Interview from Reader's Digest.
Dutch version, Oct. 2001
"I did not study for it. Bring it with feeling, communicate with
the audience and then classical music too will be a hit with the
public at large".
Violinist André Rieu from Maastricht has spread the interest
for classical music to a much larger audience. His CD sales
are proof, between 13 and 14 million Rieu CDs have been sold.
He is very popular over the border; especially in Germany is
he very successful.
This is an interview with the phenomena, about his success,
his father and his vision on life.
This same interview came out in the German version of Reader’s Digest in Feb 2002.
The title and the beginning where different and I have combined the interview to get
all the information)
Music is freedom.
He has given millions of people access to classical music: Star violinist, André Rieu
from Maastricht, the Netherlands. Not only in Europe but also in the USA, South
America, and Japan is the audience at his feet. By now he has sold 15 million CDs, his
concerts are sold out to the last seat. Reader’s Digest speaks to the artist about the
secrets of his success, this orchestra and the difficult relationship with his father.
Some parts of the interview that where in the Dutch version where left out of the
German version. Notable several times when he mentioned Marjorie, it was not in the
You grew up in a family with six children. Was it difficult for you to find your
place in such a large family?
I was number three, the first boy. I really did not have to fight to find my place at home.
But I was fighting with myself; I had so many dreams that I wanted to turn into reality.
And that caused me quite a lot of restlessness. Now those dreams have become a
reality: CDs, performances around the world and I love that I have been able to fulfill
those dreams, as a result I feel much more balanced and satisfied than in my youth.
Your father was a conductor for the Limburg Symphony
Orchestra and later Chief conductor of the Leipzig Opera
Yes, and he was the conductor at home too. He was a
difficult man, who left others literally as well as figuratively
little room. He was never willing to have a real discussion
When you looked at his work was he an inspiration for
To just be a conductor of an orchestra, I would experience
that as very limiting. To have to perform an Opera exactly
as it was written is not something I would find challenging. As a conductor I would
think: “I would have composed that differently or that piece just does not fit here and I
would want to remove that piece. As a conductor you of course can not do that. I am
happy to have my own ideas and plans, which I can and may work with.
My wife Marjorie and I talk about music, and what we are going to do next all the time.
For instance in the future you will be able to listen to my concerts on www.andrerieu.
So you want to do your own thing?
Yes, the most important word in any language I think is the word freedom! If they
would take away my freedom I would no longer want to continue.
I saw it with my father, he conducted the orchestra, and it always stayed the same,
nothing was added. I found that very boring, and I would not aspire to that. I do
conduct, but I am not a conductor. I have never studied for it, I just do it and it works
well. I do many things for which I have not studied. I am not a business man either, but
I do that too. That is what I mean with freedom, that you can do things you have not
studied for, but you know how to do it of you can learn how to do it.
It takes courage to start something so unfamiliar.
Yes, and I enjoy that. It is exciting. As a little boy I often looked in on construction
sites. I found that very interesting. While watching, I learned and then at home I would
do something, for instance new chicken wire around the whole fence or something like
that. The first meter would of course be crooked, but after that I succeeded pretty well.
Then my mother would ask; where did you learn how to do that? I would answer
casually, “Oh, I have seen it” and later that was the way it went with many things.
Did you get enough freedom when you played in the orchestra of your father?
I played for him for one year. And to be honest it was not a good year. When I would
come home, my wife could immediately see when my father had been in front of the
orchestra. It was logical, it was his last year with the Limburg Symphony Orchestra and
there was enormous stress. You could see that everybody would prefer to leave. The
routine, the repertoire, no freedom to play in your own style or come up with your own
ideas. It was no picnic to be among that. No pleasure at all. It was in the time of the
steady jobs, you had a job for life. People would be with the same Orchestra for 30
years. Thirty years long forced to play with the premise this is the way it has to be
played and no other way. That was not good for anybody. Not for the conductor and
not for the orchestra. My father had a lot of trouble letting go of the Limburg Symphony
Orchestra. It was his Orchestra. Still I learned a lot from my father. Once he put the
Orchestra together he added many new compositions in his program. He brought
different people over. Many famous soloists; Oistrach, Menuhin, Rostropovich and the
likes, I have seen them all live in Maastricht, that was great for my development. It is
understandable that my father could not let go of the Orchestra, when you have a
company and it grows really large, there comes a time that you have to leave things to
others. Everyone will have to change course once in a while during their lives and my
father did not have that courage.
You do have that courage?
Once I even completely wanted to break with music. My violin teacher from the
conservatory in Brussels was a very strict man. He had pills for his heart and it was
your fault if he had to take those pills out and then he would start to bang on the piano.
He often gave his people such a hard time that they walked out and never returned. In
hindsight I think;” did it really have to be done that way?” Being strict is not a bad thing,
but it should not come with irrational angry outbursts. I am a man who is sensitive to
harmony. I cannot deal with arguments, so I also tried to avoid the conflict with the
violin instructor. I have played the violin since I was five. But after having taken
lessons from that man for a few years I suddenly thought I am going to quit this. I am
going to throw my violin in the Maas, (River that runs through Maastricht) and start a
Pizzeria with my wife Marjorie. I did eventually stuff the violin and all the sheet music
with it in the closet. When I locked that door it felt like a relief. I felt so free and light.
We put together a menu card for our restaurant. The most expensive Pizza was going
to be Pizza Paganini, and the play was to play a piece of Paganini when we served that
Pizza. So of course the violin had to come out of that closet and eventually I continued
with my music.
But you did leave the Limburg Symphony Orchestra.
Yes, I started a Salon Orchestra and played Operetta music.
Your father did not think much of that?
My father’s comments were. What are you doing now? It was not his kind of music, not
his kind of career. He did not send me to the conservatory for that. But he did see in
that we were very good at what we did. Through Marjorie’s influence and my
stubbornness, I was able to choose my own way, and that is important in life for
everybody. You have to do something that is your own that is completely you. And you
have to work hard. That is one thing my father taught me.
What was so appealing to you about
Marjorie’s Jewish father, who escaped from
Berlin in the thirties, always played that kind
of music. She grew up with it. I really was
only familiar with Back and Beethoven. I
had never heard of Operetta stars like Paul
Lincke and Robert Stolz. My wife introduced
me to them and to their music. What
appealed to me was a joy of living in the
music, a freedom, a looseness, those things
are almost none existent in classical music,
and they are looked down upon. They will
say it is only operetta which is too bad, because it is genial music. I once heard a
performance by Elizabeth Schwartzkopf, a beautiful operetta song; ‘Im chambre
Separee’ If somebody like Schwartzkopf would sing a song like that even with the
condescending attitude toward operetta music, I thought that was wonderful and I
wanted to do that as well. I wanted to show that Music like that is beautiful and it needs
to be performed in the right way
How do you explain your and your orchestra’s success?
Young people generally just play around with music, just to make some extra money,
but often they do not have the drive to succeed. I tried to make something special out
of every performance, no matter what it was. A nursing home or a shopping center we
had to open, I would go down there ahead of time and discuss everything in detail,
where the stage was going to be, how good is the sound system, what about the
lighting, I wanted to be 100% sure and therefore was often known as a difficult man. I
would not let them set me up under a staircase or such, not even by those
performances. That has paid off. Because technically everything was in order also the
audience got there money’s worth. I have always tried, and that has not changed over
the years, to make a performance into a party. I think it is important that I do not just
stand on stage to show: “look what I can do and what pretty music I can make”. If that
is all there would be to it, we could just record a CD. The public buys a ticket for
something extra and that is life and warmth. We the orchestra and I and the people in
the audience are warm human beings who communicate during an evening like that.
That connection and warmth I among other things I develop with telling my little funny
stories and anecdotes. I cannot imagine different way of performing.
Is that human warmth more important now in this time of individualism and
Yes, I think so. I can only say that what I do has hit like a bomb. It is different and
people love it. I am not just a music machine and that comes over. There are
thousands of violinists who play better than I do, but I also show that I am a warm,
feeling human being.
You also have performed at hospitals.
Very satisfying performances, you have no idea what music can do, people who had
been like a vegetable in a chair for 25 years, where they had tried everything. Then we
come to play and there is a reaction. Then I get a letter from a doctor: “how did you do
that, I have tried for 25 years. That gives such a high. Maybe it sounds cliché, but I
believe music is a language that touches the deepest innermost feelings. I get letters
from fans who have gone through all kinds of hurt and misery and they tell me that my
music and videos have helped them to get over it and they were better able to deal with
their problem. Those are the real things that are important to me. More important that
when someone says; “I think you play better than so and so”. That is only a minor
You give 100% to your big love, the music and you are very successful, with
that you show that you can choose your own way. Are there people who take
that as an example, who think I do not have to live a boring life, I can do what I
really want to do.
I would feel very honored it that were true. At the time that I said to myself; “ I am going
to leave the Limburger Symphony Orchestra, I took a life changing decision”. With
hindsight I think you have to make such decisions in life, you cannot say; “oh, I will be
lucky” . I think that luck is with people who work hard and make choices. Those who
dare to take responsibility themselves. That for instance, I find so wrong with the
church. The believers say: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, or said in plain
English, when something goes wrong it is my fault, when it goes right it comes from
god. I am very much against that. Whether you do something wrong or right you are
always responsible yourself.
Everything you do takes a lot of persistence.
When I was a little boy one use to say: you will never amount to anything. But once I
went my own way. I enjoyed things more and more and became much more motivated.
I think that the persistence comes from the pleasure you have in the things you do. On
the other hand when you are motivated you have energy and you do not get sick. I am
never sick and the sick leave in my orchestra is zero. I thing my musicians love what
they are doing. Of course they make good money and they lead a fun live, but there
has to be more, the real desire to make music together. Then the disadvantages and
uncomfortable parts do not count any more. For example to be on the road in bus of
plane for extended periods of time. The audience notices that, we once played in
Boston, and the next day there was one article that said: Andre Rieu has a clause in his
contracts that his musicians have to laugh and smile on stage. Nonsense, my
musicians enjoy what they do and that shows. You cannot fool an audience for 31/2
hours. You cannot fake being happy. Toon Hermans (wonderful Dutch comedian who
did many fantastic one-man shows) was on stage day in day out, because he loved it.
If he had not liked it he would not have been so successful, it is that simple. Toon
Hermans is my role model with timing, texts and atmosphere. During his whole life ton
would make jokes about nothing, nobody could explain how he did it. He would walk
onto stage and the whole Hall would laugh till they cried. And all that laughing is
clearly healthy; in any hospital that had a show on from Toon, on that evening you
would not even hear one complain from any of the patients.
Is it rewarding for you if classical music get to a larger audience, people who
before where not interested?
When the second waltz is whistled by the mailman thanks to my performances that is
indeed a big reward. I do not want to be a missionary who goes around the world
preaching and saying: the classical music belongs to all of you. I do not have to say
that, after all that is already true, but it is fantastic when you really succeed in
introducing the public to that music, and not only to the waltzes. I am going more in that
direction. A few years ago I made the CD romantic moments, on it you have Mozart,
Puccini, Chopin and Dvorak. That CD has sold very well. The CD I am making now is
even more classical. Not music the large public would play very quickly, but because of
such a CD it happens.
Is music also freedom.
I maintain that freedom is the most important thing in life. If you get up in the morning
and you think life is boring then you have to make a change, for instance your job.
Make sure that life retains meaning for you. That in the morning you look forward to
the day with excitement. Do not get too set in your ways. As little boy the adrenaline
would shoot through me when I thought of a new plan and when for instance I thought: I
am going to make a helicopter of cardboard. Then I immediately; wanted to go home to
start on it and I would run home. That feeling, that kick, you have to try and keep your
whole life. I, myself have the feeling things are just starting, that is a wonderful feeling,
that everyday you can think today things will really get started. To get back to your
question, “Is music freedom” Yes, why do we listen to music? To get into a certain
mood and to forget the worries of the day, the CD that I have just made, millions of
people will say, I have been stressed all day, now I am going to turn on that music.
Music relaxes you and give you freedom. Maybe even the liberty to afterwards, after
the music is finished to quietly think about life and what you really want to do with
Andre Rieu Sr