Interview: André Rieu

Eva Mackevic

The violin phenomenon opens up about the love of his life, touring the world and the incredible healing powers of his music

"Listen, my father was a conductor and I went to all his concerts up until I was 16 or 17, so I think I heard all the classical music there is. But I only play the music that touches my heart. Perhaps you don’t believe me, or you think it’s a cliché but it’s really true. The music I play, I play it because I like it—that’s the only reason. And I know that if I like it, it’s most likely that the whole audience will like it too.”

André at Schönbrunn Palace

I’ve clearly touched a nerve. Many classical music critics have accused the King of Waltz of pandering to the masses with his high-spectacle concerts that include life-size ballroom stage sets, millions of balloons and confetti, and musicians in bright, puffy gowns performing such pieces as The Blue Danube or the theme to Titanic. It’s a topic that’s frequently brought up during interviews with André, so it’s no wonder that the man gets a bit defensive when I ask what he makes of some of the “heavier” music in the classical repertoire, such as Wagner or Beethoven.

"What happens very often is that people come to our concerts in a wheelchair and they walk home"

Nevertheless, the superstar violinist is a real musical marvel; during his 30-plus-year career, he’s sold over 40 million albums, won more than 500 Platinum Awards and plays roughly 100 sold-out shows every year, so much so that he was named world’s most successful male touring artist in 2009 by Billboard. People just can’t get enough of him.

At one of his famous Maastricht concerts

“I have the experience of 40 years and I know exactly how to melt people’s hearts. People propose to each other all the time at our concerts. I see it every night, all over the world, when we come on stage. In the beginning they just sit nicely next to each other, then, after the break, the husband will put his arm around his wife, and during the encore there’s nothing but kissing!” he laughs.

It’s true. Just watch a YouTube video of one of their live shows, and you’ll witness an audience caught up in a state of mass hysteria: unrestrained crying, hugging and kissing wherever you look. “It’s honestly not staged for the videos, it’s the truth,” claims André. In fact, that’s just the tip of the iceberg: “What happens very often is that people come to our concerts in a wheelchair and they walk home. So, the music is not only romantic, it’s healing! People dance in the aisles and they’re so happy that they throw away their [walking] sticks—it’s true. It gives them so much energy to be happy that this sort of things happen.”

 

Refraining from prodding for further details of these miraculous instances,

I ask the maestro about his own fairy-tale-like love story: his 40-year marriage to Marjorie Rieu—the mother of his two sons and long-time business partner. “We make all the decisions together. When I was young, I always wanted to marry a woman I could work with. I don’t know why, but it was like that. And I’m very glad I did. I can’t imagine Marjorie doing something else and saying, ‘Hello, there you are again, how was the concert?’ each time I come back home. No, we are very much involved in this thing together.”

With Australian icon, Dame Edna Everage

Marjorie was a German and Italian teacher before she got involved with the company some 30 years ago. Now, she looks after the creative aspects of the business and programming. But the secret to their rock-solid marriage might surprise you. “I must tell you, she never goes on tour with us, so I think the secret is that I’m always on tour. I mean, come on, sitting together on the couch your whole life—that’s impossible!” André asserts in his booming, avuncular tone.

Marjie, as he affectionately refers to her, was a major force that steered him in the right direction when he was just starting his professional career. “My father was very severe, and he always kept his head in his scores—I don’t remember him as a light, lovely father. I was one of six children and we all played an instrument. In my opinion, it was impossible to be something else, so we just did it. And when I started my professional life, I met Marjie and her influence on me meant that— together with my character and her influence—I play the music I play today. Before my father died, he saw what I did with my orchestra and he didn’t agree at all. He just said, ‘Ah, I didn’t educate you to do waltzes!’ But I simply like it, that’s what I want. It was hard on me.

“On the other hand, it made me who I am because I felt that this was my heart speaking and I had to follow my heart.”

"What happens very often is that people come to our concerts in a wheelchair and they walk home"

The family ties within the company don’t end with Marjorie: their son Pierre is the vice-president of André Rieu Productions, and the orchestra itself is a whole other story: there are more than 13 couples within it! However, as André himself humorously notes in his strong Dutch accent, it’s not just “a bit of hanky-panky”—most of the musicians have been with him for over 25 years and so, many of them met at the orchestra, fell in love, got married and had kids.

The Classical BRIT Awards 2010

“On tour, I’m like the father with my children. It’s like there are two families: there’s my private family and my big family, which is my orchestra. We have a rule that we never go away from home for longer than two weeks, and then we come back so the families can stay intact. That’s very important for me, you know? I’m a family guy. It would be easy to go away on tour for three months, but then everything would go kaput.”

On tour, André is extremely diligent about making sure that both of his families are as comfortable as possible. “We make sure that it’s well organised and we are all well fed, we have our own cooks, and everything is OK,” he says. You may find that his definition of “OK” is a bit on the extravagant side, though. André has 110 people on payroll and he always travels with his own technical crew, a personal trainer, a doctor and three cooks. He also brings his red sofa wherever he goes—he had four of them made and always takes a nap on it before a concert.

 

How does this man relax when he’s at home,

not busy bringing joy to people around the world with his music? Well, he doesn’t: “I don’t wind down. Really! People often say, ‘Oh, it must be so tiring, the touring schedules and so on.’ And I’ll tell you, I love going on tour because that’s my holiday. Everything is organised. The only thing I have to do is jump on the plane and then jump on stage and that’s it. At home, on the other hand, I have to take care that we have tours the next year and the year after, and organise interviews and all those sorts of things. At home, there’s much more work than there is on tour. I don’t have a manager, we do everything ourselves.”

André rehearses and fine tunes his orchestra during the GRAMMY SoundCheck

The only thing that keeps the maestro away from work is a burning passion for architecture. It seems appropriate that the King of Waltz lives in a massive castle built in 1452 in his hometown of Maastricht. The castle has 27 rooms and it is said that musketeer d’Artagnan had his last breakfast in André’s kitchen before he was killed on the ramparts of Maastricht in 1667. “I renovated it completely after I bought it and I’m still renovating it now because it’s an old castle, an old lady. When I finish renovating the front side, I’ll have to start again on the back side. But it’s nice, you know? I’m constantly building things and I love that. I think as long as you build, you live.”

With his beloved wife, Marjorie, and sons Pierre and Marc

It’s quite an inspiring motto coming from a man pushing 70—it’s no wonder he has no plans for retirement. “Marjorie always says, ‘André, you like to give.’ And giving takes a lot of energy. More than taking. But without the emotions, I couldn’t do it. I’m still extremely nervous when I go on stage and that’s because I want to build this interaction with the audience every night. I think classical music is so beautiful that it should be shared with everyone.” With his boundless energy and infectious vitality, there’s no doubt André will have people waltzing in the aisles for many years to come.

 

André Rieu’s 2018 Maastricht Concert “Amore—My Tribute To Love” is in over 500 cinemas on July 28 and 29. For details of your local cinema visit andreincinemas.com