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Oct 10, 2009

André Rieu The King of Strings

André Rieu Plays Classical Music To The Masses

The Australian Weekender October 10, 2009 ~ André Rieu is The Modern Day Superstar of Classial Music. The 60-year-old is one of few acts in the world that can sell out a stadium with elaborate, large-scale concert productions that are big enough to rival ... if not overshadow ... those of rock heavyweights U2 and the Rolling Stones.

In Australia, the Dutch-born violinist (who plays a 1667 Stradivarius violin insured for around $11 million) has emerged as Universal Music's highest selling artist of the past two years. Collective CD and DVD sales have topped 2 million. It's a staggering figure that reflects the phenomenal rise of a man who has taken classical music to the masses.

Rieu has returned to Australia this month for his second national tour in less than a year, including two performances at Newcastle Entertainment Centre on October 18 and 19. In a first, one of Rieu's Sydney shows will be beamed live into cinemas around the country. The tour is taking in large-scale venues (including Sydney's Acer Arena) though the concerts are intimate compared to Rieu's 11 date stadium tour of 2008. It was a production truly bigger than Ben-Hur.

Two years earlier, Rieu had dreamt of bringing a full-scale replica of Vienna's Schönbrunn Palace to Australia, complete with ice rinks, twin fountains, a ballroom with gilded chandeliers and a golden carriage drawn by six white horses. A total of 250 performers featured each night, including his 50 strong Johann Strauss Orchestra, a pipe band, dancers and ice skaters with Rieu at centre stage. It took 250 production staff to stage each event, transformng the sports stadium into a fairytale wonderland with a set measuring 125 metres in width and towering 35 metres high in Sydney's Telstra Dome. A further $100,000 had to be spent reinforcing the underground carpark at the venue to ensure the weight of the replica palace did not cause it to sink. The average production bill was $5.6 million each night.

Rieu's 28 year old son, Pierre, the production manager, faces the challenge of making his father's spectacular visions a reality. "I was playing in Vienna in front of the real castle and it was such a beautiful night that I said, 'OK, we are going to recreate it' and that was a very small sentence for me, but a big one for Pierre," Rieu says, laughing. "Pierre said, 'You are crazy, but I'm going to do it' and he did it. But my wife still thinks I'm crazy (laughs). In fact, with my son, he's the only one who can tell me, 'Now, you are really crazy!' and then I'll listen. Of course, the castle is my craziest idea and after that he said to me 'Now we do something normal and we are going to try and earn some money'."

Not since the days of ABBA has a European musical export created such mania in Australia. The majority of his fans are of the blue-rinse variety ... Rieu has been described a "pensioner pin-up" ... but age does not weary their enthusiasm for the world's most unlikely sex symbol. A promotional tour in May last year attracted 4000 fans at Westpoint Shopping Centre in Sydney's west where Rieu signed autographs for two hours. Two elderly fans almost breached security as they snuck behind the barriers to make a beeline towards the star.

"I make music for the people and when I see that people are so interested in my music, like the signing sessions in Australia for thousands of people, it's incredible," Rieu says. "They came to me with full bags of all the DVDs I have. That's good for my heart to see that."

Rieu's career has been on the rise for the past three decades, but it has only been in the past three years that Australian audiences have truly embraced the violinist. His music reached a mainstream audience after pay television channel Ovation began screening his concerts. Audiences tuned in and lapped it up, stocking up on the massive back catalogue of releases Rieu has produced throughout his recording career.

"Ovation asked could they show my DVDs and I said, 'Of course you can'," Rieu says. "They saw the ratings of their viewers went up so they asked me, 'Do you have more DVDs?' and then it started to spread around mouth-to-mouth. (My label) Universal said, 'What is going on? What is this?' and they jumped on it and it exploded.

"The power of television has proven to be the most effective way in which to conquer new territory, whether it be in France, Australia or Brazil. "I know when people can see me on television, then it works. It's simple. Because the way I make music with my orchestra is a way that all people in the world can love," Rieu says. "I've just come from Brazil for a promotion. We sold 500,000 items there in two years because somebody showed me on television. So I know that it works. "Show me on television and it works." Perhaps it is the visual appeal of Rieu's concerts that has struck a chord, rather than simply the music itself.

His concerts are joyful, spanning the centuries with waltzes (particularly Johann Strauss) and modern songs (Australian concerts feature 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport' and 'Botany Bay'), and the members of the orchestra forgo the uniform of black to instead wear vibrant colours. Making the music accessible is his mission but not everyone is buying it, namely traditionalists who accuse Rieu of dumbing it down. Rieu wants to change the public's perception of classical music. "I like humour very much and that is what they lack very often in so-called classical music," Rieu says. "Nobody laughs and there's no humour in classical music. People feel themselves better and more important than people who don't like classical music or are not educated in classical music. I think that's all rubbish. We are all people and everybody is the same. When you play with your heart then people must love it. I don't understand why people in classical music play fantastic, beautiful music but they play with their face as if they are already dead and sit there so seriously. Everything is black and black ... no! I don't want to do it like that. I want to show the people that life is nice."

As a teenager in the 1960s, Rieu listened to classical music while the rest of the world's youth rocked along to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. As a family they would listen to symphonies, chamber music and opera. His parents shunned rock'n'roll and his sisters were told mini skirts were strictly banned in the Rieu household. "That time it was only classical music for me because at that time in my family, my father was very severe and my mother also, so The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the mini skirt was forbidden in our home," he says.

"Nobody laughs and there's no humour in classical music. People feel themselves better and more important than people who don't like classical music or are not educated in classical music. I think that's all rubbish. "I was curious about this other music but it passed by our home."

Rieu's violin training continued after he left school in Maastricht, taking him to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels in 1974 where he received tuition from classical violinist André Gertler. By 1977, Rieu had finished his musical training and a year later founded his first orchestra, the Maastricht Salon Orchestra, which toured the Netherlands, Germany and the US.

He landed his first professional job as a violinist with the Limburg Symphony Orchestra but wanted to make music his own way so formed the Johann Strauss Orchestra in 1987. Originally made up of 12 members, the orchestra steadily grew and paved the way for the creation of his company, André Rieu Productions. The orchestra performed throughout Europe and gained popularity, recording albums and leading media to dub Rieu as the "Modern King of Waltz".

At his side since his teens has been wife Marjorie. They still live in Maastricht. Marjorie is a mystery to Rieu's fans she is never photographed and prefers to stay out of the limelight, saying: "The glory belongs alone to my husband, I am only working in the background." The couple married in 1975 after courting for several years and they welcomed their first son, Marc, in 1978. Pierre followed in 1981. Marjorie works alongside her husband full time as production manager."Working with her is really a dream because we think the same, we feel the same and, in fact, we don't need to talk," Rieu says. We very often laugh about that. We say, 'Oh, we think the same thing again'."

He describes his family as his first love and music as his second, including that treasured 1667 Stradivarius violin that reportedly has it's own bodyguard. "I suppose you can call it somebody who carries it and takes care of it when I'm not there," Rieu says. "I cannot take care of it all the time because I'm doing interviews, I'm doing promotion, I'm doing whatever and then there's somebody who takes care of it. "(American virtuoso cellist) Yo-Yo Ma forgot his violin in a cab in New York ... his cello ... so I don't want that to happen to me." Rieu acquired his Stradivarius, famous for the quality of sound, after word spread that he was hunting for one. "It was very strange. The people in the violin world discovered I had the money to pay eventually for an expensive violin and then they flew all over the world to me ... I didn't ask," he says. "They were like flies on a mushroom. They showed me the violins and these Stradivarius' and I said, 'Yes, but I don't like it' and then, oh my God, their face! They say (Rieu adopts a mock high-pitched shriek), 'Who are you that you dare to say that?'.

So I'm not a collector. I'm listening with my ears. The first time I was looking was very tough and very difficult because they came over with all these shit violins to me. Until the moment someone showed me the violin and I fell immediately in love with it. It was one of my first Stradivarius and now I have another one. It's from 1732. It's a very, very nice violin."

Rieu celebrated his 60th birthday on October 1. Surprisingly, there were no plans for an elaborate celebration but instead a low-key gathering of loved ones on the eve of the Australian tour. "Sixty means I'm half way," Rieu says of the milestone. I'm going to be 120 so I'm half way now. We come together with friends. It's very small. I like parties, but not for me. I don't like the attention. I just like to be on stage. That's my job."

Thanks to Marg for sending this to us and to Jann for Typing it all out from the newspaper to post it on here.

9 comments:

Sue Berry said...

Nice article ~ but does anybody actually use "Blue Rinse" these days? They need to let that one go ... ;-)

Jann T. said...

Good article ... do they actually sell "blue rinse" these days ???
I remember using my Grandmother's when I was a kid, my "bright blue" hair, earned me a spanked backside !!!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic and such a complete interview!! Thank you Marg for finding it, Jann for all the typing and Sue for posting.
Agreed...blue rinse is out. I had a voice teacher when I was getting my degree in Music Education that had 'blue hair', but haven't seen that in years.
Burning the candle at both ends, Sue. We appreciate you and all your hard work.
Laurie

Anonymous said...

Thank you Sue for posting it. To dear Jann you are still a god send of the typing world. Sorry it was so long but sometimes newspapers go a little bit overboard. Especially the Newcastle Morning Hearld. Cheers

Marg G.

Mother Superior said...

Thanks for posting the article Sue. To Jann you are the Typing Queen and to Marg for scanning & sending the article. I don't have a blue rinse under my veil.

Sue Berry said...

I have to add here ~ if Jann had not typed it out, we wouldn't be reading this article. I couldn't post the paper itself large enough to read and it was just too long. There was no way I had time to type it all out, besides she types faster!!

Thanks Moonbeam!!! SS:)

Kay said...

A huge thank you to Sue, Jann and Marg for your group effort in getting this interview posted for us to see. I suppose André must be on his way to Australia now, or soon will be. Looking forward to hearing all about the upcoming concerts.

Anonymous said...

Well done everyone involved- I just wish our media people here were as enthusiastic as yours. When Andre was appearing here at Sylvia Park for a signing our award winning frontperson said " Lock up your Grannies, Andre's in town". Reuben,our webmaster has only just turned 16, and you only need to read all the postings to know how popular AR is across all the ages.
Kathy Prater New Zealand

Anonymous said...

Jann, you are a legend for the work you are still doing for us all, and Sue, what can I say, just thanks for giving us somewhere to go! CheeRIEU, Val & Vic. Friendship Group

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Pierre and André September 30, 2016 Maastricht

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Photo Taken at Mexico City Concert ~ September 2013

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"Hello to all my fans on The Harmony Parlor!"

Soundcheck in Maastricht 2013 (RTL Photo)

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