He’s the Maestro of Christmas, with his lavish and large-scale festive concerts in his fairytale homeland of Maastricht watched by millions across the globe each year.
Now, as Omicron marches relentlessly across Europe and Andre Rieu’s native Netherlands locks down tight for Christmas, the legendary Dutch violinist has had to axe this year’s Yuletide shows.
But despite having to fork out “millions” from his own pocket to furlough the 110 or so people on his payroll for much of the past 22 months, the 72-year-old is still in great festive spirits, according to a new interview published in The Times on Monday, December 20.
“Christmas is always a big deal for me,” asserts the Dutch King of the Waltz.
“It’s about being at home. They always offer me millions to perform at Christmas, but I don’t do that.” (Instead, Rieu performs his festive extravaganzas in advance).
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As a result of the extended pandemic, the world-famous musician, worth an estimated £30 million ($AUD55 million), has helped financially support his ensemble, many who have worked with Rieu for more than 25 years, by topping up the Dutch government’s 80 per cent salary contribution.
“It cost me millions,” Rieu revealed to The Times. The impresario has previously announced that if the furlough payments ceased, he’d flog his 1667 Stradivarius, valued at £7 million ($AUD13 million), to keep his orchestra together. “I still would if I have to,” he reiterated to the British newspaper. “I built the orchestra up over 35 years — it’s like a second family. You can’t rebuild that. I can buy a Stradivarius again.”
“Just this morning I had to tell my orchestra for the second time we’ve had to cancel our German tour, which was planned for January,” Rieu shared. “It’s all just blah, blah, blah.”
Rieu’s Maastricht concerts have been an annual fan highlight for years, since the star converted the town’s lacklustre convention centre into a winter wonderland with fake snow, ice skaters in Victorian costumes and imported Italian chandeliers decorated in gold leaf and real marble fittings.
“I’d always wanted to do a Christmas concert here,” André Rieu noted, “but Maastricht said, ‘We have no big hall.’ But then some of my people said, ‘We have a conference centre, but it’s the ugliest hall in the world.’ So I changed it into a winter palace. It cost millions, but I was flabbergasted by the result.”
Critics might pour scorn over the Dutchman’s “schmaltzy” productions, but international audiences lap up his joyful Christmas concerts, with many traveling from all corners of the world (in pre-pandemic times) to witness the magic.
“I make people happy,” says Rieu. When asked if his critics were jealous, he answered: “I think so. What we do is healing. Miracles happen.”
As the world’s bestselling classical artist and biggest sole male touring artist, Andre Rieu has always had an enthusiastic following of “ladies of a certain age who’ve been known to throw their knickers on stage”, noted The Times.
“More when I was younger, but it still happens,” Rieu smiled. “There have also been stalkers. When that happens for the first time you’re like, ‘Oh my God, she’s following me everywhere.’ Then you learn to live with it. We have a lot of security.”
Rieu said he was confident that the pandemic would be over by March 2022 and he’d be back touring.
“I researched pandemics — they all last two years, so in my head that’s what I’ve prepared for,” he shared. “What’s two years when you’re going to live to 140? I’m only at my halfway point.”