André Rieu, a Dutch violinist and conductor best known for creating The Johann Strauss Orchestra chats with Kevin Cooper about the new additions to the Orchestra, wanting to work with Bruce Springsteen, the release of his 2022 Christmas album Silver Bells and his forthcoming 2023 tour of the UK.

André Rieu is a Dutch violinist and conductor best known for creating the waltz playing Johann Strauss Orchestra. Rieu and his Orchestra have turned classical and waltz music into a worldwide concert touring act.

His father was conductor of the Maastricht Symphony Orchestra, so he was encouraged to study the violin, which he did, aged five. Between 1968 and 1973 he studied violin at The Conservatoire Royal in Liege and The Conservatorium Maastricht. From 1974 to 1977 he attended The Music Academy in Brussels and he completed his training with distinction from The Royal Conservatory of Brussels.

He created The Johann Strauss Orchestra in 1987 and began with twelve members, giving its first concert on 1st January 1988. As of 2023 he performs with between fifty and sixty musicians.

He plays a 1667 Stradivarius violin.

Whilst busy preparing for his UK tour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

André good morning, how are you today?

Hi Kevin, I’m fine thank you, but more importantly, just how are you feeling today?

I could complain but no one would listen so there is no point (laughter).

(Laughter) I totally agree with you on that.

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

Of course, it’s always a pleasure whenever you and I get to speak and attempt to put the world to rights (laughter).

And I have to ask, just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life at this moment in time is treating me with snow and cold and rain here in Maastricht (laughter). Having said that, I am in a good mood as I am so looking forward to getting over to Spain where I am being told that it is a warm and wonderful 27 degrees.

Well, I have to tell you that we are currently into minus numbers, and in some parts of the UK it actually went as low as minus three overnight.

That sounds just like the weather that we currently have here, I hate it. I know; let’s all go to Spain (laughter).

Well, I have recently returned from Lisbon, and I have to tell you that it was really cold over there too (laughter).

Really, just what is happening out there? (Laughter).

I have absolutely no idea, so let’s leave the weather and move on.

I think that is a wonderful idea.

What did you do in order to keep yourself active during lockdown?

That is a very good question, as it really was the most terrible time. From one day to another we were at home and as you know, we were forbidden to do anything which would have allowed us all to come together, and for me, I am used to travelling the world and making music, almost every single day, together with my orchestra, and then suddenly nothing. But there was one thing, I immediately started to read and research pandemics throughout history, and all of the pandemics throughout history took two years so I was mentally prepared for being at home for two years instead of listening to the news on the television who were saying, ‘oh yes it is only one week more then everything will open up again.’ However, it was clear to me that it would be a long time and to tell you the truth that really did help me a lot.

It must have been a massive disappointment for you when you had to cancel the tour?

Oh my goodness, that was the worst thing ever. I remember that once in my life I had a burn-out or I had worked too hard, and I had to cancel my concerts for three whole months. And I have to say that was such an awful feeling, for me to have to tell the audiences that I would not be coming to play for them. So, the lockdown really was terrible, and I feel that this was really the worst because after one year we all thought that maybe it would be possible for us to play a few shows so we planned a few concerts but then we had to cancel once again and that really was not nice.

Have you caught up with the cancelled concerts yet? Are you on top of things now?

Yes we are, we are now completely on top of it, in fact we have started in Lisbon a year ago last March, and so since then we are travelling the world and I have to say that everything is okay, nobody is ill, no one is speaking about Covid anymore, and everybody is happy in the world where we go. I don’t know what it is like over there in England, but the rest of the world is not speaking anymore about Covid.

Taking you back to December 2022 if I may, and the release of your Christmas album, Silver Bells. I have to tell you that I love it; I think that it is fantastic.

Thank you very much for saying that because we made that album with a lot of pleasure. We started working on that album three years ago now just before the pandemic struck. We have a new tradition now here in Maastricht, as you know we have the summer concerts on the big square here, and now we have a new tradition where we perform our Christmas concerts in the square. But then the pandemic came so we had to cancel it for two years. However, this December we did five marvellous concerts here in Maastricht, and now you mention the Christmas album and that makes me think of the beautiful Christmas.

I think that you may already know that I love Christmas, the Christmas music, and the whole atmosphere of Christmas (laughter). Even when it is not Christmas, every now and then I will put on a Christmas record simply because it is so nice (laughter).

There are two songs on the album that I really do like, one is Santa Clause Is Coming To Town and the other is It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas. I think those two songs really are fantastic.

Thank you very much, thank you. Whenever you make a record and you go into the studio to record those famous pieces, I try to arrange them in a way that the atmosphere comes over and now you are saying that, so we succeeded (laughter).

Were you happy with the fan’s reaction to the album?

Yes, I think that everybody liked it and that for an artist who records the album that really is the best thing that can happen. We were making a romantic record and it really is so nice, all of these pieces (laughter). Giving concerts live for the audience really is the best thing that me and my orchestra can do. Please don’t get me wrong I also love my time spent in the studio with my orchestra, but it’s not quite the same as performing live and seeing the audience‘s reaction. That really does fill me with joy and happiness.

I have to ask, does touring still excite you?

Oh yes, and you have to remember that touring is my life, it really is my life. Of course, I am at home now and I get to cook for tonight, but being on tour oh my God, please don’t take that away from me (laughter).

I was studying your current tour schedule and I saw Malaga, Barcelona, Madrid and I wrote ‘that’s not a bad way to spend a week’ is it?

(Laughter) you are right, that is a very good way to spend a week. In general, I would have to be totally honest with you and say that it is the best way for me to spend my life. I really am living my dream. I dreamt for years about having my own orchestra, travelling the world and making the people happy with our own music and that is what we do every night. So, let me tell you, I live for my dream and please don’t wake me up (laughter).

Are there any thoughts on a new studio album as yet?

Yes, in fact we are working on a new album as we speak and it is going to be called Jewels Of Romance. You are actually the first person to whom I am telling the title (laughter). Oh, my goodness, I don’t know if I should have done that. No, it’s okay (laughter). That is the title so there you have it.

Don’t worry; I will be on my guard if a shadowy figure knocks on my front door (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) I know exactly what you mean.

When are you looking to release the new album?

To be honest with you I think that it will be sometime in either September or November.

You will be visiting us here in Nottingham once again on Wednesday 10th May, what can we expect?

Do you know what I am very proud of, it is when people see that we are visiting their region and they say, “Oh, he is coming to town I wonder what they will play this time around” and in my case they have absolutely no idea as to what we are going to play (laughter). However, they simply know that whenever they buy a ticket to see André and his orchestra, they will have an evening that they will never forget. After the show they all go home with a smile on their faces and that is what I am very proud of. So, when you ask me, “what are we going to expect” that is what we are going to expect, an evening together which none of us will ever forget.

Whenever I see you performing on the television and I look at the faces in the crowd, every single person is just so grateful to be there with you.

And that is why we travel the world. That is such a rewarding thing, whenever I am up there on the stage and I look at all of the faces of the people in the audience, plus there are people kissing, hugging, dancing, and being happy, then that makes me happy too.

You have visited Nottingham many times now; have you ever found the time to take a walk around our fair city?

Me, no never. I travel the world and I don’t see anything of the whole world simply because I am concentrating on the concert. I have said to Marjorie my wife, “once I am old and I don’t travel the world with my orchestra, we will go and make the whole trip and then we will look at the cities that I missed” (laughter). I am now seventy-three years old, and I am halfway because I am going to be one hundred and forty, I will give concerts until I am one hundred and twenty, so I still have a very long way to go (laughter).

In that case let you and I keep our fingers crossed that Richard Branson finally does build a hotel on the Moon for you to perform in (laughter).

Yes, I totally agree with you, perhaps we should tell him that it is time that he hurried up (laughter).

Do the English fans treat you well whenever you visit our shores?

Oh yes, it is always such a fantastic feeling whenever I get over to England. At the beginning of the concert, I am standing at the back of the hall, and we walk through the audience to get to the stage, I am always getting high-fives. They are so glad to see me that they all want to give me a high-five (laughter). Obviously, that really is not possible, but I must say that the English audiences really are fantastic audiences.

Since you were last here, are there any new additions to the orchestra?

Yes, there have been a few new additions. Let me see, there is one girl from Australia, who plays very well and she really is a nice girl, we have one girl from Holland, who is also very nice and an excellent player, they both play the violin. We have got two new members of the choir, two beautiful and lovely girls who sing beautifully together. So, we have four new members since we were last over there in the UK. I had to refresh things because as I told you, I am the oldest member and I do my sports every morning, so I am the fittest of the whole orchestra (laughter).

Have the new members settled in well to life on the road with André?

Oh yes, very much so. They all absolutely love it and they are all so very happy. For a while after they finished their studies they were like, ‘now just what am I going to do’ and they phoned me or mailed me and I said, “yes, come and play for me and let’s do it” (laughter). Back in the old days I would always ask, “why do you want to play with me” but now I don’t do that. I check and see just how everyone works out when they are on the stage. That is the best way for me to see if everything clicks.

You once told me that ‘retirement was for the people who didn’t like their jobs.’ Are there any thoughts on slowing down?

(Laughter) yes I remember saying that to you and yes I still think that is true. But as for me slowing down, then the answer is no not at all. On the contrary, I want to start and go a little quicker and faster (laughter).

The last time that you and I spoke I asked you about the people who you have not yet worked with, and you told me that you would love to work with a certain Bruce Springsteen. Is any collaboration with The Boss any closer to fruition?

Not yet, but as I told you, I am as old as Bruce Springsteen. He has a lot of energy like me so, perhaps one day but I still think that he doesn’t even know my name or doesn’t know who I am (laughter). Perhaps one day the two of us will meet and who knows (laughter).

I have to say that I think that you are being a little harsh upon yourself, as I honestly don’t think that there is anyone in the world who doesn’t know you.

(Laughter) oh no, do you really think so?

Yes, I do, very much so.

In that case, perhaps he knows me and maybe one day he might say, “why not, let’s do it” (laughter).

We have previously spoken about your concerts being broadcast live into cinemas. You told me that you didn’t particularly enjoy that because, for you, it is the live interaction with your audience that you enjoy the most. Is that still the case or have you mellowed slightly towards the live broadcasts?

In the beginning I was afraid that it simply wouldn’t work when my son Pierre (Rieu) came to me with the original idea. I was worried that the atmosphere which we create at our live shows would not be present in the cinemas. But now, I am hearing stories from cinemas around the world that the people are jumping out of their seats, dancing, and singing, clapping, and hugging, so I now know that the very same things that happen with my audiences whenever I perform a live concert is also happening in the cinemas. So, after all of my concerns and worries, I really am so pleased that we did it.

Who or what is the driving force behind André Rieu?

That is a very good question. I simply think that I have the most beautiful job in the world. I created my orchestra, we are travelling the world together, I have my wife, my kids, my grandkids, and I have my second family and that is my orchestra. So, as you can see, I have two families (laughter). I am always with one family or with the other and I am never alone. It really is fantastic and that is what drives me. It really is a fantastic life.

What is currently on André Rieu’s rider?

(Laughter) okay, I see, now you want to get nosey with André (laughter). You may not believe this, but I am a modest man. So, after every show we have the catering for everybody, so I eat with everybody the same food. And on my personal rider I always have some nuts, simply because I like nuts. I will always have a banana after the show, and there will always be a couch so that I am able to sleep and that’s it. So, that’s all (laughter). I have heard stories about artists who demand that their wardrobe ‘has to be painted bright blue’ and that they have to have ‘twenty different types of whiskey waiting for them backstage’ (laughter). I am travelling with my orchestra, with my family, and I am simply one of them. Of course, I am the boss when we are onstage, but backstage I am with them, I am one of them.

Once again, I will be reviewing and photographing the show here in Nottingham.

That’s great Kevin; I assume that I will be seeing you backstage?

That will be brilliant and on that note André, let me once again thank you for your time; it’s been delightful as usual.

Thank you so much Kevin, as usual it has been so nice to talk to you. May I invite you to the Christmas Concert here in Maastricht?

That would be absolutely fantastic; thank you so much and I will see you here in Nottingham. Take care and bye for now.