André Rieu chats with Kevin Cooper about his 1732 Stradivarius violin, playing for the first time in Romania in front of 85,000 people, his latest album Roman Holiday, and his forthcoming tour of the UK.

André Rieu is a Dutch violinist and conductor best known for creating the waltz-playing Johann Strauss Orchestra. Together they have turned classical and waltz music into a worldwide concert touring act. For his work, Rieu has been awarded such honours as the Order of the Netherlands Lion by the Netherlands, the Knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France, and the Honorary Medal by his native Province of Limburg.

His Orchestra began in 1987 with just 12 members, but over the years it has expanded dramatically; nowadays performing with between 80 and 150 musicians. Rieu and his orchestra have performed throughout Europe, North and South America, Japan, and Australia. The size and revenue of their tours are rivalled only by the largest pop and rock music acts. In 2008 Rieu’s extravagant tour featured a full size reproduction of Empress Sisi’s Castle, the biggest stage ever to go on tour at that time.

Taking time out from his busy schedule, he had a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hello Mr Rieu, thank you for talking to me.

It’s a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

How is life treating you?

Very well, thank you! I’m a very lucky man. I have a wonderful family, fantastic friends and travel the whole world with my orchestra. It’s a dream come true.

Your father was the conductor of the Maastricht Symphony Orchestra. Were you destined to follow in his footsteps and have a career in music?

I think so, yes. My brothers and sisters and I all played several instruments and all became musicians. I started playing the violin at the age of five. I did not exactly follow in his footsteps because he was a classical conductor performing Mozart, Mahler, Beethoven symphonies, but I think I was destined to have a career in music. If it hadn’t been music I would have loved to become an architect.

Who were you listening to whilst you were growing up?

Mozart, Mahler, Bach, Bartok; all classical. There was no other music at our home. I had never heard of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones until I met my future wife Marjorie. Her parents loved music, but all kinds of music. She introduced me to a big variety and opened a whole new world for me.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

My father with the Limburg Symphony Orchestra, when I was five years old.

Who has been your biggest musical inspiration?

Johann Strauss, without a doubt. And my wife!

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

The concerts in front of Schönbrunn Castle in Vienna and the Coronation Concert for our king Willem-Alexander and queen Maxima are certainly highlights in my career. Vienna has played such a big role in my career and of course playing for our new king was a big honour. Was I ever surprised? No, I don’t think so. If yes, then always in a positive way.

What can we expect from your show here in Nottingham?

A completely new program, full of surprises of course. But I’m not going to tell you which (laughter).

Can you put your finger on just what it is that fascinates you about the orchestra?

It’s the most beautiful sound of the whole world. In my orchestra I have ten different nationalities. And they all get along with each other. They are my second family. We play together every night on stage, eat the same food, and stay at the same hotels. Making music together has such unifying power.

You have studied the violin under Jo Juda and Herman Krebbers and also with André Gertler. Did any one of them inspire you more than the others?

When I was still a child Herman Krebbers used to play every year with my father’s symphony orchestra. I was a big admirer of his. He was a great violinist and also a very sympathetic human being. I always wanted to be like him.

You currently play a 1732 Stradivarius violin. Is this your favourite?

My 1732 Stradivarius one of the last instruments he made, and he had a very long life. I love it, yes it’s my favourite. Its sound reminds me of the opera singer Maria Callas; very warm and passionate.

You have recently performed seven concerts in Bucharest Romania where an estimated 85,000 fans attended your concerts.  Just how did that make you feel?

It was amazing. We performed open air on the Piata Constitutiei, and it was the first time for my orchestra and me in Romania. We brought our Maastricht stage there and at first thought we’d play only two or three concerts. But they were sold out in only two days. So it grew and in the end we played seven nights in two weeks. It was an unforgettable experience and will go down as another highlight of my career.

Are your sons Marc and Pierre following in your footsteps?

Marc is an artists as well; he’s a painter and Pierre is Vice President of André Rieu Productions and very much involved in all aspects of the company and the concerts.

Your wife Marjorie serves as your full-time production manager. Is she the boss whilst you are out on the road?

Yes she is. But not only when I’m on the road. She’s the boss when I’m at home, as well! (Laughter).

You are about to release your new album Roman Holiday. Are you happy with it?

Yes Kevin, absolutely. I think that it is some of our best work to date. We had a great time recording the album and I really do hope that you enjoy listening to it.

Can you tell us a little about the new album?

It’s my very personal selection of my favourite Italian melodies. Songs like Gabriel’s Oboe, the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, Felicità, Mattinata; melodies from my favourite operas La Traviata and Madame Butterfly and Italian folk songs like Bella Ciao. Also, I composed a song called Mio Angelo and Marjorie wrote the lyrics to it. We’ve made a music clip of it for YouTube and I think it’s my first single in years. We did it on occasion of the wedding of my star soprano Mirusia Louwerse. It’s so romantic and I really hope you will enjoy it.

Which single artist would you most like to record with? (Someone whom you haven’t recorded with already)

Bruce Springsteen, he is a fabulous artist.

What single ambition have you still to achieve?

I would love to give a concert on the moon one day. Maybe if Richard Branson opens his hotel, we will be able to do so (laughter).

Which single event would you say changed your life forever?

The success of my album Strauss & Co, especially the Second Waltz by Shostakowitch on this album in 1994. It sold more than 900,000 copies and that is a lot for a small country like Holland. And then I played during half time of Ajax Amsterdam v Bayern Munich in the stadium in front of tens of thousands of soccer fans. You can still watch it on YouTube. It was an incredible experience. This changed our lives and started a waltz craze.

When you were 20 did you foresee yourself having such a long career?

Not when I was 20, no. But I hope it will be going on for many years to come!

So do we Mr Rieu, and on that note may I thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

Thank you Kevin, it has been a pleasure.