Starts at 60 had the chance to chat to the mega-famous André Rieu, ahead of his 2017 Maastricht Concert (screening in Event Cinemas on July 29 & 30 – click here to learn more). This year’s event marks 30 years since he started his Johann Strauss Orchestra in his home town. Here’s what the superstar Dutch violinist had to say about life, love, health and his grandchildren.
You’ve been known to very healthy for most of your life, and not even suffer from jet-lag when when travelling. How’s your health now, and what changes have you made in your life to keep up the pace of touring and performing?
I had to cancel several concerts twice in my life some years ago, and I really got a sort of wake up call after it happened for the second time. Since then, I got myself a personal trainer with whom I do serious exercises. He also took a look at my diet and he gave me some food advice. Now, I feel myself very good! It’s quite funny, I’m not the only one who pays attention to his health now – almost every member of my orchestra visits the gym regularly (also the fitness halls of the hotels we stay in), they organise Zumba lessons, join marathons worldwide. My healthy tour is contagious, apparently… Haha!
What else do you do to prepare – physically, mentally and emotionally – for an arduous concert tour that can take you away from your routine for long periods?
It is very important to take enough rest, also when you travel a lot like I do with my orchestra. Luckily, I am able to sleep on every location, on every moment of the day. Of course we have a lot of fun on stage during a concert, but let us not forget that it is hard work as well. It is not a regular office time we have to work; most of the time, it is from 8-12pm and then we are in bed one hour later. Early breakfast and then off we go, heading for the next venue. All this mostly five or six days in a row!
Do you bring any creature comforts with you when you’re away from home?
It is not much, but in my violin case I keep photographs of my beloved grandchildren. Before and after every concert, I take a quick look. My sons also send me actual pictures of them via WhatsApp. I also have a necklace with my wedding ring. I don’t have it on my finger anymore, because it could get stuck somewhere and then, I wouldn’t be able to do my job anymore.
Do you still enjoy performing live or do you prefer to recording a studio? What do you like to perform the most?
Performing live is the most wonderful thing to do; only then I can see, hear and feel the reaction of the audience immediately. Many years ago, I used to play in a symphony orchestra and when we had to do an opera, the orchestra was hidden in a room I call now some sort of a basement. I could hear the people in the audience cheering or applauding, but I totally could not see for whom we were playing. Then I realised I wanted something completely different!
Playing waltzes is really magnificent. My father played waltzes as an encore after the ‘normal’ program (with music from Mahler, Bruckner, Beethoven, you name it) was over. That magical rhythm made the audience suddenly move in their chairs, after they sat still and quiet the whole evening. And it is not only the physical reaction of the audience! Personally, I think that the waltz is the only kind of composition that incorporates a summary of all the facets of life.
Can you tell us about your start in the industry? We understand that you started playing violin at the age of five and your father was a conductor. Was it your father who inspired you? What keeps you creating and touring now?
Indeed, I grew up in a musical family with my father being a conductor and all my sisters and brothers playing one or more instruments. My mother used to take all of her children into her husbands’ concerts: I was amazed when I saw the bows of the violin players, moving up and down all together at the same time. It was like magic! I think my mother noticed my gaze and she must have thought: ‘The violin is the correct instrument for him!’ She was right. Like I said, my father programmed a waltz after the ‘normal’ concert was over.
Also, he had another romantic tradition: sometimes a soprano or tenor from abroad had a performance with my father and his orchestra. He hired a coach in order to pick him or her up from the railway station. Isn’t that great? Besides my parents, there is also someone else who inspires me until this very day and that is the one and only genuine king of the waltz, Johann Strauss. My life would have been completely different when he wouldn’t have been there and compose such joyful, wonderful music. It is, finally, the endless loyalty of all these fans throughout the world that keeps me going on.
You are considered one of the world’s most successful touring artists. How did you cope with the fame? Did your parents or family give you advice that’s stuck with you as an adult? What keeps you grounded?
Actually I couldn’t believe it for a long time! When I was young, I dreamed of having a very own orchestra to travel the world with and play nice music everywhere. There are still some moments that my thoughts drive me back to the beginning of this adventure. I had my first ensemble, the Maastricht Salon Orchestra and we had luncheon concerts in elderly homes for 20, 30 people.
Nowadays, we play in front of thousands of enthusiastic people. Unbelievable but it’s reality! Shortly before he passed away, my father told me: ‘There is only one in the world who is able to do this and that’s you.’ It brought tears to my eyes when I heard him saying that. Both my mother and my mother-in-law also never doubted my choices and encouraged me daily!
You have been married for more than 40 years. What’s your secret to a happy marriage?
In the first place, it is love of course. When I look at Marjorie’s eyes, I still feel those butterflies in my stomach I felt in the time we got to know each other.
We have been working together now together also for more than 40 years, we do all these things together and that’s why I think we are a good team as well. Other ‘secret’ ingredients for a happy marriage are laughter and trust, and also the idea of letting each other free, respect each other’s choices.
You are both a parent and a grandparent. How has that changed your views on life?
Being a grandparent gives me an indescribable feeling. Marjorie and I gave our sons everything they needed (I hope), but we also learned them to be respectful to other people and, when they would have a dream, we would support them in every possible way to achieve that. Despite this attitude, I hope we did not spoil them.
Grandchildren may be spoiled of course, that’s why I am a grandfather. When I visit a country far away, I always take clothes for them and from Australia, I took some jewellery for the granddaughters. Little opals, of course!
You own your own 15th century castle. Is it true you were inspired to buy it because of the Tintin books? Do you have a favourite room or piece of furniture or décor?
Yes, Tintin and even more, his best friend (the retired Captain Haddock) gave me that idea as a child of buying a castle. When my business ‘exploded’ because of the sudden success, we needed a bigger home to give place both to the office and to the private rooms. When I returned from an appointment, my wife called me and said: ‘André, I think you might want to have a look in the neighbourhood of St. Pieter, a small castle is for sale in that area’. One month later, we moved! My favourite part is the so called Orangerie which I designed myself. It is a tropical garden with hundreds of plants from all parts of the world, fishes and koi in a pond, butterflies in every colour of the rainbow and two Tuscany fresco paintings made by my son Marc. When I come back from a tour, it is really relaxing to ‘retreat’ myself there for a moment.
What other passions do you have outside of music and family?
Cooking is a big hobby! As a young boy, I often made dinner for my parents and my siblings, and it is because of that I am used to making large-scale dinners. So when my sons visit Marjorie and me, and they bring their wives and children with them, there is always enough for everybody. Reading is something I like as well, especially books about (Roman) history. Every year, I visit Rome with my whole family and then it is nice and practical to have some ‘background information’.
Following your Maastricht concert, what’s next forAndré Rieu?
After Maastricht, there is a well-deserved summer holiday break for all of us. But then, we travel to Chile and Mexico, followed by a tour in the United States and one in the United Kingdom. Never a dull moment in the Rieu company, haha!