Interview with Pierre Rieu“The Limburger”, July 28, 2022.
The Limburger, 28 July 2022, by Rob Cobben. Photo: Marcel van Hoorn.Translation: Ineke/John.Interview with Pierre Rieu: The whole world comes together in Maastricht.Pierre Rieu: 'The most frequently asked question during the guided tours? How to proceed if André is no longer there'. We cannot call him the big man behind the scenes, although he is ultimately responsible for everything that happens around André Rieu's Vrijthof concerts: the last ones are this weekend of André Rieu. He works with a team of no less than 650 people, emphasizes son Pierre. “This is really a group performance and every day of the concert we are amazed at what we all experience.” These are the busiest weeks of the year for Pierre Rieu. But the 41-year-old son of the world-famous violinist and orchestra leader from Maastricht is particularly relaxed on the terrace of “Huis de Torentjes”, the beautiful castle from the fifteenth century in the Sint Pieter district where his parents live. We meet on a day when there are no performances and no guided tours for concert-goers who have booked a VIP package, with Pierre always acting as host and guide. Those tours are only available on days when there is also a concert, he explains. And invariably they are always full with 120 participants at a time. Rieu fans can choose from three packages: an excursion in the studio and rehearsal rooms in Amby (a neighborhood in Maastricht), backstage on the Vrijthof or one through the castle, where you can also see the costumes of orchestra members and even the Maestro’s can be viewed. Of course, the latter option is the most popular.Breath So there is some time to catch your breath. Although the fans of his father and his Johann Strauss Orchestra are never far away. “Look”, says Pierre, pointing to the Lage Kanaaldijk at the foot of the monumental building on the eastern flank of the Sint Pietersberg. Although the municipality has placed prohibition signs there a few weeks ago, a coach still stops there. Dozens of people, with cameras around their necks or a smartphone in their hands, get out and immediately take pictures of their great idol's domain. Pierre Rieu laughs. “I think this is very nice to see. How special it is that people from all over the world travel to Maastricht to come and see your father. They can also spend their money on other things, can’t they?”Valuable He describes the contact with the fans as 'very special and valuable'. “During those guided tours they explain why they traveled to Maastricht. There are people who celebrate an anniversary, have been married for forty or fifty years, are retiring or have overcome an illness. Some stories really touch you. Everyone has a different reason for coming here.” They bombard him with questions, says Pierre Rieu. One that comes along most often is: “What about the Johann Strauss Orchestra when André is gone?” Then I always answer that we are not working on that yet. That we live from day to day and enjoy all those beautiful moments. And I sincerely mean that. We are every day amazed by the concerts at what we all experience. His father still feels fine and is in an excellent condition, says Pierre Rieu. He lives a healthy life, has a personal coach and ensures sufficient moments of rest. “But he will indeed turn 73 in October. That is quite an age. That is why we are slowly reducing the number of concerts. A few years ago we were still at one hundred and forty performances a year, now we are just over a hundred. And we want to end up somewhere around eighty.”Finals On Sunday, the series of fifteen concerts on the Vrijthof in Maastricht will come to an end, good for a total of 180,000 visitors. Every concert evening there are 8800 people in front of the stage and another 3500 others have bought a terrace arrangement at the catering establishments around the square. Never before has Rieu and his orchestra given so many concerts in a row in his birth/hometown. He was allowed by the municipality to use the Vrijthof a few extra evenings, since the performances in 2020 and 2021 had to be canceled due to Covid-19. Next year there again will be twelve concerts, just like before the corona pandemic. Rieu and his orchestra travel all over the world, but the Vrijthof series are still the highlights of the year for the orchestra and employees, says the son and production manager. “And that's certainly not just because we can come to work by bike. When we perform in Lisbon, there are only Portuguese in the room. And in Montevideo, the crowd is mostly Uruguayans. But in Maastricht almost the entire world comes together. This year we have guests from almost a hundred different countries. And that is very special. You also see friendships develop between fans of different origins.”Grandiose Why do all those people make the sometimes long and expensive trip to Maastricht, when they might also be able to see Rieu perform closer to home? „Because they find it special to see André in his own city. And because they know the show here is bigger here than anywhere else. During the concerts on the Vrijthof this year, a total of 250 artists are on stage. You can't experience that anywhere else.” Tickets for the fifteen concerts this summer, has already gone on sale in September 2019. And no one returned their ticket after the forced cancellations in 2020 and 2021, says Pierre Rieu. And that also applies to all the other concerts which were planned in the rest of the world, for which a total of half a million tickets were sold. “The fans have remained loyal to us. That has been a huge suppot for all of us. It has given us strength during those difficult pandemic years.”Christmas concerts There were exactly 1081 days between the last Vrijthof concert in 2019 and the first of 2022. Sunday evening around midnight, the sixteenth concert series come to an end on the most beautiful square in the world, as the orchestra leader himself calls it. In total, the counter stands at 115 open-air performances at that location. And after that? “We take everything down and leave the square beautiful. That is how it happens, because we work with a team that is a well-oiled machine. With all these employees I could dare to organize any event anywhere in the world .” Then there will be a short vacation for the musicians and the other staff (in total about 120 people from André Rieu Productions). Starting at the end of September another busy program awaits, with concerts in Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Israel, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. And then in December the dessert will again be in Maastricht, with at least four Christmas concerts in the MECC (Conference and exhibition center), which will turn the venue into a fairytale decor. Pierre Rieu: „Because that is what we are good at: giving people the feeling that they have ended up in a fairy tale. And let them have a wonderful evening, so that they go home with a smile on their face.”