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Jun 7, 2019

André Rieu Wants To Bring Classical Music Back To The People


André Rieu wants to bring classical music back to the people – 
and to perform on the moon. Anita Singh met him in his castle
The Telegraph - June 7, 2019: If you have missed out on tickets this summer to see André Rieu, the best-selling classical musician on the planet, there’s no need to worry. He’ll be back next year. And the year after that. In fact, he might be here for all eternity.
Rieu, you see, is 69 but hopes to live to 1,000. “Yes! I would love to do it. I think it’s possible,” he says. He follows the work of Prof Aubrey de Grey, a British scientist who believes that the secret to living for ever is within our grasp. “I know what he’s working on and from the moment that he says, ‘OK, we are ready to trial,’ I’m there. I’m first. Hellooo!”
He announces this shortly after I arrive at his mini-castle in Maastricht – said to have belonged to Charles de Batz-Castelmore, the 17th century musketeer on whom Alexandre Dumas loosely based the character of d’Artagnan and who perhaps provided the inspiration for Rieu’s magnificent hair. He is an expansive host, welcoming me into the kitchen with a megawatt smile and a brick-sized slice of gooseberry meringue pie.
“This is where d’Artagnan had the last breakfast of his life before fighting for his king,” he explains. Does he feel a psychic connection to the musketeer? “I don’t believe in early lives and all that, but I think I could live like an earl, ha-ha-ha!”
In fact, his title is King of the Waltz. Maastricht is the location of the open-air concerts he has staged in the city square for the past 15 years. The rest of the time he tours the globe playing arenas, and he has sold 40 million CDs and DVDs. His concerts are a phenomenon. Audiences laugh and cry and dance in the aisles. With his Johann Strauss Orchestra, the biggest privately owned orchestra in the world, he conducts and plays the violin in a show that is pure entertainment. The music is a draw but the key is Rieu himself, radiating charm and bonhomie in his white tie and tails, setting female hearts aflutter.
There are some who think this party atmosphere and Rieu’s popular repertoire – The Blue Danube, Lara’s Theme from Dr Zhivago, a version of the Macarena in which a member of the orchestra whips off her ball gown and tap dances on a piano – are an affront to classical music. He thinks such opinions are sad. “I am a classical musician. I say that with all my honesty. But that doesn’t mean that I’m a dull person. Classical music is music that touches your heart. Bohemian Rhapsody is classical music for me.”
He has no truck with stuffy concerts where audience participation is frowned upon.
“When Verdi composed his Nabucco, the whole audience in Italy was singing. And then, I’m not a history man, but something happened; classical music went there and popular music went there” – he points in opposite directions – “and I don’t know why.” And that’s where he comes in. “I’m not travelling the world like a priest and bringing classical music back to the people… but in fact that’s what I’m doing.” British reserve disappears at his concerts, he says: “I make them feel at ease.”
People come to see him from all over the world. “They say, ‘We are from the Fiji islands and our dream was to come to your concert.’ It makes me proud.”
Do people propose at his concerts? He nods. “It’s really true. And also people in wheelchairs who stand up.” Really? “Yeah, you are sitting next to God, you know?” This is said with a knowing wink because Rieu is self-deprecating, despite superstardom and the fact that his website sells a jigsaw with a picture of his face on it.
You are a very handsome man, I tell him, because a few hours in the company of André Rieu makes one say things like this. “Thank you very much,” he beams. How does he enjoy his heart-throb status? “It’s good!” He has plenty of male fans, he notes, then adds with a twinkle in his eye: “But of course I look to the women. When I am on stage with my violin playing Elvis Presley, then I look them in the eyes, because that’s nice.”
He receives his fair share of marriage proposals but they are not serious, he says, because they know about Marjorie. She is his childhood sweetheart, the love of his life and wife of 43 years. What is the secret of their happy union? “First, we never argue. You can say, ‘Ugh, dull,’ but count your blessings. And have respect for each other and let each other have his and her life.” Marjorie does not tour with him but scripts the shows and is a partner in the business.
The son of a conductor, Rieu began violin lessons aged five and formed his first orchestra in his 20s, playing weddings and retirement homes. His professional breakthrough came when a Belgian radio DJ remixed one of his tracks and it was an unexpected hit. Then he was invited to perform Shostakovich’s Waltz No 2 at the 1995 Champions League final, a piece of music that featured in an insurance advert at the time. Watch that performance on YouTube; he has the crowd in the palm of his hand.
Next month, he will perform his 100th Maastricht concert, welcoming his millionth visitor, which is all good news for his bank balance, because he also owns the production company that beams the concerts into cinemas, and the travel agency that organises the package deals. “In the beginning you don’t realise you can do that yourself, so the money goes to others. And then you think, let’s do that differently.”
He cheerfully admits to financial mistakes, notably the time he built a replica of Vienna’s Schönbrunn castle, complete with ice rink and a carriage covered in actual gold, as a stage set to cart around Australia. It left him €34  million (£30 million) in debt. His error was to equate sales of his CDs and DVDs there with the number of people willing to see his shows. “I didn’t know that all the people buying them were the same people. I did a signing session and I thought, ‘Oh my God, that is the one lady who bought all the DVDs!’”
But he made the money back and now appears comfortably off. The castle, bought as a wreck 20 years ago, is his pride and joy and main source of expenditure. Rieu does not have diva tastes. His next holiday will be to England because he and Marjorie want to visit the locations in Midsomer Murders. His two luxuries when touring are a personal trainer, who puts him through thrice-weekly weight training sessions, and a red sofa – he has four of the latter, shipped ahead to different venues – on which he has a 90-minute power nap before concerts.
He would be a dream booking for Strictly Come Dancing. "They asked me, of course I said no because I had to be there for two months and I cannot leave my orchestra."He has never been invited to play at the Proms, but wouldn't accept anyway, the last night being too close to his shows.
Somehow we segue to his ambition to perform in space. ("Richard Branson promised me to build a hotel on the moon. Tell him to hurry".) And Elon Musk's theory that we are all living in a computer simulation. Rieu likes that idea. "I think there are endless universes the same as this. There are another two of us and another. Yes!" An infinite number of Andre Rieu's? What a thought.
 The Maastricht concert is in cinemas on July 27-28. Details: andreincinemas.com
He also tours the UK in April/May 2020

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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)

Maastricht 2012 ~ "André on The Theater Steps" by Bee

Maastricht 2012 ~ "André and Pierre on The Theater Steps" by Bee

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