax’s home Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich put André not only on the sporting, but also the world music map overnight. Ajax went on to win and who else but André could have a football crowd waving flags, humming along and swaying to Shostakovich?!!
“My wife named it the ‘Second Waltz’. It sold 850,000 copies in the Netherlands alone. It was truly amazing that people sang it in football stadiums… you can still watch it on YouTube.”
From small to silver screen success…
From performing on Dancing with the Stars to his fascinating TV series, Welcome to my World, following the ups and downs and backstage goings-on of the violin wizard and his orchestra around the world, along with TV appearances, André’s set new standards on the big screen, too.
The broadcast of his 2015 Maastricht Concert marked his biggest success yet, breaking the UK box office records for a cinema music event. Screened live in cinemas, it took over £1.4m, making it the highest-grossing cinema music event of all time, surpassing One Direction and Take That.
“That was fantastic! It shows that our music is really for everyone.”
The concert was beamed live into cinemas in over 30 countries worldwide, including the US, Brazil, Canada and South Africa. André also topped the box office in Australia, Denmark and, of course, his native Netherlands.
The superstar of classical music has notched up no less than 30 no. 1 chart positions worldwide and is the only classical artist to enter Pollstar’s Top 10. As the most successful classical artist in the world, the multi-talented musician’s success and emphatic contribution to classical music across over three decades has resulted in countless coveted accolades. Along with Brit Awards, André’s won World Music Awards, a Gramophone Award and a Dutch Export Award among numerous others, celebrating his unrivalled talent.
How does it feel to receive such prestigious awards and honours? “It’s wonderful, of course, because it’s proof that we have reached the hearts of millions of people around the world,” He says music is very important to the world. “Especially in times like these. Wherever we play, people always seem to forget their worries for a moment. That’s one of the most beautiful and powerful things of making music.”
The international sensation again made history in the UK by having the highest- charting classical album this century, was crowned no. 1 Classic Artist in the US (with the Wall Street Journal calling him a “Maestro for the Masses”) and has been the highest-selling music artist in Australia for the past five years, dominating the DVD charts Down Under with nine DVDs in the Top 10.
He has also been bestowed with the prestigious French decoration of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, while in his hometown, he clinched the Gold Medal of Honour from Maastricht’s Mayor Gerd Leers – the city’s greatest distinction.
“I think I am proudest owner of the “Grand Gold Decoration for Services to the Republic of Austria”. It’s a very prestigious award, and to receive this from a nation with such exceptional musical traditions, where composers like Mozart, Schubert, Strauss lived, is amazing.”
As the head of a flourishing entertainment company, taking care of the creative side as well as business matters, André presides over a global business empire. “Everything we earn, we put back into the company. I have the largest private orchestra in the world and more than 100 people on the payroll, including my administration staff. It’s a big family business.”
He credits much of his success to his wife, Marjorie, and has faith in the power of positive thinking: “I was born lucky. It is really my character. I am a happy person. I can get impatient, but I never get mad.”
The biggest challenge of his career? “Convincing managers, label people and critics that my music is for everyone. For younger and older people, for families, for the professor or the cleaning lady… not for an elite.”
André believes that everyone can enjoy classical music and has been instrumental in achieving his aim to revive 19th-century waltz music. What drives this music maestro? “Love and passion… Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I always dreamed of travelling the world with my own orchestra. And I love to be on stage playing all that beautiful music.”
With a gift for touching hearts, his unique approach to classical music and engaging spectators is part of his winning formula. “We are very individual. Every concert is different.” He says encouraging audience interaction has been instrumental in achieving his melodic path to the top. “Communication and emotions are the secret to my success, I think. I look my audience in the eye, I talk to them and ask them to join us.”
The born entertainer speaks six different languages, Dutch, English, German, French, Italian and Spanish, and can therefore ask his fans to participate by standing up from their seats and waltzing in the aisles in all six!
Second-to-none stage sets…
A live André Rieu show makes for quite the spectacle… Extravagant with a capital “E”, his showy stage sets are nothing less than breathtaking. Elaborate global extravaganzas with no expense spared, the classical conductor’s concerts have seen Mary Poppins flying over the audience, life-size ballrooms and ice rinks, and an enchanting Venetian-style set complete with a Doge’s Palace, Rialto Bridge, ornate Italian fountain and a colourful Venetian masquerade.
His life-size replicas of Austria’s Imperial Schönbrunn Palace saw the biggest stage set ever to go on tour. The sensational set was 10-stories high and longer than a football field, featured fountains, a skating rink, a ballroom dance floor plus a state carriage covered in real gold! For the most excessive and extravagant show ever to take to the road, he had to build two sets to fit into his touring schedule, which included his largest concert ever, to an audience of 38,000 in Melbourne, Australia.
Hollywood hobnobbing with Sir Anthony Hopkins & cooking up a storm with The Hoff!
André’s adored by A-list names and once recorded a waltz penned by his hero of the big screen, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and named an album after it. “Sir Anthony composed this waltz named And The Waltz Goes On when he was a student but it had never been performed,” André explains. “His wife saw me on US TV and thought my orchestra should perform her husband’s waltz. His office called me and we got together to collaborate on it. Sir Anthony is a wonderful person and my favourite actor. It was very exciting and inspiring to meet and work with him.”
And it’s mutual admiration – Sir Anthony is a fan of André too! He and his wife flew by private jet to Maastricht to attend André’s hometown concerts, where André performed it for the first time to a large crowd. Sir Anthony said it was a was “a dream come true” and that he was “totally knocked out” by it.
André also recently teamed up with David Hasselhoff as part of his 30th anniversary JSO celebrations in Maastricht. The Hoff made quite an entrance, bursting onto the stage as a guest singer in his famous Knight Rider car, KITT, and had the crowd rocking to his hit Looking for Freedom, Elvis’ Love Me Tender and George Baker’s Una Paloma Blanca. “There was immediate sympathy between us. I knew at once that I’d love to work with him. David is such a professional and was a huge success with the audience. We were both very happy!”
The King of the Waltz meets The Queen of Britain…
André’s no stranger to the international pop charts… From ABBA’s Mamma Mia and Michael Jackson’s Smile to Celine Dion’s emotional chart topper, My Heart Will Go On, the baroque pop performer has celebrated them all. The musician he’d most like to perform with? “Bruce Springsteen! I really admire him.”
So, he admires “The Boss”, is inspired by Andrew Lloyd Webber and once took to the stage alongside contemporary artists Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Anastacia, along with Michael Bublé, Katherine Jenkins, Bette Midler and Whoopi Goldberg to perform for Queen Elizabeth II, before meeting his royal fan backstage.
“It was a great honour and my orchestra and I were all very excited. Her great, great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, loved to waltz and made the dance popular in the UK. The Queen was very friendly and thanked us for the performance. She enjoyed it very much!”
To celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday, he wrote a special piece of music titled The Windsor Waltz, which opens with a vibrant fanfare and pays homage to British favourites including Rule Britannia and Pomp and Circumstance, before launching into wonderful waltzes and culminating with a hint of God Save The Queen.
In 2013, André wrote the Coronation Waltz and gave a Coronation concert, which was broadcast live on national television, in Amsterdam’s Museum Square in honour of the inauguration of the new King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands.
Taking the biggest show on earth all around the world…
From New Zealand to Mexico, and the UK to the USA, André certainly lives up to his other nickname, “The Flying Dutchman”. With his orchestra in tow, he tours on five continents, playing around 120 concerts a year, establishing him as one of the top 10 touring acts in the world.
Four sets of stages, costumes and instruments, along with cooks, a doctor, a fitness instructor and custom-built Mercedes-Benz tour buses make life on the road as seamless as possible.
In 1998, André was on Spanish soil, filming his Romantic Moments DVD in Mallorca’s medieval palace in Raixa, where he played dreamy songs including Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet and Plaisir d’Amour.
The internationally renowned maestro has many favourite places and venues to perform. “It’s hard to say… People all over the world are so happy when they come to our concerts. It doesn’t matter where they come from, the moment we start to play for them, the audience and the orchestra seem to become one big, happy family or band of friends. Music really unites people. I have that same feeling in every place or venue I go to, whether it’s Europe, Asia, South America or the United States.”
His epic 2014 World Tour outsold Ed Sheeran, Rod Stewart and Beyoncé, while he embarks on another World Tour in Germany in early 2018.
His current tour sees him in countries including France, the UK, the Netherlands, Austria, Chile and Mexico. Well-known in the US for his wildly popular PBS specials, André’s American US tour kicks off on 19th October and takes in Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles, San José, Sacramento, Fresno, Tacoma, Portland, Tampa, Orlando and Sunrise.
“I’m really looking forward to tour the United States and Canada again,” he says. “Our North American fans have a great attitude and always show their enthusiasm right from the very first note.”
What can fans expect? “I love to surprise my audience, so I am not going to tell you in detail, but the program will be a mix of waltzes, film scores, musicals, folk songs and, of course, some great American Classics. There will be many international soloists, my 60-piece Johann Strauss Orchestra and me, of course! We will open our hearts for you and will make you dance in the aisles and give you an evening you will never forget!”
André’s new album, Shall We Dance, is out this month. “It features some of the world’s most beloved classic songs including The Blue Danube, Love in Venice, Bolero, Zorba’s Dance and more. It will also include a separate, live DVD.”
King of the Castle… childhood dreams really can come true!
He may regularly travel the globe but, for André, home is where his heart is, his home city of Maastricht, the capital of the Dutch Province of Limburg, where he owns a romantic, and legendary, castle.
Dating back to1492, De Torentjes (meaning “The small towers”) is Maastricht’s only castle and legend has it that it was here that the real D’Artagnan (on whom Dumas’ character was based) had his last breakfast before he died in battle serving King Louis XIV.
André took piano lessons in his jaw-dropping 15th-century home as a child and dreamed of living in it and filling it with chandeliers and paintings. That dream is now a reality.
“As a boy, I loved the The Adventures of Tintin comic, in which the Captain Haddock character owned a castle. Ever since, I’d dreamed about owning one myself but my wife said, “You’ll have to sell a lot more CDs for that”. So I did, ha ha!”
Known as the modern “King of the Waltz”, André is also a true “King of Romance”. He and Marjorie, his childhood sweetheart, have been married for over 40 years and have two sons and five grandchildren. Marjorie manages the concerts and creates the sets and costumes while their son, Pierre, now manages the business side of things, allowing André to concentrate on the musical aspects. Their other son, Marc, is an artist, and André’s imposing castle serves as the perfect exhibition space for his paintings.
Comprising 27 rooms, a recording studio, its own travel agency, a kindergarten for the orchestra members’ children and a complete atelier in which the costumes for André’s concerts are made (the female orchestra members wear pastel silk ball gowns that he designs himself!), the impressive property also boasts an André-designed orangery, a grandiose greenhouse which is André’s personal sanctuary, filled with rare species of butterflies, koi and other tropical fish, exotic birds, palms and flowers, including ornate air-borne orchids.
The spectacular grounds boast extensive gardens and this sensational stately setting, encompassing the surreal, dreamlike backdrop of Andrٞé’s fairytale castle, makes the most magical setting for his majestic Christmas and grand New Year concerts.
Highlights & dreams…
There have been numerous highlights for the classical king of the stage. “Oh, so many… the performances in Vienna, including the World Stadium tour with a full replica of the Schönbrunn Castle, New York and our open-air concerts each summer on the Vrijthof, where this year we welcomed 110,000 people from over 80 countries.”
His “dream” waltzes to perform? “There are so many beautiful waltzes, it is as if I was to choose between my children. But I would probably say, my dream waltzes are the Beautiful Blue Danube, which I play at every concert. I have also immensely enjoyed performing Sir Anthony Hopkins’ composition And the Waltz Goes On. A waltz can be happy and sad at the same time. It can also be romantic and joyful… It has every feeling in one composition… and it is very difficult to play!”
Reaching for the stars & the moon…
As an avid conservationist and peace lover, André also carries out benefit concerts for charity. “My wife and I have been backing a project in Burkina Faso, supporting the people who work so hard to conserve their natural environment because the desert takes much of their land. They plant trees etc. to fight it back.”
With his motto “Live your dream… don’t dream your life,” André is also an aspiring astronaut. Fascinated with space travel, he is in talks with Sir Richard Branson to build a concert hall on the moon to enable us, one day, to waltz in space. His main mission? To become the first artist to play on the moon. “Yes! That would be a dream come true. You’ll all be invited!”
Details of André’s forthcoming tour dates: www.andrerieu.com/en/tour
His VIP travel packages combine André Rieu concerts with first-class hotel accommodation, available through André Rieu Travel: www.andrerieu.com/en/travel
For further information, visit: www.andrerieu.com