Some news: André Rieu is coming to Israel.
If you are one of the few people in our hemisphere who has never heard of him, do yourself a favor and don’t tell anyone – just read this article and then pretend that you knew all along.
Rieu is one of the most accomplished and popular entertainers on the face of the earth. Combining classical and waltz music with wit, charm, fun and charisma, his concert tours with his orchestra consistently rank among the Billboard top 25 music tours worldwide year after year, and have generated far in excess of half a billion dollars.
With many of his shows in venues of tens of thousands of seats that are nearly always completely sold out, he appears before more than half a million people each year. Sales of his dozens of CDs and DVDs number in the tens of millions. These are popularity benchmarks that few pop idols even approach.
Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra began touring in 1988 and over the past 30 years performed in more countries than most people can even name, but they never appeared in Israel. Until now.
When the famous violinist announced that he had scheduled concerts in Israel next month, the switchboards lit up as phones at the box office began ringing off the hook.
In advance of his visit, this musical phenomenon took time out for an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
For more than three decades, your concerts have been a huge attraction, uniting fans from all over the world. To what do you attribute this worldwide success?
The secret to the worldwide success is the way we present the music. Communication with the audience and emotions are the key. We play with all our hearts. We have a lot of fun on stage and I encourage my audience to have fun with us. I introduced humor into the classical music world; my concerts are everything but stiff.
Of course, one has to work very hard every day, never give up on your dreams (mine was to travel the world with my own orchestra) and always show your inner feelings. People notice when the things you do are fake, but all of our enthusiasm is genuine. Loving what you are doing gives you the power and energy to go on and to become successful. I do not work, I have fun and I love to give people a good time! This is your first visit to Israel, but is seems like you have many fans here who have been waiting for you and are very excited about your arrival. The fact all four of your concerts in our country sold out so quickly was a big surprise here.
We, too, are very excited! It will be our first visit to Israel and I would already like to thank our friends there for the wonderful warm welcome they gave us.
What do you know and what have you heard about Israel? Israel is a fascinating country with an impressive cultural history. My wife Marjorie’s oldest friend has been living in Israel for decades and he has told us beautiful stories about it. It is a small country but has contributed so many fantastic musicians to the worldwide arts scene.
What do you know about the Israeli audience?
I know that the Israeli audience is very enthusiastic and charismatic; I see a lot of Israeli flags during my summer concerts in Maastricht, and many smiles and much enthusiasm, so I decided to come to your magnificent country. I cannot wait finally to visit Tel Aviv. There are musicians from 13 different nations in my orchestra and I think it would be exciting to have a musician or soloist from Israel touring the world with us, too.
Have you met Israelis in your concerts before?
Did you have a chance to hear some stories about our special country? People write me daily with wonderful stories about their lives but there was one just recently that particularly touched me. A family from Israel wrote to us that their grandmother’s life was saved by my mother-in-law during the Second World War.
I’ve been married for 43 years to my wife, Marjorie.
Her mother was in the Dutch resistance and risked her life helping many Jews, including her future husband, my father-in-law, who was Jewish. This family from Israel also send us an old black and white photograph, showing a group of people in Maastricht at a ceremony after the war. In that photo are Marjorie’s mother, father and grandmother, together with the people that were saved. We had never seen that image before and did not know about it. We were very moved!
Can you tell us about your family Jewish connection?
My father-in-law and his relatives were Jews; some of them left Berlin back in the 1930s in order to hide from the Nazis. My father-in-law left everything he had; the only luggage he had was his vinyl record collection, about 300 records – and the music on those albums turned out to become my first repertoire I played with my Maastricht Salon Orchestra, back in the 1980s! His record collection introduced me to all of this wonderful repertoire like operetta, music from the 1920s and 1930s and so much more. When I grew up, there was only classical music at my home – Mozart, Bach, Beethoven.
I had never even heard about the Beatles or the Rolling Stones as a young boy. Only much later.
Is there some extraordinary experience from one of your concerts that you particularly recall, one special concert that you will never forget?
Every concert is special in its own right, but performing in front of 60,000 soccer fans back in 1995 during halftime Ajax Amsterdam vs FC Bayern Munich was quite an extraordinary experience. You can watch it on Youtube. Also performing, on the other hand, for just a few hundred people in the tiny town square in Cortona, Tuscany, was so delightful and charming. The most romantic setting was in front of Schönbrunn Castle in Vienna and the most unusual setting was filming a song in Switzerland and playing in front of the Eiger Northface. But then again, there are so many precious moments that I am not able to mention just one that I’ll never forget.
Are you preparing anything special for the Israeli audience?
The concerts will be a wonderful mixture of delicious waltzes, well-known arias from musicals and operas, famous movie melodies and much more. I’ll try to play some famous local pieces, too, because I like to explore and perform music that everybody knows. I played some tangos in Argentina, for example. I heard that there is a big Russian community in Israel and a lot of them are coming to our concerts. So maybe we will play not only some Israeli favorites but also Russian songs.
Are there any special places you would like to visit while in Israel? Any food you would like to try? It would be tremendous to see Jerusalem and the Western Wall, such an iconic piece in architectural history! And food... I hope to try some local dishes, as long as it’s healthy, but I’m sure the Israeli kitchen is both healthy and kosher, ha ha! Maybe some falafels with humus, or Israeli salad.
As one of the greatest and famous artists in the world, what would you advise for a young musician at the beginning of his or her career?
I would advise to practice every day, enjoy what you are doing and never give up your dreams. Walt Disney used to say, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I love that quote! It doesn’t matter if you are a little nervous – imagine, I’m still shaky before each concert – but those thrills are more or less necessary in order to keep focused and to prevent yourself from slipping into an “automatic pilot” mode. The most important advice is to love what you do.
Is there any young artist you would like to collaborate with?
That’s a difficult question, I’d have to think about it.But I’d love to perform with Bruce Springsteen one day!
Have you ever heard Israeli music? Do you know some Israeli artists?
I happen to know quite a few Israeli musicians, but one name that immediately comes forward is Itzhak Perlman. He is one of the greatest violinists of all time and I admire his way of playing. Isn’t it great that he never gave up his ambitions despite his polio? And when my son Marc, who collects film soundtracks, showed me a YouTube movie where Mr. Perlman played the theme from Schindler’s List, I was moved to tears. So hauntingly beautiful, so touching.
When did you realize that you want to turn your love for the music into a career?
That must have been during the time I was part of a symphony orchestra, where I used to lead the second violin section. I saw my colleagues anxiously look at their watches, awaiting the lunch break or the end of a rehearsal or concert. “Why is that so important?” I thought. “Don’t you enjoy what you are doing? If you loved your job, time wouldn’t be such an issue.”
Besides that, when we played an opera, we took our place in the orchestra pit where we could not see the audience. I heard the audience clapping, but that did not satisfy me. I wanted to see their smiles and happy faces, too.
Then, I wanted to have an orchestra of my own. First, there was the Maastricht Salon Orchestra, founded in 1978, consisting of only five musicians (myself included).
In 1988, I started the Johann Strauss Orchestra, named after my big hero and the one and only true King of the Waltz, Johann Strauss. Back then, I had 12 young people on stage, all dressed in black. Nowadays, more than 60 men and women are with me, the ladies wearing these beautiful gowns.
Everything you see on stage exists four times. Four sets of instruments, four sets of dresses etc., as we play all around the world, this year on four continents. I have the biggest private orchestra in the world and my company has 110 people on fixed payroll, I have my own recording studio and own wonderful team who organize the travel, hotels, visas. etc. That makes me very proud, but it is also a great responsibility. Some of my musicians have been with me since the beginning; I love their endless loyalty and our shared dream, to let the whole world waltz! We are a big family – including many couples in the orchestra! What would you wish for the coming year? A lot of joy, happiness, health and many beautiful (musical) moments that my audience and I will never forget!
Over the years, many Israelis have traveled overseas to hear Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra, but now you can catch him at Tel Aviv’s Menora Mivtachim Arena on April 3, 4, 5 and 7.
Info at: www.andrerieu.com/en