André Rieu, violinist and conductor of his Johann Strauss Orchestra, chats with Kevin Cooper about his lockdown experience, composing the Windsor Waltz for the Queen’s 90th birthday, re-scheduling his UK tour and the release of his Magical Maastricht: Together In Music film in over two thousand cinemas around the world.


André Rieu is a Dutch violinist and conductor best known for creating the waltz-playing Johann Strauss Orchestra. He and his orchestra have turned classical and waltz music into a worldwide concert touring act, as successful as some of the biggest global pop and rock music acts. He resides in his native Maastricht.

Rieu’s father was conductor of the Maastricht Symphony Orchestra. Showing early promise, André began studying violin at the age of five and from a very early age, he developed a fascination with orchestra. He went on to study violin at the Conservatoire Royal in Liège and at the Conservatorium Maastricht. He also speaks six languages; Dutch, English, German, French, Italian and Spanish.

Rieu created the Johann Strauss Orchestra in 1987 which began with just twelve members. They gave their first concert on 1st January 1988. Since then the Orchestra has expanded dramatically and as of 2020, the Orchestra comprises between fifty and sixty members. They have appeared throughout Europe, North and South America, Japan and Australia. The size of their tours is rivalled only by the largest pop and rock music acts.

Whilst at home in Maastricht during the Covid-19 pandemic and busy preparing for the release of his Magical Maastricht: Together In Music in cinemas around the world, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Mr Rieu good morning. How are you today?

Good morning Kevin, I am very well. Thank you for asking. And I must ask just how are you today?

I am very well thank you.

Could I please ask you to pronounce my name a second time?

Of course; Mr Rieu, is that okay?

Yes, that’s absolutely fine; I was just having a joke with you (laughter). The reason that I asked was because the Americans always call me André Rooooo, and it makes me laugh because they sound like a cow in a field (laughter). However, I have to say that your attempt was bloody fantastic (laughter).

That’s good to know, and I will give myself eight out of ten (laughter).

No, no it has to be a nine (laughter)

That’s even better, thank you (laughter).

You are most welcome (laughter).

Before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Of course, it’s my pleasure and in answer to your question I have to say that I am healthy. I do my sports every day, but for the rest, it is shit (laughter).

How are you coping with the current situation and the lockdown?

I have to say that for me, it is terrible. My orchestra and I have been travelling the world now together for over thirty years but then suddenly we are all sitting at home for four months, doing absolutely nothing. It is really difficult sometimes for me to believe in the future but, as I have said, I am remaining positive. In my head, I think that I’m aiming for, let’s say, sometime next year when hopefully everything will once again be allowed. A lot of people are asking me, “could you play for less people who are sitting one and a half metres away from one another?” I am not sure if you know my shows at all but my whole success is based upon the interaction with the audience.

I look at them through their eyes and after ten minutes they jump out of their seats and start to dance and sing. So, when I am not allowed to sing and I am not allowed to dance, I simply cannot give my concerts. We travel the world in order to make the people happy and I am so proud that all of my arena shows have sold out because, whilst they do not know what we are going to play, they know what the atmosphere at the shows will be like. They say, “André is coming, we will have an evening that we will never forget, and we will go home with a smile on our face”. And that is why the people come.

We really must speak about André Rieu’s Magical Maastricht: Together In Music which celebrates fifteen years of your hometown concerts and will screen in cinemas for two weeks only, beginning 18th September. With all that is currently happening throughout the world, will that still go-ahead?

What can I say, at this moment in time that is still on the agenda. I have recently spoken to my people in the office and they are telling me that, at this moment in time, it is still good to go, and we are still selling tickets. However, when you look deep into my heart, I don’t know if it is going to happen. Of course, I really do hope that we can be in the cinemas over there in the UK in September, but what do you think, you simply never know exactly just what is going to happen.

I have to ask, just how difficult was it for you to pick the best moments out of fifteen years’ worth of concerts performed in Maastricht?

(Laughter) that’s a good question Kevin because my wife, Marjorie and I were sitting in the studio watching all of these highlights from all of the fifteen years, and I can tell you, it was very, very difficult (laughter). We both cried a lot, seeing all of these things passing and for me to not be able to jump onstage and play for the people this year. When you look at the Vrijthof Square, it’s empty. The whole city is empty when it is usually filled with a hundred and twenty thousand people, and during my month one hundred and fifty thousand people come from all over the world. So, you can no doubt imagine just how lovely the city is, and just how happy the people are, but now it is really sad. So it was very difficult for me to choose the highlights, but, the result is fantastic.

How long did it take you to come up with the final product?

A very long time (laughter). For me, it was really hard and in fact, we could make ten compilations from the last fifteen years (laughter). So, whilst that is very promising, I really hope that we can go back on stage very soon and play once again. I can promise the people who go to the cinema, that you will not regret it and you will cry a lot so have your handkerchiefs ready (laughter). It really is emotional.

Did anything miss out which you wish you could have put into the movie?

No, we did everything that we could to put on there everything that we wanted to be on there, so that the people who go to the cinema will go home with a lot of tears in their eyes, but also a lot of laughs, a lot of hope for the future, and a lot of love. When we were making this compilation, we saw just how much love there is during our concerts. For the first ten minutes the people sit there, then after twenty minutes they go near to each other and after the break their arms go around one another, then during the encore they start kissing each other; it really is so nice to see.

As we all know, Maastricht is your hometown, so I wanted to ask, whenever you perform there, do you feel any added pressure?

No, simply because every concert that we play is a pressure situation. In fact, I must tell you that I personally get extremely nervous before every concert. When you are not nervous before you go out onto the stage the people will feel that and say, “oh, he is on automatic pilot today” (laughter). I am always very nervous. Let me say that the concerts in my hometown of Maastricht are very special, simply because it is my hometown. They really are very special.

Do you think that streaming concerts live to cinemas worldwide is the way forward?

No, at least not for me; I need my audience. Some years ago, my son Pierre came up with the idea of putting the shows out there in the cinemas. I immediately thought of everyone sitting in the dark and in silence but then we did it, and I heard the most amazing stories from all over the world about the people singing, dancing, clapping and crying and it really was a huge success. The best of the Maastricht concerts will be shown in over two thousand cinemas all over the world and it is growing and growing. So, for the cinemas it is okay because there is an audience but the idea of streaming a concert without an audience, no, we don’t do that.

You are scheduled to be here in Nottingham on 24th September doing a live performance. If you have to cancel that date will you be rescheduling for some time in the New Year?

Yes, we will. We are currently in contact with the arenas regarding the tour and I must be honest with you and say that they are starting to be negative now about the tour. So, in answer to your question, yes, we will reschedule the dates which we have to cancel.

Do you personally feel that the music industry will ever recover?

I think so. Certainly in these sad times people need music and so I think that the moment that we are allowed to go back on stage, the people will jump on the tickets shouting, “yes, we can come again”. So for me personally, I am very happy that our government supports me, not only me but all of the companies in Holland, because without their support I think it would be very difficult. I have one hundred and thirty-six people on my payroll so you can imagine just how much that costs me every month. So, due to the support of the government we are still there, and I hope that they will go on doing that until the moment that they say, “okay, you can go back onstage and play”.

From humble beginnings to global superstar, do you ever miss the intimacy of playing in small, intimate venues?

No (laughter). Whenever I play over there in Nottingham in a ten thousand-seater hall, or on the square here in Maastricht, I can see everything. I can really see everything, and I can look the people in the eye. I hear afterwards that everybody, even when they sit right at the back, they say, “André I had a feeling that you played only for me”. Of course, that is a technique, but it is also the way that we play on stage. We are never on automatic pilot; we are always one hundred percent there and that is what the people feel. So no, for me it is even more great and more fantastic whenever we play in bigger halls.

To date, you have been awarded five hundred Platinum and two hundred and seventy Gold discs. So, I have two questions for you, firstly where do you hang them and secondly, more to the point, who cleans them (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) they hang in my studio at home and of course, the five hundred Platinum I don’t have them all because it was too much for the record company to give me a Platinum plaque for every single one. They cheated and just gave me the one big plaque that said it was for the record sales. However, I totally agree with you, the record company should have given me all of the plaques (laughter).

Back in 2016, together with Frank Steijns, you composed the Windsor Waltz for the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth the Second. Did you get to meet her?

No, I didn’t but for me, it was very exciting to do that. I sent it to her, but I never received any sort of reply (laughter). However, I saw her some weeks later and she had a smile on her face, so I think that she heard it (laughter). I like to think that perhaps she danced to it with Prince Phillip (laughter).

I wanted to ask you about recruitment for new members of the orchestra. Do you advertise, or do they come to you?

No, I never advertise, they come to me. I remember that once my saxophone player said to me, “I know a girl who lives here in Maastricht, she is a singer, she is beautiful, she is so nice and she sings so good” and I said to him, “okay, bring her along to meet me.” At that time, we were not looking for anybody new, but she was right, she was so nice and so beautiful, so I said, “okay, come with us” and she did. That is how it usually works for me, so I never advertise, simply because I have never needed too.

Amongst others you play a 1667 Stradivarius violin. How do you keep them safe; do they always travel with you?

Yes, that’s right, they always travel with me. I also have a bodyguard for my violins. He is always there with the violins whenever I have an interview or whenever I am on stage. I have two violins in my case, so whenever I am on stage with one violin, he stays with the second violin backstage. He ensures that I always have a good feeling about my violins. So, my violins always travel with me. Almost all the other instruments go in containers which are loaded onto trucks because as you can imagine, some of the instruments are very difficult for us to get onto planes. We actually started shipping the instruments like this over ten years ago now and we never put them onto a plane; they always travel by road and sea.

I won’t mention retirement but are there any thoughts on slowing down?

(Laughter) most definitely not Kevin; stop saying that. As you know I am seventy years old and I am going to be one hundred and forty before I even think about slowing down. So as you can see, I am halfway (laughter). I do some heavy workouts with my trainer in order to maintain my muscles and as I said earlier, I play tennis, but other than that I do only my music. That is what I love; I live for my dreams so let’s go on.

Putting you firmly on the spot, if you had to choose just one, which concert would you say has given you the greatest pleasure?

I really do hope that you accept this answer as the truth when I say to you that every concert gives me an enormous amount of pleasure. We start nearly every concert from zero, and we try to give one hundred percent, and then we finish the concert with a nice glass of wine, something to eat, and we speak about the audience. So in fact it is really a dream for us to live this life because every night is a highlight and that is fantastic.

I must ask you; just how do the classical purists react to the comedy elements that you inject into your shows?

(Laughter) the purists, I really couldn’t care less what they think. I am honest on stage and I do my job with my heart, together with my orchestra and what the purists think of this, well come on, get on with it (laughter). I have my audience and I know that my audience love what we do, so for me it is okay.

How does it sit with you being called The Godfather of Events Cinema?

I’m okay with that (laughter). I am the King of The Waltz, and now I am the Godfather of The Cinema, so let’s go (laughter).

On that note Mr Rieu let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it really has been delightful.

It was very nice Kevin to talk to you, and I hope to see you very, very soon. You stay safe.

André Rieu’s tour of the UK has been postponed. For the re-arranged dates visit https://www.andrerieu.com/en/news/andre-rieu-postpones-uk-ireland-tour-to-april-2021