Athens, Greece March 12, 2024: Emma’s 16th birthday
Greek Paper “Culture”. March 2024. By Athanasios Katsikidis The classical violinist who can pack a stadium Ahead of two shows at the Olympic Stadium in Athens (Greece) in March 2024, the Dutch musician and conductor André Rieu talks about how he created the world’s biggest private orchestra. “Beethoven needed four notes for his 5th Symphony to be recognized: ta-ta-ta-taaaa. Theodorakis only needed two: pa-dam!” the famous Dutch violinist and conductor Andre Rieu tells Kathimerini while he is preparing for his first concert in Greece with his Johann Strauss Orchestra, rehearsing his own version of the syrtaki. He is at his home, a castle outside Maastricht where, long before him, Charles D’Artagnan, the musketeer who inspired Alexandre Dumas, is said to have lived. A contemporary of the legendary hero is a 1667 Stradivarius that Rieu has in his collection, an heirloom symbol of the successful path he has taken through the years, winning a fanatic audience around the world with his violin. He was born in 1949 into a musician family. “My father was a conductor. He was chief of the Limburg Symphony Orchestra. There was only classical music in our house, I grew up with Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. My two brothers, my three sisters, and I all studied classical music and learned several instruments. We all became musicians. For example, one of my sisters was a professor for harp and my brother played the cello at the Opera de Marseille. I studied the piano, flute, oboe and violin, which my mother chose for me. I hated my piano teacher, but I loved my violin teacher, so I studied the violin a lot.” At this point he smiled: “The violin for me is the most romantic instrument. When you hold it, it is also very close to your heart.” “Also, I have to mention that my father took all his children to his concerts regularly, and I heard my first waltz when I was 5 years old. It made a huge impression on me, because of what happened with the audience. Before the waltz, which was played as an encore, everyone sat there seriously watching, but when the waltz started to be played everybody smiled and moved to the music. It was then that I realized this music made people happy. It had a profound effect on me. “My favorite composer is Johann Strauss. He had five orchestras, can you imagine? And he toured the world with them. As a young man, I used to play the violin in my father’s orchestra, but I was very unhappy. Nobody seemed to enjoy making music, it was a pure ‘job to be done.’ I had always dreamt of founding my own orchestra, playing waltzes and music I loved, and traveling the world with them. My orchestra started in 1987 with only 12 musicians in a cold gym hall of my boys’ school.” Rieu recalls the small theaters where they played at the beginning and the performances in nursing homes. Everything changed in 1994 when his recording of Shostakovich’s Waltz No 2 sold over a million copies. “From then on, we grew bigger. In 2008 I played the biggest concert in my career in Melbourne for 38,000 people. I am so grateful for this – I am really living my dream.” Today, Rieu has 70 musicians (from 16 different countries), and runs the largest private orchestra in the world. The staging of his concert creates an on-stage extravaganza that often commands attention. Colorful costumes and flouncy dresses, clever sets, and audience interaction make up the mosaic of Johann Strauss Orchestra performances. A characteristic scene from Rieu’s performances is the scene with the “bull” chasing the lady audience member who has made the “mistake” of wearing a red dress. And while the “chase” begins, the maestro gives the signal and the musicians play the classic Spanish dance Espana Cani. The orchestra is my second family after my wife, sons and grandchildren’ Rieu combines in his concerts classical pieces, film scores, and folk music, depending on where he happens to be visiting. As musical diversity is a key characteristic of his, we ask him how he manages to approach the different genres and achieve harmony between them. “To me, a genre is not important. I only care if a melody touches my heart. That can be a melody written by Verdi, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Theodorakis, or Michael Jackson. We should not limit ourselves to just one kind of music. Wonderful, great music has been written for centuries until today. Be open to it, listen with your heart. Trust your emotions.” “Emotion,” he argues, “is what connects everything. It brings people together from all nationalities and backgrounds. And of course, I tell little stories about each piece we play, and involve the audience.” The element that gives excellence to the musical result lies, according to him, in the strong bond he has with the members of his orchestra. “The orchestra is my second family after my wife, sons and grandchildren. Many musicians have been with me for over 20 years. But now we also have a lot of new, young, wonderful members. They come from 16 nations. During my summer concerts in Maastricht the oldest member is over 80 years old and the youngest is only 18. It is wonderful to be with them; they are a fun, joyful, happy group and that is what you can see on stage. Everything is authentic. And of course, they are great players. In fact, I demand of my orchestra members only one thing, that they play with their heart because we want to travel the world, and we want to make people happy all over the world.” Subsequently, we talk about what he is preparing for their Greek audience and he remembers how much he liked the Ancient Greek he took at school. “I studied Ancient Greek at school, and I loved it. Ever since I have wanted to visit Greece, and this will be my first time ever. My orchestra and I have been touring the world for over 30 years and all these years I have got a lot of reactions on social media from Greece. So now finally we come!” Syrtaki is one of his most popular recordings, with millions of views on digital platforms – inspired, of course, by Mikis Theodorakis’ composition. Rieu says he enjoys performing it and interacting with people. “I will of course play it and also one of my choir girls will sing a Greek song. She is half-Greek. You have wonderful music!” But he will not dance, as he points out. “I play, I do not dance!” When we ask why he has not been before, he replies that a minimum guaranteed audience is necessary. “I need a concert hall that fits around 10,000 people as I do not receive government funding. I have 120 people; they and their families depend on our touring. Usually, when I cannot come to a country, it is because these conditions are not met.” This year, he completes 37 years of his artistic career, while he keeps on touring the world with new musical compositions. What is it that has kept him active and with an inexhaustible spirit for almost four decades? “The secret is that you always try every night to play 100% and to start all over again from zero. You know, I’m always very nervous. I start from zero because I don’t want people in the audience to feel like I’m on autopilot, and that’s bad. So, you should always start all over again as if it is the first time.” Smiling and cheerful, he sums up our conversation in eight words that encapsulate his philosophy on music and life in general: “I do not work. I am having fun!” André Rieu will be performing two concerts at the OAKA indoor stadium on March 12 and 13, 2024.
For the first time André Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra performed two sold out concerts in Athens, the capital of Greece, on 12 and 13 March 2024. At home he already made a moussaka meal to get into the Greek mood. March 12 is Emma Kok’s birthday. This year she turned “Sweet Sixteen” and got some very nice surprises. André organized a surprise party for her with her family and best friends, and the audience of 13.500 sang “Happy birthday” for her, in English and Greek.