The question my mother made me ask André Rieu

He plays only the best bits, and he’s her favourite classical performer ever

27 June 2015

9:00 AM

27 June 2015

9:00 AM

When I first encountered the global phenomenon that is André Rieu, I had my heart set on hating him. If that seems unkind, you have to understand that I had been forced to watch hour upon hour of his concerts on the Sky Arts channel that is all but dedicated to him and plays on a constant loop in my parents’ home. The moment my mother discovered the classical music impresario, our lives were never quite the same. Every time I went home to visit, I would find her glued to the television watching Rieu conducting an orchestra full of ladies in crinoline dresses every colour of the rainbow. And she was not just watching as the Dutchman conducted while playing his violin (somehow he does both simultaneously) — she was swaying from side to side as she sat transfixed on the sofa. After a while my father gave up and watched with her. Rather touchingly, I found them both swaying as Rieu conducted Viennese waltzes.


Nevertheless, I started to worry that my mother had been hypnotised by subliminal messages being transmitted beneath the strains of the ‘Blue Danube’. ‘I hope he’s not telling her to send money to the Classical Artists Social Housing fund (please make cheques payable to: CASH),’ I fretted, for such was Rieu’s apparent power. She seemed to have no control over herself while ‘André’, as she took to calling him, was on the telly. ‘Oh André!’ she would exclaim, if a glimpse of an advert for the man came on while we were attempting to watch something on another channel. And that would remind her to switch over to Sky Arts and off we would go again with the waltzes and the crinolines and the flowers and the balloons, and sometimes the horses being trotted around the arena in time to the Radetzky March as audiences full of pensioners gasped in ecstasy, while my parents swayed with delight.

André Rieu — pronounced Reer — conducts an orchestra called the Johann Strauss Orchestra. They play the popular classics we all secretly like better than the more challenging pieces we pretend to favour. They also perform tunes from the shows and the movies, anything that ‘speaks to the heart’, as Rieu, 65, says. Imagine cheesy-listening French pianist Richard Clayderman only older and wiser, with wavier hair and a matinée idol smile so disarming it could effect a truce between Russia and Ukraine.

His shows regularly outsell any other male touring artist in the world, including Bruce Springsteen. His album Forever Vienna reached No. 2 in the British pop chart, the highest ever showing for a classical record; in all he has sold more than 22 million albums and turned classical music into a stadium act.

Rieu started playing the violin aged five. As a student, he decided to pursue the waltz form, and in 1987 formed an orchestra with 12 members. Today, he performs with up to 150 musicians plus guest stars. Rieu is now known as the Waltz King. He is a global businessman, a seemingly unstoppable brand.

Under duress, I arranged tickets for my parents to see his show at Wembley last year. I went along through some morbid sense of curiosity about exactly how much schmaltz a person could absorb before dissolving into a pool of molten sentimentality on the floor. To my utmost horror, I loved it. I abandoned myself to the joy of listening to ‘the best bits’. After ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ and ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’, life didn’t seem so bad. Abandon yourself to André, I realised, and he will make you happy. Goodbye cynicism. Hello crinolinicism. The clincher was the sight of my mum and dad waltzing in the aisles.

In a few weeks, they will be in the front row at the extravaganza that is his annual open-air concert in Maastricht. They rarely travel abroad these days, but are getting psyched up to board a plane to ‘go to André’, much as a couple of devout pilgrims might plan a trip to Lourdes. All of which led me to ask Mr Rieu’s publicist if the great man would grant me audience.

He could not, sadly, see me at home in his castle — he lives in a castle, keep up. But he did agree to answer my questions by email.

I ask him if he is pleased that he confounds the music critics by playing only the tunes people most want to hear. ‘I choose the music I love and it’s wonderful to see that the audiences love it too,’ he says. ‘Isn’t it strange to think that an artist, just because he is successful, can’t be good? I want to be close to my audience. I communicate with the people, I look them into the eyes. I try to make them forget their triste and boring everyday life.’

His touring schedule is insane, with half the year on the road. How does he stay in one piece with a schedule that would finish off a rock star? ‘I do a lot of sports, I try to eat healthy and of course the music keeps me full of energy,’ he says. ‘I do not work, I have fun. I think that’s the secret. And I never trash hotel rooms.’ He has said that when he is not performing, he doesn’t listen to music. Coals to Newcastle, I suppose. But does he ever long for a time in the past when music was pure pleasure? ‘Music has always been first and foremost a pleasure to me. Always. As a five-year-old I fell in love with my beautiful 18-year-old blonde violin teacher. So I practised a lot just to impress her.’

The records he would pick for his desert island are: ‘The Beautiful Blue Danube’, Ravel’s ‘Pavane pour une infante défunte’, Abba’s ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and Bette Midler’s ‘The Rose’. Imagine hearing those four titles in sequence: that’s Rieu for you.

Does he see any tension between having artistic integrity and making $50 million a year? ‘I own the biggest private orchestra in the world and do not receive funds from any government at all. I have approximately 100 people on the payroll and their families depend on our work. I think that’s pretty unique in the musical world. Every banker would tell you it’s absolutely insane and way too expensive to own an orchestra.’

He seems down to earth for someone Richard Branson has purportedly booked to play at his hotel on the moon, if and when it gets built. What grounds him? His wife, Marjorie, who runs his company, and his two sons, he says. They keep his ego ‘in check’. I ask him if he knows he is a major sex symbol for ladies of a certain age. He is too modest to reply.

It is time to lay my cards on the table. My mother will never forgive me if I don’t. The question my mother would like to ask is: ‘Your wife must be a very special lady. Do you take her with you on tour?’

‘My wife is a very special lady,’ he says diplomatically. ‘We’ve been married for 40 years now and she’s the love of my life. Without her, I would be in the gutter.’ This wasn’t quite the answer my mother hoped for, but when I tell her it elicits an ‘Aah!’ Naturally.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

André Rieu’s 2015 Maastricht concert will be broadcast via satellite in 500 cinemas across the UK on 18 July (www.cinemalive.com).

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Show comments
  • Sue Smith

    Oh gawd; I nearly threw up reading this!!! Marjorie is the “love of his life” aye? A sex symbol of classical music, with beautiful women in abundance…yeah, right!!

    He may have learned the violin from age 5 but he’s still a bog-standard fiddle player who wouldn’t get a gig in a medium-standard orchestra!! Truly. Listen to it. OMG.

    But if people get their rocks off listening to the strains of kitsch then who am I to criticize THEM. Andre should know better!! That he doesn’t and makes millions from it makes me think he chooses not to think about the music he’s playing. He says he plays “only the music I love”. From what I can see, the man needs to get out more!!

    I wouldn’t want to hear this rubbish in a nursing home, even if reduced to sipping sago pudding through a straw!! Kill me now if that’s all I can look forward to.

    • right1_left1

      You are are snotty nosed snob.

      Andre Rieu has understood that amongst the general public many are sick to death of listening to trendy foul mouthed degenerate incomprehensible rubbish which has value only because snotty nosed snobs believe so.

      The fact that you cannot recognise the joy and pleasure he brings to his audience only demonstartes how blinkered you are
      I despise with a passion people like you.
      I hope you read this before it is censored.

      You make me angry.
      i express that anger.
      It is long overdue that supercillious cultural authoritarians were thrown into the pigsty to grovel in material best suited for their outlook.

      • Andrew Murr

        I quite agree right1_left1. Sue deserves a good rollicking for her snide remarks. They are offensive and off putting.

        • Bromeliad Twenty

          Go and post some more to Mirusia’s website, you sick stalker. Or she’ll think you are not friends anymore, lolol!

      • Sue Smith

        Everything else is OK then?

      • Bromeliad Twenty

        Why do anothers opinions make you angry? Are you afraid that your enjoyment will be less because some people say they don”t like Rieu? It’s not healthy to live in this word with a view like that. Now run bck to your little harmony parlour and complain a bit more about how mean we all are. It’s hilarious.

        • right1_left1

          Its the supercillious self regard, usually unexpressed, that makes me angry.

          People like Smith and possibly you are afraid to express judgement and emotion about anything unless at the same time you can reveal how superior your insights are,


          Isn’t Wagner wonderful when in fact sheet after sheet of his music is boring in the extreme
          The voice parts are beyond insufferable
          Atonal dissonent forgettable dreary dirges.
          Buried inside is at least one great melody Liebes Tod. Old Richard even manages to extend that beyond what is reasonable. Even Bolero is much much too long.

          Listen to Lulu by Alben Berg.
          Many snots proclaim that partiular blackboard scratching horror.The truth is that even the snots hardly ever hear it The peeps never even get past the first opening ‘cat has had his tail stood on’ screech.
          In Berg the singers could sing anything and so long as a phrase fnished at about the right time no one would ever know.
          In fact the snots if they did rcognise it may claim they heard a wonderful insightful inmprovisation.
          The nitwits.

          As Prince Charlie said Monstrous carbuncles etc (I cant remember the rest.)

          Lots of squiggles and blotches along with distorted imagery which has enormous appeal to the snots because they can demonstrate THEIR expertise by expressing all kinds of claptrap about triangualr faces and women with boobs all over the place.

          Then we arrive at the piece de resistance.
          Multi culturalism, Race, Religion and diversity in society.
          Here our snots reveal how dishonest they are by lying through their teeth about such things.
          Brief ‘cos this post is already too long !

          That is why I am angry
          I ask you to think of those cartoons where a bull is snorting with a threatening look on his face.
          Well I direct such looks to you and Smith

          • right1_left1

            Further comments on the snots.

            Isnt it revealing that for all their self proclaimed skills even now they cannot recognise whether a given Van Meer painting is a forgery or not.
            I believe the forger got sent to jail which in truth is where the snots should be.
            They are equivalent to city spivs selling potentially worthless investment packages.

            As for double blind tests on so called fine wine.
            Predictive results no better than chance.
            Tell them that this wine is Chateau Neuf de Crap and off they go. wiffle waffle blah blah blah.etc ad nauseum.

            Needles to say the BBC employs many of these types.

            I must mention Waiting for Godot.
            Need I say more ? !!

          • Sue Smith

            So full of hatred, you poor thing. I feel sorry for you, when there are so many wonderful things to be enjoyed on your hate list. I guess you’re feeling pretty confronted by my postings. Could be they have revealed to you something about yourself which you just don’t like.

            Sad class warrior. You know, this is one fight you’re never going to win.

          • right1_left1

            Mzzzz Smith is a cod psychologist as well.
            I hope you fall of yoor trick cycle and come to your senses.

            I suggest you go and sit on one of the points on the Sydney Harbor bridge roof and repeatedly sing a turgid chorus from a totally forgettable part of a Wagner opus.probably in 12 64 time

            Too true I’m a class warrior.
            Said snots have ruind the UK
            Take Judi Dench and Helen Mirren and let ’em read poetry to the Abo’s.
            I was informed recently by a native OZ that Abo’s is an unacceptable term.
            I dont care.
            Abo’s are useless.

          • Sue Smith

            REALLY revealing comments about your myriad disturbances.

    • Andrew Murr

      I know people are entitled to their opinion, but Christ, it doesn’t entitle you to spoil it for everybody with sickening and off putting comments like yours. I on behalf of all Andre’ Rieu fans suggest that you shut up, OK.

    • kermit


      • Sue Smith

        Kermit, I completely agree about the freedoms people have. I just dissent when people say this music is “quality” and “good” when these value judgements clearly don’t apply to Rieu’s music. Anybody who knows only a little bit about serious music will tell you Rieu’s violin playing is bog standard and the music is about as ‘interesting’ as a bowl of porridge. Wallpaper is another image which comes to mind. Apart from that, of course people are entirely at liberty to find it enjoyable and even (God forbid) uplifting. And to make ‘relativist’ statements about it being better than head-banging foul rock is hardly a ringing endorsement!!!!!!!!!

        And you can all call me a snob if it makes you feel better.

        • right1_left1

          Go and sit bolt uprght in an uncomfortable chair and endure the nervous coughs of fellow sufferers all the while deluding yourself that as an example Mahler symphony gave you pleasure.
          Other than the Adagietto from symphony 8 (I think) Mahler’s music appleals to nobody..except of course the snots. or music students.

          Then relax and watch ‘live ‘ Rieu playing Intermezzo from whats ‘is name Cavaleria Rusticana followed by Amigo para siempre with his tenors then Carlia Maffioletti’s superb achingly funny interpertation of the Doll song by the French bloke then say Old Comrades and such marches.
          then report back to me and admit you are wrong wrong wrong..

          Incidently Rieu writes the arrangements of much that he plays.
          He does overdo the Blue Danube a bit but nobody is perfect.

          Before you leave Rieu’s concert experience the happiness of all around you. Its not difficult to relax now and then

          Uknown and derided by experts…popular beyond measure with the masses.
          How the experts must be miffed about that !!!!

          • Sue Smith

            George Gershwin is one of my all-time favourite composers. I dislike intensely Mahler, but Strauss waltzes….um, they’re for dancing. I lived in Vienna and have all the experience I need of world class music, sans Rieu and those tacky Strauss and Mozart concerts laid on for the tourists. What a shame you must sit back in the UK and spew hatred.

          • right1_left1

            I was in Vienna recently.
            Saw some magnificent architecture which has stood the test of time and which the snots cant do anything about.

            What is your opinion of the New Year’s day concert in Vienna ?
            All of the light music you despise is played incuding the Radetzky March
            How about that then ?

            I was also recently in Paris where the snots have managed to install and presumably admire a glass inverted triangular monstrosity at the top ened of I think the Jardin de Tuilerie.
            Completely ruins the aesthetics of the surrounding buildings.

            Shoenberg did for music what the condition the elephant man suffered from did for aspects of human beauty..

            You now come across as a teacher.
            You know what is said about teachers.
            Like critics observers and reporters of art or even science they can only basically admire themselves.

            we have a wonderful advertising slogan that should be understood by everybody.
            Unspoiled by progress.

            Surely you must have some good points.?

          • Sue Smith

            Take your tablets; you’ll feel better. Why not try some Andre Rieu – he’s good for the nerves too, I’m told.

          • right1_left1

            Rieu is able to extract beautiful sounds from his violin.
            Unfortunately I dont know the names of many but listen to
            The theme from the godfather( i think its called that)
            Likewise the titanic.
            Love theme from romeo and Juliet.
            and many many many others.

            Even his somewhat cheesy intro to the Merry widow , where he talks admiringly to a female, the sound is wonderful.

            Offenbach wrote the Doll song.
            Listen/watch and repent.

            Your musical sensitivity has been diminished by the screech of a kookaboro (sp?)
            You do not have to have extreme technical virtuosity to produce beautiful music.

            On that score many snots say Yuja Wang (I think she is superb, short skirts heels and all ) is too mechanical and technical.
            Trusts a snot to criticise anything poplar.

            Listen to her playing Scarlatti sonata in g minor.and then a romantic piano concerto.and then do something awful to a snot !

  • Hermine Funkington-Rumpelstilz

    Andre Rieu was for grannies twenty-five years ago. Who does he cater for now?

    • Bob John

      Don’t be so cynical! I have several of his CDs and DVDs and they are superb. He has a brilliant talent for uniting the audience and giving them a truly great time without the need for booze, sex and swearing.

      • Sue Smith

        Your point about booze, sex and swearing is a good one. However, the anodyne nature of Rieu is more like wallpaper than anything else and there are plenty of spaces in the middle ground to assauge your feelings about the much-debased culture around you. May I suggest jazz; Michael Feinstein is a good place to start.

        But, seriously, Rieu is for those who musically don’t get out that much. Sorry, but there it is.

        • right1_left1

          Michael Feinstin has never played a note of jazz in his life.
          ( I mean in his public performances)
          I do like to listen to him because I enjoy almost anything on the piano; but jazzer he is not.

          Now Errol Garner a completely idiosyncratic and in the not too long run boring musician makes a much nearer approach to jazz.
          His peforrmance on say Penthous Serenade or Teach me Tonight may not be strictly Jazz but are original and have fortunately been preserved.
          Mid tempo is Garners happy hunnd.

          • Sue Smith

            Feinstein would be jazz to people who think Rieu is classical. LOL

          • right1_left1

            YOU recommended Feinstein as a jazzer.
            Now you admit you know that what you said would bamboozle the unwary.
            Where are your scruples …wench. hehehehehehehe

            Tracy Vermin produced an admired piece of art consisting of an unmade bed.
            I suspect it was you who had slept there having nightmares of musical dissonence and artisic ugliness but unable to criticize for fear of not being considered modern or post modern or whatever.

            Along simiar lines a pile of bricks in one case and a stack of rubber tyres in another both held in high esteem by the snots.

            Rieu is a musician who has assembled an exceedingly attractive package that dispenses humour and beauty and thus upsets those who enjoy suffering the excesses of ‘modern’ art (especially music)
            This anguish proves to THEMSELVES how civilised they are.

            If there is anything else I can teach you please let me know.
            The only other option is to do your best and obey the men in your life.

            correcting : I meant to say
            Mid tempo is Garner’s happy hunting ground..

    • kermit


      • Sue Smith

        Don’t forget the men, too. They are to be seen at the concerts accompanying their wives in dancing and singing.

    • Sue Smith

      Nursing home ‘inmates’.

  • David O’Riordan

    “They play the popular classics we all secretly like better than the more challenging pieces we pretend to favour.”

    Do please speak for yourself.

  • Paul Evans

    He’s the Liberace of the violin.

    • BlackArrow

      Umm … no. He’s apparently straight.

      • Sue Smith

        He wasn’t referring to sexuality, but to kitsch.

    • Sue Smith

      Bingo. Spot on. And I’ll never forgive Liberace for trashing the legacy of Chopin, which is only comparatively recently being restored.

    • Roger Hudson

      Liberace looks great on radio. The music wasn’t bad either.

  • BlackArrow

    Excellent article. 🙂

    I had not heard of Andre Rieu – I pronounce it as if it were French – or Sarah Brightman or …. until I moved over here to Norway from the States.

    FANTASTIC. BEAUTIFUL music. And FUN. *This* should be … is … what Western Arts and Civilization is all about!

    The Mary Poppins bit with the soloist “flying” in to the concert was worth the price of YouTube admission alone.

    And then there was his premiere performance of Anthony Hopkins own musical composition.

    And then his performance in the Italian plaza – even *Italians* LOVING it.

    Vive Andre Rieu! Et merci beaucoup! … or whatever all that is in Dutch. 🙂

    Lou Coatney

    • Sue Smith

      I think you refer to one of the Maastricht concerts? I watched them to get an idea of what people are listening to these days. I saw the one with Mary Poppins on the ‘flying fox’ (as we call them in Australia). And Hopkins (I think it was him) in the audience looking decidedly uncomfortable!!!! He found out sitting there what I’ve known for ages…it’s embarrassing. And there he is before the whole world showing his ‘enjoyment’ for Rieu. May it haunt him for the rest of his days…LOL

      • BlackArrow

        You really are poisonous, SS.

        Here is his performance of a very grateful and pleased Anthony Hopkins’ The Waltz Goes On. A great moment in Western arts.


        • Sue Smith

          Yeah, thanks for the compliment.

          I watched the concert and we must have been looking at something different. From where I sat (metaphorically speaking), Hopkins looked decidedly uncomfortable to be seen by a worldwide audience glowing at a Rieu concert. It was a hoot.

          • right1_left1

            An actor looking uncomfortable because he was in the limelight.!!!
            You have spent too much time in the OZ sun.
            Return to the Europe forthwith
            Or possibly you television picture needs adjustment !

          • Sue Smith

            A misogynist too. It gets better doesn’t it; first Rieu now a woman hater. You are a terribly unattractive man.

          • right1_left1

            How telling you that actors ‘lurve’ the limelight (you probably ‘didn’t get’ what I was saying)
            and suggesting
            Maybe you have the hots for Andre
            you somehow conclude that I am a misogynist.

            Good job I’m not your gynaecologist i’d make some basic adjustsments trying to get you to talk sense.

            In the meantime go and blow a didgeredo from the top of Ayer’s Rock.
            The Abo’s would lurve that.
            The dingos might protest.

  • Bromeliad Twenty

    Wow, the sperglords are still upset over some people not liking what they like three days later. Get over it guys. And Andrew: you are a sick, sick sick stalker. Seriously, there is something wrong with you and that is a shame because you don’t realize it.

  • Roger Hudson

    His version of ‘Rosamunde’ (beer barrel polka) with Heino is great.
    Heino, he really is a cult.

    • Sue Smith

      Yes, these can be rollicking fun – but as music, not to be taken seriously. When we lived in Vienna one of the most fun experiences we had was at Easter when there was a band playing outside Stephansdom, “Roll Out the Barrel” in German. The Viennese were drinking beer and joining in the singing. We loved this experience as it was so, well, Austrian!!!

      BTW, I went to Vienna exclusively to attend art music concerts at the Musikverein, Konzerthaus, Wiener Staatsoper and Theater an der Wien. The experience of a lifetime. And CDs just don’t cut it anymore; there is nothing so fundamentally superb, for me, as a world-class orchestra and conductor absolutely ON FIRE. And I’ve seen all the great orchestras now. And also at the Leipzig Gewandhaus and Concertgebouw, Amsterdam.

      You can perhaps understand why I eschew the wallpaper of Rieu. Those of you who are yelling in protest about my comments on Andre Rieu need to get to a serious concert-house with a top ranking world class orchestra to see what is actually possible in real musical terms. When you’ve been to the mountaintop you will no longer be satisfied with a grassy knoll.

  • MenAreLikeWine

    Yes, we can all listen to accomplished classical music.

    There is something about Rieu that just brings me such delight. Yes, he plays “the hits”, but there is merit to that.

  • NathanielAEaster

    ….next few days your life success days…spectator….. < Find Here