Who is Andre Rieu?
De nieuwe Revue/October 2003
No Dutch artist has ever sold as many records as he (about 17 million). His fans follow him
everywhere. And he is at the head of a true Emporium.
Revue traveled with world star Andre Rieu to Cortona.
“I am a control freak”. “Some people are nauseated by me,
I am well aware of that. “I become completely emotional”.
The words come out to the mouth or Mireille Bekooij. It is
Wednesday September 17, 2003 at six o’clock PM, on the
Piazza della Republica of the picturesque Tuscany city of Cortona.
That is where the rehearsal takes place for the concert that violinist
André Rieu will give that evening. Bekooij is filming a report about
Rieu’s new CD ‘Romantic Paradise’ for her new program ‘Tros Midday Magazine’.
Just like the name implies romantic, classical and light music. “The members of the Tros
love the music from Rieu”, Bekooij says. “Just like BZN (Dutch vocal band) he scores very
high, and Bekooij herself loves it too. "It touches me, I am a real emotional softy"
The Italian square has been decorated with burgundy red and ochre yellow flags. Rieu’s
orchestra existing of 50 musicians follows his directions exactly. This man who celebrates
his 25th anniversary as an artist jumps of the stage and checks the sound quality from
several places in the audience himself. They start a waltz, he makes a joke. The orchestra
members laugh loudest of all. The rehearsal is concluded with ‘All men will be brothers’.
The Italians and the tourists present clap for a long time. Around 8:30PM Rieu comes
back onto the stage and the show starts.
Wilkommen, Welcome, Bienvenue, Welkom, he greets everybody in there own language
and especially for this evening he has even learned some Italian.
He asks if he has forgotten anybody, says that he wants an Italian applause and disappears
from the stage again, to skip back on a minute later, to an ear spitting applause. It is the
first of three concerts in Cortona. They are there for a TV special for the German TV
It is the first time Rieu performs in Italy, and for that reason he has adjusted his repertoire a
bit. The orchestra opens with the well known theme of ‘the Godfather’. Besides the well
known waltzes and polkas there also is music from Ennio Morricone, ‘Once upon a time in
the West’. The Italians clearly think it is great.
In between the music Rieu tells stories. For instance, that as a
little boy he could not sleep after he had seen the movie ‘Sissi’,
he was so much in love.
The audience, young and old gets more and more enthusiastic when
the evening evolves. During he last waltz Andre invites couples to
come forward and dance. Five couples accept his invitation. When
the orchestra finishes with the Italian national anthem the crowd goes wild. Everyone in the
square sings along at the top of their lungs.
Bekooij decides that this is especially beautiful. An elderly man in the third row stands up
and unfolds a banner with the text ‘Cortona loves André’.
The next afternoon the sunny Piazza della Republice was full with André Rieu fans. The
man with the banner was there too. He was sitting on the edge of the deserted stage.
Dan Lycan is his name. He is 72 and lives in Manassas, Virginia.
He shows his business card: André Rieu fan it says under a picture
of him and Rieu. “In 1953 I was stationed on the army base in Stuttgart,
says the ex-military man. “One time my friends and I went to Maastricht
and there I say a little boy playing the violin, he did such a beautiful job
that I said to my buddies, “One day he will be famous”. Lycan is convinced
that this boy was Rieu, even if at the time he was only three years old.
Forty-four years later Lycan saw him again on American TV; he went to
a concert and was sold. Now he travels to follow Rieu on his tours.
“I would not call myself a groupie, but I am more than a regular fan”, he says. This evening
will be my seventieth concert. I hope to make a hundred before I die. No, I am not a
millionaire, “I have my military pension and my social security”. The later I use for my
travels. The one thing I have too much of is free time. At least that is what my daughter
says. Indeed I work harder at this than on any other jobs I have.
Lycan has daily contact with fans all over the world and he is always working on his
banners. During each concert he attends he shows a different text. “André always has the
same stories and jokes, that is somewhat boring for the members of the orchestra. So I
make sure I have a few new banners for every evening I am at a concert. That way they
have some fun too.
And what is the reason Lycan has filled his life with Rieu? He makes this a more beautiful
world and the important thing is he makes me happy with his music. I was a very reserved
and rigid man, never moved, a typical military man. Now when I hear André’s music, I
cannot sit still. I believe in his power to bring people together.
There are many fans in the square on who the music of Rieu has the same effect. Mostly
they are middle aged and older Germans. “We were raised with this kind of music” sixty-
four year old Horst Streisshardt from Hamm answered the question why the man from
Maastricht is that popular with our neighbors to the East. As a child I always played
Edelweiss on a mouth-harmonica. I play it the same way he does. Streisshardt is a inn-
keeper by profession. He tells us that for a long time he had a lot of
trouble with stress. “But thanks to André’s music I was able to get over it”.
It is romantic music full of emotion. It gives me goosebumps, even during
the sound check my eyes will tear up. He makes life more beautiful. His
biggest wish is to once talk with Rieu. “Then I would tell him of my
admiration, but I am too much of a coward to approach him”.
Thirty feet away the violinist just happens to be standing making
preparations for the rehearsal. Carefully Streisshardt shuffles in that
direction and poses about three feet behind the violinist, while a friend
takes a picture of him and Rieu. André steps closer for another picture.
“Danke shön” (thank you) says the German with tears in his eyes.
A few members of Rieu’s orchestra are sitting in the square drinking a beer. They are used
to the fanatical fans and greet them friendly. “André did tell us not to get too personal”
says Ruud Merx (34), the trombonist, “No e-mail address exchange for instance”. His
colleague Ward Vlasveld (33) who plays the keyboards and the synthesizers points out two
women on the square with a little boy dressed in a white suit. They are constantly around
Rieu if he is in the area. “According to their story that little guy should have been dead and
buried by now”, says Ward. They convinced André that he was deadly ill to get his
attention that way, sometimes it goes way too far.
Both musicians studied at the conservatory in Maastricht and both have played with Rieu for
more than ten years. Since the beginning of the success with the second Waltz in 1995
(3.5 million sold) they have seen half the world. They have worked as musicians in a much
envied job. That used to be a very different story. Ruud: “the classical world was
disgusted with Rieu. People would say to me, you are not going to waste your talent with
him, are you?” Then we broke through. We now perform in the most luxurious and classy
venues and we make good money.
When you play in a provincial orchestra then maybe if you get lucky you may play in
Amsterdam once a year. We have played in the ‘Royal Albert Hall’. Ruud: “It was just
jealousy”. Ward: “Ex-colleagues who then declared me crazy, now call to ask, “May I be
your substitute when you are sick”? “Not”!!!
Everywhere the public is different, in Japan, where we will go again in October the audience
is mouse still during a the music. In Germany people have great respect for the music.
When we play ‘On the Blue Danube’ for instance, they think that is so beautiful, Ward tells
us. In Germany there is a culture of concert goers. When you play that in the Netherlands
they will immediately begin to hum along. That is also fun. But once you have broken
through in Germany you are a star for life, in Holland it is more likely to be a short term
They call their boss a man with dreams. “For a modest Limburger he has reached far”
Ward says. Whether he has remained humble? “He does drive in a big Mercedes. Indeed
paid for by a sponsor, but I would not want to have to pay for the registration”, says Ruud.
“And then his speeding tickets, Ward adds, “he is a real rascal, he loves speed and if he
could he would buy a 747 and fly it himself. Rieu is also strict, but he is fair, Ruud adds.
He sees everything on stage and demands that you apply yourself completely. Rather with
heart and soul than absolute perfection. Not everything evolves around the music and there
is also a lot of time for fun. Do you want to know what our lives are like? Ruud laughs.
Beer!!!! And they order another round.
“Do you think we will continue this interview much longer?” Andre Rieu is angry. We are
sitting in his hotel and it is 10:00AM on the day after the second concert and the reporter
had quite a few beers with some of the orchestra members and he made a joke. How
come Rieu is so popular in the countries which were on the wrong side during the Second
World War? The violinist says, something like this has happened to him once before.
Years ago with a reporter from the Trouw, (Dutch newspaper) that reporter said, ‘What you
are doing on the stage is awful.” There has been another man who did something like it. Is
that not unbelievable?
He had just been happily talking about his new CD and how with a map in hand he had
driven through the Tuscany landscape looking for a beautiful spot to film his next special.
How the crew cursed him because the old center of Cortona is on top of a hill and can only
be reached on foot, with as result that they had to drag all the equipment and everything up
He says that the title of his new CD “Romantic Paradise” is completely related to him,
because he is also extremely romantic. He does not play a role. Never! I know that there
are people who are nauseated by all this, but I just happen to be this way. And then a
remark like that one from the reporter. “Do you realize what you just said?” he growls.
After answering several more questions quite short, he returns to being himself, but he
His crew exists out of more than 120 people, and they all travel with him. Soon they will
travel to Japan, then Ireland. They are on the road six months out of the year. What else
would you expect from a world star who sold more that 17 million CD’s? From his website
you can order not only music, but also jewelry, dishes and even perfume and shower gel
from his own Stradivari brand, named after his Stradivarius from 1667 which cost him more
that a million Euro.
He does not see himself as a businessman with an Emporium. “I am a musician, I can be
nothing else. The rest just comes along with it”. “An Emporium, I do not say that, the
people around me call it that”. “It has just grown that way, you start small and it gets
bigger and bigger”. “The first time you hear yourself ask the price you need to get for a
performance it scares you to death. How much that is Rieu will not say.
Sharp he says, “why do people who are in music or the arts not allowed to talk about
money”? “Yet, the paintings from Corneille can bring a fortune, but what I do is not real art,
right”? It sounds somewhat frustrated. But he knows there are people with that opinion.
We play music like other orchestras, but because I add joy and spontaneity to it, it goes
against the grain”.
While we talk about work habits, things almost go wrong again between the musician and
the Revue reporter, “I have to be strict”. “I can not be any other way”. “There should be
more discipline in life and in the politics. There is too much messing around and just doing
whatever they feel like”. “That is a shame”. “Many people like being told what they have to
do; now I know what you are thinking, but that is your problem”. “The way I function is
working very well”.
The fact that he does not perform in Holland very often any more has nothing to do with
criticism. “My product has become so large that it is almost too expensive for Holland”.
“Nobody in the Netherlands pays or supports me, I have to do it all myself and in the
Netherlands there are not many halls were I can play, if I still want to have something left
after expenses”. “They are too small and the Dutch are only willing to pay half of the actual
price of my product”. “Very simple”. “But also a very important reason is that for twenty
years I gave performances all over Holland with the Salon Orchestra”. “Now other countries
get their turn”.
He loves the life he is leading. What else could he do? He does not even want to think
about retiring yet. “Everyone thinks I am rich”. “I do make much money, but I spent just as
much”. “What do you think all this cost”? “I have to play it all together”. “If I would stop
tomorrow and sold everything I would not have anything left”. “And what would I do, sit at
home”? “Maybe I would just have enough to rent a small townhouse, so I much rather
keep playing and keep things going”.
He is proud of the fact that thanks to him many adults now have heard the names of
Mozart, Verdi and Schuman. “That is a very nice aspect, but it is not why I do this”. “Am I
the one to educate the world”?
But he does have his heart in the right place. He says, “As a little boy, I was always busy
with charity events”. “When Mies Bouwman (Dutch TV personality) was on TV with ‘Open
the Village’ (24 hour TV marathon on November 27, 1962 to built a special ‘village’ for
handicapped people) I immediately went to get my piggy bank”. “That goes with the
character of a romantic”. “I just love atmosphere like yesterday evening with all those
different nationalities”. “I am a person who is very sensitive to harmony”. “I hate fights of
arguments”. “I just cannot deal with it”. “I would really be happy if all people would just get
along together nicely”. “But not even that is my motive”.
“I do not necessarily want to make the world better; I already really enjoy it when a square
like here in Cortona goes crazy”. “Do not look for a mission behind it”. “I just do this well
and I want to show it time and time again”. “As simple as that”. “Every psychologist will
tell you it has to do with confirmation”. When every evening you get the confirmation that
you know what you are doing, you are a satisfied person”.
Jennifer Lopez has insured her behind. Have you done the same with your hands your
hands? “No, I have not”. “I do have to pay 120 people every month and that all depends
on these hands, so I am careful”. “I used to be able to build a house, but I do not do things
like that anymore”. “But having the knowledge does come in handy”. “During the building
of the stage nobody has to try to tell me something”. “I have knowledge of all kinds of
things, I am a control freak, and people like that”. “They know to better do things right,
because I will come and check it later”. “It works much faster that way”. At home of
course his wife wears the pants? “No”, he first says seriously, then he says, “but that is a
He has to go, an interview with the Tros (Dutch TV broadcasting co). In the lobby of the
hotel is Dan Lycan. He is busy with a banner for that evening. What will be on it?
“Andre, we will see you in Japan”!
Romy Schneider as Sissi
Dan and Alice Lycan
Dan and some of his banners.
First pict: Lin Jong, Ruud Merx, Ward Vlasveld, Marcel Falize, Roger Diederen. Second
pict: second pict: ?, Jo Huijts, Noel Perdaens, ? Third pict: same as first In Cortona
A man with dreams.
Horst and Andre .