André Rieu, Dutch violinist, composer and conductor, tells Kevin Cooper about the difficult time after the death of his friend and orchestra member Ruud Merx, what he does in his down time, performing on the moon, and his forthcoming mini tour of the UK
André Rieu is a Dutch violinist, composer and conductor best known for creating the waltz-playing Johann Strauss Orchestra. His Orchestra began in 1987 with just twelve members, but over the years it has expanded dramatically; nowadays performing with between eighty and one hundred and fifty musicians. Rieu and his orchestra have previously performed throughout Europe, North and South America, Japan, and Australia.
Whilst busy preparing for his rearranged concert at the Motorpoint Arena Nottingham, he took the time to answer a few questions for Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hello Mr Rieu, thank you for talking to me.
It’s a pleasure Kevin. Thank you so much for wanting to speak to me and for your interest in what it is that we are doing.
Before we move on may I pass on my condolences regarding Ruud Merx who sadly passed away last December. That must have been a massive shock to you all. As they say in show business “the show must go on” but after a tragedy such as that it must be extremely difficult. Did you mark his passing in any special way?
We were, and still are, very sad about the loss of this wonderful musician. There was an impressive farewell ceremony for Ruud; all the orchestra members and their partners were there. We continued touring on the 7th January. Ruud would have loved nothing else and his wife, a member of the orchestra as well, wished that we continued the shows.
You are currently on tour, how is everything going? You are coming back to Nottingham to play the cancelled show. Will it be the same show as it would have been in December or have you now moved on?
In December we would have played some Christmas songs and other melodies that fit into Christmas time. Of course we left those out after December. But the program will be very beautiful and romantic!
What can we expect from the show?
This year, we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Johann Strauss Orchestra. The show will present beautiful melodies known from movies and musicals, operetta arias, a few numbers from my new album like Can’t Help Falling In Love or Hallelujah from Leonard Cohen and, of course, my favourite Johann Strauss waltzes.
You must be without doubt the hardest working man in the music industry. Just what keeps you going?
At first, there is the music itself and all these wonderful reactions from the audiences in the whole world that give me a lot of energy. It’s such a thrill when I see all these happy faces, which makes me happy, too! It is my biggest wish to make music for many years to come. And I have one hundred people on my payroll. My orchestra is the largest private orchestra in the world. My colleagues and their families depend upon me. It is a big joy but also a big responsibility.
Do you ever get any ‘down time’ and if you do how do you relax?
There is one week every year that we plan no concerts or shows; it’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. In fact, I have two families with whom I relax: the big family is my orchestra, the small one is my own family. I relax with that small family during the last week of the year; I play games with my grandchildren, but also love to read books about Roman history. In between two tours, mostly in spring, we visit Rome for a couple of days. That’s a way of relaxation, too.
Is there anywhere left in the world where you haven’t performed that you would like to?
A few years ago I wanted to perform on the North Pole in order to pay attention to the changing climate. Logistically it couldn’t be done, unfortunately. After the summer break, we’ll have shows in Mexico, Chile and several cities in North America. But my biggest dream is to perform on the moon. When Richard Branson builds his hotel there I’ll be the first to play, ha ha!
You have recently been recording and releasing two and three albums a year. How do you keep up this momentum and manage to fit in recording a new album with your continual touring?
Every year, I try to make a new album because it is so nice to record all the beautiful melodies people have composed. It’s a good way of reaching the people who aren’t able to visit my shows.
Are there any thoughts on slowing down?
I often get asked “André, when are you going to retire?” Then my answer is, retirement is invented for men and women who don’t like their jobs, and dream of doing the things they really dream of. As I like my job very much, there aren’t any thoughts of slowing down. I do not work I have fun.
Is there anything left for you to achieve musically?
It would be a dream come true for me when the whole world would know how to waltz. Wouldn’t the world be a better place after all when we stopped fighting wars, dropped our weapons and pick up a musical instrument?
Which performance has given you the greatest pleasure?
In fact, every concert is different so it is very difficult to choose one particular performance. There are a few moments I will never forget. One of those is playing during the break of the football match between Ajax Amsterdam and Bayern Munchen and 65.000 fans waving their flags and singing along with my music. Something completely different is the show I had in Cortona, Tuscany. It was for two or three hundred people, gathered together on the Piazza Della Repubblica. It was very cosy, and very romantic.
I ask everyone that I interview this question and I get some really interesting answers. What was the last song or piece of music to make you cry?
Hard to tell but I think I’d say Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. I decided to record this song for my new album the same year Leonard Cohen tragically passed away. What a legend!
Mr Rieu thank you once again for taking the time to answer these questions for me. Good luck with the tour and I will see you here in Nottingham on Thursday 23rd March 2017.