[blockquote]Interview by Chrissy Iley. Source: The Telegraph[/blockquote]
The wild-haired, modern-day Strauss on his plan to get the whole world waltzing − at any cost.
The second I enter Andre Rieu’s Hollywood hotel suite a camera is pointed at me. It belongs to a television crew which follows him at all times. Rieu, it seems, is always on, always the showman.
Rieu was once just a violinist in a classical orchestra in Holland; now he’s a kind of high priest of the waltz who presides over a global business empire. Last year, when he toured with his Johann Strauss Orchestra, his shows outsold any other male touring artist in the world, including Bruce Springsteen. Last year his album Forever Vienna reached No2 in the British pop chart, the highest ever showing for a classical record; in all he has sold more than 22million albums. The show is quite a spectacle. He plays his violin and conducts an orchestra that contains ladies in full crinolines. There are always thousands of flowers and hundreds of balloons. He has also toured with horses, ice rinks and an entire castle which was rebuilt for each performance. But more of that later.
He’s Dutch, 61, with long, flowing rock-star hair and no visible signs of a comb over or transplant. His eyes are beyond piercing. They can look at you from the stage and find you in an audience. And he can make you waltz.
Rows of ordinary people who go to his shows with no intention of dancing invariably find themselves swaying and mesmerised, pied piper style, into waltzing. Rieu also plays tunes like The Blue Danube, Edelweiss and I Could Have Danced All Night; anything, he says, that “touches the heart.”
The man himself is so warm you imagine him always dipped in sunlight. He lives in a castle in Maastricht where the real D’Artagnan, whom Dumas’s character was based on, was said to have had his last breakfast before he died in battle serving Louis XIV.
As a child he used to take piano lessons in the castle, but he dreamed of living in it and filling it with chandeliers. And this is his other extraordinary quirk: he’s the god of positive thinking; if he imagines it happening he somehow makes it so. “I’m an unhealable positive optimist,” he says.
So what happens if things go wrong, he must feel not just disappointed but devastated? “That depends on what’s gone wrong. I had this huge financial crisis when I made a castle to tour with and sent it to Australia a few years ago. We copied it room for room from a Viennese castle. It was so beautiful. Playing in it I thought Strauss must have felt like this.” He raises his head and opens his arms like a lion taking the sun.
His son Pierre, who is with us today, was the castle’s architect. He looks just like his father, younger, without the wild hair. “Without him it wouldn’t have been done,” Rieu says. Pierre interrupts: “Without me there wouldn’t have been a financial crisis trying to build an exact replica of a castle.”
Rieu says: “No, no, no. Without you it wouldn’t have existed. It brought us a financial crisis and gave us media attention that you couldn’t pay for. After the castle we were so famous in Australia that we were able to get a record deal in the UK.” Indeed they are signed with industry giants Universal.
So what exactly happened with the castle? “We started to build one but it had to be scrapped because the fire people wouldn’t pass it. We started another one and discovered that the ticket sales were so huge that we had to build another one to play back to back otherwise we wouldn’t have time to take it down and rebuild it. So we had three castles: the scrapped fire hazard one and the two because of the ticket sales,” Rieu says.
“So, when things go wrong there is always a positive side. The bank people were very concerned, but also very helpful and I was on the front of Billboard and sold more tickets than any other male artist. So that was not so bad.”
That was in 2008. Last summer he had another crisis. He had to postpone his sold-out British arena tour because he had a sudden illness. A viral infection of the vestibular nerve which left him unable to stand up. “Yes, it was a real
crisis. I was lying in my bed and suddenly the whole room started to shake.
“I couldn’t stand up. It was a shock to everybody. And now I’m here again, standing on the stage. I see it as a positive thing because immediately the night it happened I started to change my life. My wife and Pierre’s as well.” Marjorie, his wife of 37 years, manages his concerts and creates the sets and costumes.
Ordered to rest, he spent three months in his castle. He has an orangerie where he likes to sit and watch his collection of rare butterflies. He designed and built the butterfly house himself. “That was always a dream. Other people might want a Ferrari, but I wanted a butterfly house. I built it together with a blacksmith. We designed it together.”
The virus was a wake-up call, but he still seems fairly unstoppable. “Somebody up there told me I needed a rest. It was a shock. I’ve never been ill in my life. I mean I might have had a cough or something, but when I went on stage I was always OK. Maybe I believed that I could go on and nothing would ever happen to me. Perhaps it was a warning that I could have had a stroke or something much worse. So it was something telling me: ‘Andre, come back to your roots and just do what you like to do, and that’s making music.’ I stopped all the rest.”
The rest included various building projects and new businesses and frequent public appearances. Now he says he’s concentrating on his number one aim: reviving 19th century waltz music.
“The waltz is a very important part of my life,” he says. “It’s a very important way for me to express my positiveness, bringing humour to the world. The waltz can be sad and at the same time uplifting. You have to see life from both sides, and the waltz encapsulates that. If you’re in my audience you give yourself to me and the waltz will grab you.”
If he wasn’t making music what would he do? “I’d be an architect because I feel that building and music are similar. I’m building on stage. I’m building up an audience that loves music. I think as long as you build you live. The Emperor Hadrian said that, and he built a very long wall. In Maastricht, we are building the whole time. I have carpenters and construction people on my payroll.”
Rieu is a strange mix: a laid-back person who pays excessive attention to detail. And it’s hard not to love his eccentricity. He once said he planned to play a concert at the North Pole. He wanted people from all over the world to come to get attention for global warming.
“I would earn no money but I’d very much like for the polar bears to waltz. They do dance, you know.” He is an avid conservationist and peace lover. He wants Israelis and Palestinians to waltz together to his tunes.
His optimism is indeed relentless. He tells me when he was first starting out he got invited to a meeting with a promoter in New York, so Rieu flew to the United States for a meeting.
“Then we got a call saying could we do a conference call, which we could have done from home, and he was two blocks down the road. A lot of people would say ‘why weren’t you angry?’ I would say, why would I jeopardise nice concerts and disappoint my audience? And I didn’t want to feel I’d wasted the money on the ticket. So I took the call and it was the best thing. “I suppose it takes a belief in yourself, something that no one can take away so you don’t feel diminished by these things.”
His father was a conductor of classical music and raised Andre to respect its traditions. But his music is not traditional classical, he changes time signatures to make everything waltzable.
“I was convinced that it must be possible to play music with more feelings and more love,” he says. “They always said: ‘Poor Andre, he’ll never be anything’.”
Rieu’s father died 14 years ago, just as the Strauss Orchestra was taking off. He doesn’t see his mother often and she met her great grandchildren for the first time a few weeks ago.“My mother would always say to me, don’t look people in the eye. And that’s what I do every single night on stage: I communicate.”
He met Marjorie when he was 11 and she was 13. Even at that young age, he says he knew she was “the one”. A former teacher, Marjorie financed the start of his orchestra. “I wanted an equal. When Marjorie gave birth to Pierre I can still remember, it was two in the morning and at nine she was there with her agenda and her phone.”
Rieu is also very interested in space travel and other universes, and enthuses about an Oxford professor who claims that “in five years we will be able to stay alive forever. I would definitely do it. Imagine the wisdom you’d have with 2,000 years experience.
“People have said perhaps I’m the reincarnation of Strauss,” he continues. “I don’t know about that. But my whole youth I felt that something was not right. That I was here in this family but I was different.” Does he feel a bit of an alien? “Yes, perhaps.”
That night in concert he was fully himself. His long hair flowing. His violin zigzagging passionately. He strides an incredible line – sentimental but heartfelt. And he does look you in the eyes. I watch him watch me arrive late and see where I’m sitting among 40,000 people. Giant screens on either side of him show members of the orchestra.
He tells us that one blue crinolined lady has won her battle with breast cancer; applause; music saved her life; more applause. Then a few tears. The waltzes keep on coming along with Michael Jackson tunes turned into waltzes. And by the end of the concert the half of the audience that is not weeping is out of its seats waltzing.
The DVD ‘Andre Rieu Live in Dublin’ and the CD ‘Moonlight Serenade’ are out now. His UK tour begins April 19 in Newcastle: www.andrerieu.com
Interview by Chrissy Iley. Source: The Telegraph