“I NEVER KNOW PRECISELY WHAT THE DAY WILL BRING”
Text: Mieke Bloemhuevel/Translation: John /Sonja
Two weeks out of the month she runs the office in New York, and when she is in the
Netherlands she is busy with the preparations of the next tour, does not know the meaning
of an eight-to-five workday and really wanted to be a sports instructor. “I fell with my butt in
the butter” according to Kerstin Cornelis, organizer and Andre Rieu’s right hand. As we look
around, while at Andre’s castle in Maastricht where this interview took place, all we can do
“If they ask me how I obtained this job, people always laugh when I tell them: I fell with my
butt into the butter”, (A Dutch expression indicating something good fell into your lap) as
the Flemish Kerstin Cornelis starts the interview. “My biggest dream was to become a
sports instructor, but back problems forced me to discontinue those studies. So then I
studied Public Relations and Tourism in Brussels, after which I traveled for a year through North America and
Europe as a student of the organization “Up with People”. Up-with-People is an exchange organization for young
people between seventeen and twenty-five years of age, who travel around the world for a year in an educational
program. Following that year with Up-with-People they offered me a job as tour manager. I did that for seven years,
and looking back it was the best foundation for the work I am doing now. The head office of Up-with-People is
located in North America, so I spent lots of time in foreign countries. When I met my husband I had to make a
decision. Eventually I resigned from my job, got married and moved to Eupen. (Small town in Belgium)
“Well-known South Limburg Artist”
“After a month I figured I had been home long enough and went looking for work. Although I am fluent in German
and French-which in this canton are native-I did not want to work in a German or French speaking environment. I
wanted to stay in something where I could speak my own tongue and thought: Maastricht is not that far. So I took
the train to Maastricht and entered the first available temporary agency. They referred me to an employment
agency. The person with whom I had an appointment was still in a meeting. While wandering around and looking at
the jobs board, my eye caught a notice with the following text: Looking for a tour manager for a well-known South
Limburg Artist. Must speak Dutch, French, German, English and Spanish. Although I do not speak Spanish, I
thought I would try it anyway. The lady handling the dossier says:” I am sorry, but this position is all but filled”. I still
left my resume and I was not even home yet when I received a call asking me if I could come by for an interview the
following day. I had absolutely no idea who this noted South Limburg Artist was. My husband and I searched the
internet which led us to Andre Rieu. A week later I was working for Andre”.
“To work for André you can easily say you are “working in a family business.
André, together with his wife Marjorie, manages the whole business. Marjorie is
the other 50 percent behind André’s success, although behind the scenes, she
writes the texts for the concerts, and together with André they make all the
decisions, like two hands on one stomach. (A Dutch expression indicating two
people are in total agreement). Son Pierre is the production manager, and son
Mark is also indirectly involved in the business. We employ between 120 and
130 people. That includes the orchestra, choir and soloists, the secretarial pool
and planning department. The planning department also “does” secretarial
duties and is manned by twins Monique and Nicole along with Yvette. They also
assist me in the planning: so for instance I am in New York for two weeks out of the month, I still prepare tours for
Europe and Asia. Although I am in New York, I still require their assistance in securing all the plans. Along with that
they are my direct link with André if it involves meetings here at the castle when we are not on tour. When we are
on tour, than it becomes “my agenda”. Interviews or other meetings that Andre might have during a tour go through
me, the same with requests for press interviews. I filter it all and check to see if André has time for anything or not.
What we can do later, what needs to be done now and is it important. We receive hundreds of requests and can
honor them all, and that is something that not all people understand”.
Kerstin has been working for André Rieu Productions, which is the official name for the business, for about six
years. “Four years ago we started with an extensive tour to the United States. All the tours we do abroad have to be
promoted. That also happened in the United States, where we had an American promoter, who did not work out at
all. This promoter did not even know what André does. No wonder we did not succeed. At a certain moment André
said: “We will just do it ourselves”. In the beginning every one said that he was crazy,
especially the Americans. “For the last four years we have had our own promotion team,
the USA Team, consisting of three people. We have some one responsible for the
finances, a Dutchman. (Roel van Veggel) He and his family moved to the United States
specifically for this job. We also have some one who does everything in connection with
ticket sales and who books the venues. My responsibilities with the USA team are in ticket
sales, establishing budgets for the marketing and press departments. In addition I organize
everything in connection with logistics, under which the moving of the orchestra, the
bookings of hotels and arranging meals. So we really do everything ourselves, for four
years now, and everything is going so well that we opened an office in New York. We
spend more that fifty percent of the year in America. It is ideal for me: I am currently on
the phone so much that it is actually easier to be in the same time zone. It is because
my husband does not want to, but otherwise I would probably have moved over there
too for three years. But he is content with the way our lives are now. As long as the
communication is good, that is most important. And when I am home, I am really home”.
If you suffer from home sickness, this is not the job for you.
Does not count hours.
Kerstin does not count the hours. Therefore she has no idea how many hours in a week she works, definitely not
forty. “In New York I am mostly in the office at eight in the morning. There is a large time difference there, so I have
no problems in rising early. And since I am alone, I normally work until eight in the evening. So I easily put in twelve
hours a day. When we are on tour, I get up at seven in the morning and go to sleep around two the following
morning. So the amount of hours I work can barely be kept up with. When I am in the Netherlands, I normally work
in the office during the day. When it is around five o’clock in the afternoon here, the Americans are waking up, and
than most of the time my American cell phone starts to ring, and that goes on until eleven or twelve in the evening,
or beyond. That is a disadvantage, I will say, that makes the days extremely long, but I have to continue with all my
marketing campaigns and all the American contacts”.
When I look at your work, I see an enormous amount. Are there any other jobs to
which you can say that they are specific to your tasks? Are you for instance a buffer
between André and the people? “Of course when we are on tour I am the primary
point of contact. The orchestra knows not to bother André at every fleeting moment
with something. I too, know precisely when I can interrupt him or not. The
advantage of being on tour is that I can normally figure out whether or not he is
busy and concentrating on something. Just like any other normal office we decide
when we can sit down so we can discuss our specific list of business matters. That
is where my competence of time-management comes in handy. Besides, André
sees everything that happens when on stage, nothing escapes him. And I notice everything that goes on off stage:
is some one having a bad day? Or what is going on over there. There is no way to compare this job with a regular
office job. This “enterprise” (orchestra) is normally on the road with its employees (musicians) days on end. There
is always a possibility that some one may be having a rough time: problems at home or something happened in their
family. When that happens and you are for instance in Japan, you have to support one another. And that of course
creates a bond. These sorts of things have a greater impact on our colleagues than when you work in a regular
office from eight in the morning and go home at four in the afternoon. Of course jokes are being pulled and silliness
exists, but serious conversations do also take place. The nice thing is that we have formed a strong bond and
consider each other “real” family”.
“Andre is a violinist, musician and director, but also a manager with a distinct vision: “this is how I want things done,
and so it will be”. I work independently but have to assure I follow the proper path. In this manner he leads and
supports me. But he is also a man with two extremes; he has a sensitive and romantic side, which you can hear in
his music and notice in his demeanor. But he also has a tough business side, and you have to be able to follow him
in that too. He can be quite direct, but he is fair. With André you know exactly where you stand. He respects his
employees: he knows we do not have a nine to five job. And in the same token he expects an awful lot from his
people, but rewards them quite well for that. It works, just look at the charisma of the Johann Strauss Orchestra”.
Function: International Director for Tours and Special Projects.
Public Relations and Media
Education: Sports academy, Public Relations and Tourism
My Town: New York, but lives in Belgium.
Film/Musical: The Notebook/Cats and the Color Purple
Likes: More time to play sports
Dislikes: Arrogant people
Admiration for: My Parents and Andre
Andre adding to the interview with Kerstin.
Who has ever seen the Johann Strauss Orchestra perform, has seen the pleasures of the orchestra flow over into
the audience. “Irritants are not discussed in the workplace”. “How do you do that?” we asked Andre. “What is your
secret?” “Of course every now and then there are a few ripples” he says. “Than they come to me and I explain to
them in a fatherly way how I would solve the problem. The enjoyment these people portray is real. After the last
concert in Tokyo, Kerstin wrote me a note right there to let me know how much she appreciated the way in which I
involve myself with my people, form with them as a group, and the way I always have their interest at heart. I think it
is very important as a manager in the first place to be able to lead; otherwise you should not do that. There are lots
of leaders who do not like to do that. It has everything to do with job knowledge. I mean it starts right away when I
am on stage; I have to be able to do what I do. If I cannot not do that it would become a fiasco. And if in addition
your heart is in the right place and you are a proper and good human being, everything will fall into place. If you
have negative intensions and want to exploit people, it will run amiss. Also respect is super important. Stone
masons are just as needed as managers. So why should this man be treated in a different manner?”
YES, FOR SURE….…….
“I am not only Kerstin’s manager, but also for the entire orchestra and everything associated with it. That is a
responsibility I feel every day, and I enjoy that feeling. If you look upon it as a burden on your shoulders or if you are
not able to do that, than you should not do it. In the Netherlands we never talk about not being able to do anything.
That is not allowed. Everyone can do anything---yes, for sure…-- that is so nice, isn’t it?
You too are also somehow connected, all those links, are you not all dependent upon one another? Yes, I do not
have any replacements, for no one, not even for Kerstin. But I have a sick absenteeism of zero percent. Every one
who works here knows that he has responsibilities. Kerstin knows too that when I do not go to America, no one
goes. The first clarinetist knows that when she does not show tonight, there will be no solos, so she shows up. She
has been with the orchestra for more than twenty years and has never been absent; these are the kinds of people
you can depend upon. And if you happen to see the soap on TV, you know what I mean”.