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Profile of Waltz Violinist Andre Rieu

Violinist Andre Rieu on the secrets of his success (eye contact!), the importance of connecting to one's audience, even in a sold-out basketball arena, and why he wants to be the first violinist to play a waltz in space

 

The King and His Court
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Here's a suggestion. Whenever speaking with superstar violinist and conductor André Rieu, never—repeat, never—make the mistake of calling his performance a "show," as in the phrase, "I'm looking forward to your show this weekend." Consider that a bad idea. "It's not a show, it's a concert," Rieu tells me, warmly but firmly, as we meet in the lobby of the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, two weeks before the Toronto launch of his spectacular multimillion-dollar . . . um . . . winter concert tour.

"A show," he explains, as we sit in the hotel's twinkling, Christmas-light filled restaurant, "is when you go to Broadway and see 25 girls with the same legs doing everything in synch with each other. A show has people pretending to be something they are not. That's a show. A concert is something different. In a concert, all of the visual things are not the point. In a concert, the emphasis is all on the music."

I see. That's good to know. Perhaps what confused me was the massive, onstage replica of Vienna's Schoenbrunn Castle, Rieu's enormous traveling set that measures 410 feet wide, 100 feet deep, and 115 feet high. It comes complete with a pair of real ice rinks and a grand ballroom measuring nearly 900 square feet, all decked out with shimmering golden chandeliers, an authentic hand-painted ceiling, splashing fountains, and 14 carriages pulled by 36 horses.

By all estimates, it's the largest set ever built for a touring . . . concert.

Rieu's months-long world stadium tour is appropriately titled A Romantic Viennese Night and takes place in sold-out basketball arenas. The Dutch violinist is performing with an orchestra and choir numbering more than 60 musicians, plus a crack squad of professional dancers trained in the art of the Viennese waltz. Such grandeur and razzle-dazzle is part of the reason Rieu is the one classical violinist in the world who can actually sell out a stadium-size arena, and do it all over the world.

Whether you call his performances concerts or shows, one thing is clear: André Rieu (pronounced rÄ“-OO), also known as the Waltz King, has brought an extraordinary amount of attention and mass appeal to classical music, specifically the waltzes of Johann Strauss. Though some have blasted him for his meticulously staged performances, lion-like mane of flowing hair, and his eye-candy-filled traveling ensemble—dubbed the Johann Strauss Orchestra—staffed by attractive, disproportionately female musicians garbed in bright, multicolored gowns, no one can deny that Rieu has done for classical music what Liberace once did for classical piano, and what Bruce Springsteen still does with rock songs about cars and girls. He has starred in several hit PBS-TV specials and a few months ago had four CDs on Billboard's classical music chart.

 

 

Born in Maastricht, in the Netherlands, the 58-year-old Rieu grew up in a family of musicians, including his father, who was the conductor of a local orchestra and who encouraged his large family to attend his concerts on a weekly basis. André began his training on the violin at the age of five, eventually studying at the Conservatoire Royal in Liège and the Conservatorium Maastricht, where his teachers included Jo Juda and Herman Krebbers. From 1974 to 1977, he attended the conservatoire in Brussels, where he studied under André Gertler.


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