Rieu, No longer a four letter word
The Limburger" July 7, 2002
Andre Rieu: orchestra leader, businessman, globetrotter, Limburger. For the cultural upper
class he is the Andre Hazes of the classical music. (Andre Hazes is a Dutch vocalist who
sings about life's dramas.) For his large public he is the most popular heir of Mozart, Strauss
and Beethoven. He has sold fifteen million CDs and he travels around the whole world with
his orchestra of fifty musicians.
Are you a superior violinist?
I am no acrobat on the instrument, no virtuoso who can do anything on a violin. I would have
to study five hours a day and that to me, is not worth it. I play what I am capable of and only if
I find it beautiful myself I will never play something because the crowd asks for it. In fact it is
the other way around. Millions of people, in all corners of the world, love the music I choose.
There are also people who think your is music commercial noise pollution.
The elite public and my professional brothers were disgusted with me when twenty or so
years ago I started my own salon orchestra and we played at the Hieringe Biete concerts in
Maastricht, According to them, I raped the classical music, was too conceited and only
wanted fame and fortune. While I- “with my hand over my heart,” only wanted make it more
lively and bring some humor into it. I wanted to make that boring classical music accessible
and enjoyable for a larger public.
Today in the year 2002, fifteen million of our CDs have been sold. My orchestra of 50
musicians and I perform 110 concerts a year. I have a total of 130 employees and we travel
all around the whole world making numerous TV-shows, and everywhere we go we get
praised exuberantly. The disgust of the past is turning more and more into admiration. Rieu
is no longer a four letter word. Believe me, I am not proud of the fact that I was right, but I am
proud that I made my dreams a reality, that I listened to my gut feelings and persevered. I
would have never done that for money. Never! When I left the Limburg Symphony
Orchestra my wife had to earn our living. Now we drive through Europe with thirteen trucks.
Three of these only hold chandeliers and carpets. I completely decorate every hall were we
perform; so my public feels good at my concerts. All this cost millions, which I could just as
easily spent privately.
Strike it rich?
There is of course a lot of money within our company, but all of it is invested back into our
music. We do everything ourselves, the concerts, the wardrobe, lights, sound,
transportation, CD recording, videos, marketing, and so on. It is so typical Dutch to always
start over money. Not long ago I saw Gert from Belgium by Barend en van Dorp. (Dutch TV
program) Gert has enormous success with the TV-dog Samson and the gnome Plop show.
And what where they talking about? About the fact that man makes so much money with his
show. I still hear the former Maastrichter theater director Kerstern say to me when we started
with the salon orchestra, you, you only want more money and more public.” Indeed that was
exactly my plan, to enable more people to enjoy classical music, and if you want to realize
unusual dreams you need money. But all that money has not changed me as a person. I am
still the same difficult little man I have always been.
Difficult little man?
I can be rather willful and opinionated.
Nevertheless many women are devoted to you. How does it feel as a man of 52 to be
I do not have to beat around the bush: it flatters your ego. When I was in high school the girls
from my class always took off with the other boys, and now suddenly many women adore
me. Am I monogamous? Yes, for the past 27 years I have been married to an inspiring
woman with a great sense of humor. The showbiz attention comes with the profession. You
have to play the Star, otherwise you don't sell any CDs, videos or concert tickets. For three
hours during our concerts we create a very romantic atmosphere. A healing world, with
beautiful women in classic evening gowns and men in tails. That can make the adoration run
Do clothes make the man?
No, there are many men who do not even look elegant in tails. On the other hand graceful
men can look elegant in a sweatshirt. The man makes the man; not his clothes.
What kind of man are you?
I am a go-getter and rather impulsive. I some ways I recognized myself in Pim Fortuyn, (Pim
Fortuyn was a Dutch maverick politician. He was blunt, outspoken and flamboyant.. He
was assassinated on May 6. 2002) I admired him very much. That man wanted to make
haste and like I did, wanted to break through the rusted establishment. My wife often
compares me to a team of four horses that she has to keep under control. I bubble over with
energy and optimism. When I was a child I already claimed that I would become 120 years
old. Day and night, I am busy with music, that is to say classical music. I never listen to any
other type of music. Not at home and not in the car. My father was the conductor of the LSO
and from childhood I have never heard anything but classical music. Names like Rex Gildo or
Roy Black did not mean anything to me as a child. Through my father in law, an escaped Jew
from Berlin, I became acquainted with Catherina Valente and operetta music. In that way I
also discovered waltz music and learned to appreciate it.
You would expect a musician to also be curious about other music currents?
Once in a while I hear something modern coming from my sons’ bedrooms, or when we are
at a party. But it really does not do anything for me. My live revolves around classical music.
Everything I do I really do find fantastic and fun. I have to prove myself every day, now just
like I did twenty years ago, but making music never feels like work. We never go on vacation,
at most a few days to the Schwartzwald. I am away from home 180 days a year, and then you
are happy when for once you can sit in your own garden But even then my thoughts are with
my work, looking for new pieces, thinking of new concepts.
How can you keep that up physically?
I run or I sleep. I start every day with jogging. We just returned from three weeks of concerts
in North America. There we had a separate bus full with exercise equipment And for the rest
I can sleep every moment of the day. Before concerts too, I always bring my red bench with
me everywhere I go. At five o'clock we do a sound check and from 5:45 till 7:00 I take a nap,
so that I can be full of energy on the stage.
Why are you so attached to your belongings?
It may sound a little preachy, but I can be away 180 times a year, because I have a home!
Elvis Presley did not feel at home anywhere, and the hotel life was his undoing. We have
completely decorated two buses with the private things of the orchestra members. I always
carry my own bench and make up table with me. I really am a home sweet home type of
man. We could easily tour three months through America, but we consciously do four times
three weeks. To be home regularly is important for every human being. No matter where we
perform in Europe, we return to Maastricht almost every evening. Up till 400 miles with the
buses, are we further away we fly back with our own Fokker airplane. I always travel with the
group, unless I have extra TV interviews, then I fly in my second plane back and forth.
Are you a good boss?
I adhere to the Japanese model. There the employer takes care of his employees for the
rest of their lives. I pay the highest salaries of all the orchestras, but I do demand devotion,
discipline and a sense of humor. Naturally, my musicians have to be able to play well, but I
also select them on their personality. People have to fit in with the clique, I intentionally use
the term clique, because we have to function as a team every time we perform on stage.
Even while we live in each others pockets during a tour of three weeks.
Not everybody lasts with you.
I have a sincere respect for my employees, but if I have to, I can be very strict and tough. I
am afraid I have had to fire some people. And sometimes there is some retaliation. But let
me make one thing clear, I will not let anybody demolish what I have created.
You are known as a perfectionist.
Indeed. But most of the time that is one of the pillars of success. When we just started with
the Salon Orchestra, we were to perform three evenings in Café 't Kneipke in Maastricht.
However there was a horribly bad piano, and although we needed the money badly, for two
days I refused to play. Then gossip starts about conceit. I once heard that producer Robert
Weiss during the filming of ‘The Sound of Music waited for three days with the whole crew for
the exactly the sunset he wanted. I am the same way. I always go for the maximum. And
when that succeeds, then you feel the ultimate bliss.
Do you then cry?
Yes, then I can cry. But that is not the only time. When I see ‘'The Sound of Music'’ the tears
appear. Even by the eighty-fourth time.
Why that particular movie?
It is a masterpiece. But I am sure that it also has something to do with the fact that as an
eleven year old boy I instantly fell in love with Julie Andrews. (The governess, who helped
the von Trapp children escape to Switzerland during the war. ) That was the first time that I
lay awake at night. The second time was due to the mortgage expenses, when my wife and I
bought our first house in the Daalhof district” The third time was when I built my new
recording studio in Maastricht. Then you are talking about millions.
How important is Maastricht for you?
I am and feel very much a Limburger, and particularly a Maastrichtenaar. It is a fantastic city.
By every concert, no matter where in the world, I mention the name Maastricht at least five
times. And when I have to be interviewed for TV, I always let the camera people come to
Maastricht. I have in the past years received many prices and rewards, but nothing has
moved me so much as the ‘Limburg Award’, and the honorary Citizenship of Maastricht. For
the simple reason that I received those awards from the people here.
Still you are starting a courtship with Roermond?
For some years I will give a number of open air concerts in Roermond. There were
organizational problems on the Maastrichtse Vrijthof and in Roermond they have a good
concept with the Maasplassen event. These concerts, however are completely separate
from the idea to give “Rieu and Friends concerts”, with people like Pavarotti and such. Those
are in the first instance meant only for the German ZDF.
What does you public really look like?
Literally everybody. From young to old and from cleaning lady to professor. The most
beautiful mix you can imagine. Not the snobs who try to analyze the music. but people who
just like me go with their feelings. I distrust people who say that you need to be educated
Those are the same people who blame you for shortening ‘Bolero van Ravel’ from
fifteen minutes to six minutes.
Mind you, that is not a matter of just chopping of a piece. It takes years to get up the nerve to
do something like that. I think the composition itself has not been affected. I have just made
it more accessible. I popularize music. I do not modify it, like you would do if you would put
a popular drumbeat under Air from Bach or Romance’from Beethoven. There will always be
people who do not agree with me. After twenty years I tend to think. So be it. I live by one
motto: Never give up., keep going!”