Illness Changed André Rieu’s Life
A Special Interview About Fame, Adversity and Emotions
Where would you like to go and talk? Outside it is too warm, inside it is too cold due to the air conditioning, says André Rieu with a smile when "Weekend" meets with him in sunny South Africa. He is relaxed, despite the fact that he has many performances to do and is responsible for at least 110 employees. André: "These tours are a vacation for me. Here the schedule has been confirmed, and everything has been arranged. During my off time I can relax to the fullest. As soon as I am home the real work starts again. Composing, meetings, planning and on and on".
The king of the waltz landed in a country where he is considered to be one of the most popular artists of all times. Sold out concerts in Cape Town, Sun City and Durban affirm his status.
What makes André so exceptional is that he is loved by all South Africans: Blacks, mixed and whites sit together side by side in one of his concerts and that has not always been the case in a country where up until about twenty years or so ago, there was still a precise and distinct division between the different population groups. André had noticed that long before he conducted his first concert in the country where Jan van Riebeeck first colonized Cape Town back in 1652, and has had an age old bond with the Netherlands. "I did not know how the public would react to my first concerts here last year. But I wanted it to become like a big party for everyone. So I involved the "Houtbay Music Project", a place where children have a chance to develop and use their talents. These children come from the slum areas, and in as much as they can develop their talents, they also stay off the streets and that way are prevented from taking the wrong path. They also performed in Maastricht. Not a single child had a passport and a few did not even have shoes. For these children it has been a fantastic experience, and some of them are now real divas, and they conduct themselves accordingly. But I will continue to supper them" says André with a smile. In South Africa he also discovered singer Kimmy. "I was looking for a singer from here who could perform as a soloist. I found that person in Kimmy Skota. I asked her if she could sing a song that every South African would know and she chose "Thula thula Baba". I knew right away that we had to do that. And when we played that song during the concerts, everyone in the audience was crying. Most elderly South Africans grew up with a black Nanny who sang that song for the children. When Kimmy sang that song, it brought back those early memories. Can you imagine, people who grew up in a racist country all of the sudden felt tears well up when they heard a black singer sing a song. Very exceptional! I have never seen so many tears in a concert. And when I start to feel those emotions again, I well up too. I too cried a lot during my concerts in South Africa last year. This year there are those moments again that will give you goose bumps. All the way towards the end we will play "Sarie Marais" and every on sings along with that song. It is just as if the people are singing along with their National Anthem."
André is very proud of the fact that Nelson Mandela is one of his fans. "They told me that he enjoyed our concerts. Of course I immediately invited him, but he is too old and weak to do that again. But in order to do something special for this exceptional individual, we asked him which his favorite pieces are. Which he passed on. Especially for Mandela, we dove into our studio, recorded his favorite numbers there on a special CD, of which he has the only copy. He was so excited that his wife, Graca Madela, would come to our concert. But she too had to cancel due to the bad health of her husband," says André
2010 was an intense year for the successful orchestra leader. Not only did he become a grandfather of four in barely ten months, but at the same time he was also faced with serious health problems. Tours had to be cancelled and André was forced to a compelling rest. The sequences of huge successes, lots of traveling and hard work, suddenly came to an abrupt halt.
André: It was not a "burn-out" although I was well on the way to one. Earlier you would have called it "being over worked". All at once everything around me started to spin. My equilibrium gave out. I knew right away that something was wrong and I have really listened to my doctors. I had to rest and that is what I did. But it was extremely difficult. All sorts of thoughts go through your head. Your family, your company, the people working for you and the fans you have to disappoint. But it was a warning from my body which I took very seriously. When things started to improve, we took a look at the future. Together with my wife Marjorie, we decided how to continue on. We looked at our schedule and eliminated all the things which were taking up too much time. I could hardly ever say "No", but now I have to. An opening here, a lecture there, all in all very nice and fun to do, but I had to put a stop to that. It consumes too much time. Interviews with newspaper and magazines I almost never do any more. You were lucky" he says laughing.
ACTING LIKE A DIVA
During the period of his illness, André has become to appreciate his family, his 110 permanent employees and his fans even more. "Everyone was there for me. That has given me enormous support. The company of course suffered a tremendous loss, but due to all the support we knew we would prevail. Everything is running again, but a lot has changed. I rest more than before and delegate more. The stresses are still there, they have not changed. When one day you miss that, then something is definitely wrong. Marjorie, his wife, is often mentioned during this interview. He seems not to do anything without her; she is the driving force behind the scenes. Marjorie also ensures that André keeps both feet firmly planted on the ground. "Of course fame does that to you. But all the successes and attention from the fans is something we all worked very hard for to achieve, and have to continue to work for. If I would dare to exhibit just a little of a diva attitude, Marjorie would immediately bring that to my attention. But honestly, that will not be necessary. As soon as I return from a tour, normally I am in a local super market within the hour and then I am just André from Maastricht again. Everything is just back to normal," he says.
He is definitely not thinking about stopping. "I’ll do this until I drop, if I have anything to say about it. There are still too many nice things to do. For instance, I would dearly love to perform on the "Dam" in Amsterdam. That is really the square in the Netherlands. At the inauguration of the new King? If they ask me I would definitely not say no." He is now very busy with his new CD, titled "Let’s Dance". It will have nice dance music, like the ballroom classics. And that of course will also be incorporated in our concerts. I always like it when people spontaneously get up to dance. I always encourage that. I like to have contact with the people in the audience, that’s why the lights are always on so that I can see their faces.
This year there are still concerts scheduled for Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and the United States. In the Netherlands André and his orchestra will perform amongst others in Amsterdam, Arnhem and Heereveen, and of course in his own Maastricht, where between 15 and 24 July he will perform six open air concerts on the Vrijthof. The world famous violinist never envisions leaving Maastricht. Not even if he was offered a huge contract in a city like Las Vegas. "I do not think that Marjorie would ever want to leave Maastricht. So, if we would work for an extended period abroad, officially we would still be residing in Maastricht." He lives in a beautiful castle, "De Torentjes" (the little towers) of which the oldest parts date back to the thirteenth century. His company is based there too. "Do you know the main character of the comic strip, Kuifje (Tin Tin) who stands on the entrance road to the castle "Molensteen"? With huge eyes he stands there looking at that castle. As a youngster I wanted that too. When this little castle came up for sale, we were looking for a house. As a joke I told Marjorie: "We can live there too." To which she answered; "You’d better start selling lots more CD’s then." And that’s what I did."
Thank you to Ineke for sending this and John for ©Translating it