Waltz’s sex symbol steams up Cape Town.

Posted: April 28, 2010 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
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Interview with André Rieu,

by Astrid Stark 

He has sold more than 30 million albums globally, and in February this year, violinist and conductor, André Rieu’s collection of Strauss waltzes, Forever Vienna, shot to number 2 in the British Pop Charts.   He has sold 300,000 DVD’s in South Africa alone and yearly he packs stadiums with around 700,000 audience members.  He lives in a real castle in Maastricht of which the kitchen dates back to 1462. And it is even said that his Stradivarius violin has its own bodyguard.  Billowing clouds of volcanic ash might ground planes across the globe but it cannot stop Rieu from coming to South Africa for his concerts in April and May. 

Andre Rieu - photo by Trevor Fish

Andre Rieu - photo by Trevor Fish

However, when Rieu started out in 1987, with his very own Johann Strauss Orchestra, no record company would touch him.  “They did not even want to come to a show,” Rieu remembers, “’Waltzes’, they laughed.  I told them you must come and see how the people stand on their chairs and dance.  But they told me to go back to my grandmother and play for her.”

Rieu was born in the Netherlands in 1949.  His father was a conductor and the whole family played musical instruments.   It was at the age of 5 that he took his first violin lesson and he fell in love with both the instrument and his teacher. “She was 18 years old, very blond, and very pretty.” He smiles.

It took Rieu ten years to finally make a breakthrough.  A secretary of a big company saw his performance and told her boss to record him.  In 1995 he performed for 60 000 people in a football stadium in Amsterdam.  “It was for an advert,” Rieu remembers. “And it gave me a lot of new fans.  That year I sold 850 000 CD’s in Holland alone.  Only Michael Jackson topped me with 900 000.  But this breakthrough came at the right time.  I don’t think I would have handled it too well if it came sooner.”

Rieu visited Cape Town for a brief pre-tour publicity campaign.   “It’s an incredible city and the people are fantastic,” Says Rieu.  “I like to travel and see the world, but not like a tourist.  I would never come to see the Table Mountain. Oh, that is Table Mountain.  I want to experience something. The most important reason why I travel is to make contact with the audience through my music.  That is my main goal.  Of course I love to think music is the most fantastic form of art. It goes straight to your heart. Much more than any other art… I think.”  Then he laughs, “Of course I will say that because I am a musician.”

Rieu’s entourage for his Cape Town concerts consists of 110 people and he is bringing all 50 members of his orchestra.  “We will work with some South African artists but I am not giving away the surprise,” He says.  “I can tell you that I will do a tribute to Michael Jackson.  We’ll do Heal the World and there will be a choir from Bloemfontein.  During the encore I will play some South African music – for a bit of local flavour.” 

Travelling with a 50 strong orchestra with luggage and equipment through airports, customs and stations must be tricky?  “I have a 130 people on my payroll to organise this.” Says Rieu.

His agenda is hectic.  He travels and performs for about half of the year.  “Yes, but burn-out is not an option,” He replies, “This is what I want.  I have my own orchestra so I don’t have to go from one orchestra to another.  A performance is almost three hours but we find it very energising.  And we need a lot of wine to come down,” He laughs.  “At the end of a concert we all sit together.  We eat something and talk and laugh.  Our concerts end with a party.  We are like a family.”  

And indeed, on his website you will find the orchestra and his entourage’s favourite recipes to try out.  You’ll also find Andre Rieu T-shirts, concerts scarves, keyrings, playing cards, jigsaw puzzles and even a scaled down model replica of the Andre Rieu and Strauss Orkest’s tour bus for collectors.

Success often brings controversy and Rieu’s music style has been slammed by the director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra as ‘schlagermusik’ meaning sweet, sentimental, catchy pop.   Some critics call him the ‘King of Waltz’, and others the ‘King of Schmaltz’ for his expensive and enormous theatrical staging of his concerts.  He encourages his audience to waltz in the isles and to clap and sing along. His approach is not unlike that of Luciano Pavarotti who was also criticised by some for bringing pop music into a classical domain.   Rieu is resolute, “You know that solemn atmosphere in the concert hall with classical music? With us, it is simply not there. My orchestra consists of young, enthusiastic musicians, who put their heart and soul into the music every evening when they play. At one of our concerts you’ll see me and the orchestra, and the audience too, all having a lot of fun together.”

What may Cape Town audiences expect from his concert? “I hope people will come to my concert and bring their hearts, He says.  “I will bring my heart and we can open each other and we will make a fantastic evening.” 

After South Africa, Rieu will perform in Austria, the USA, Canada, the Netherlands, the UK, Ireland and Australia; to name but a few. Oh and he also dreams of being the first man to perform a classical concert on the moon!  Rieu will be at the Grand West Arena from 1-3 May.  Bookings may be made through www.computicket.com  and prices range from R400 to R1050.

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