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The Henket family René, Virgenie, Cas (11) and Youp (9) Henket
14 dec. 2023. De Limburger. By Ronald Colée. Photo credits Ermindo Armino Translation Ineke, edited by Diana D.Le. Rieu orchestra as a love nest: 'All together we have about thirty Strauss babies’. René and Virgenie Henket met twenty-two years ago with André Rieu's Johann Strauss Orchestra and have now been traveling the world together for fifteen years. A relationship in the workplace is often undesirable, but with the Johann Strauss Orchestra that is not a problem. As long as you do your job well. The André Rieu Orchestra currently has seven couples, including René and Virgenie Henket. “Keeping a relationship secret is virtually impossible. The others often realize that something is going on before the lovebirds themselves.” Twenty-two years ago, the spark was ignited, sixteen years ago they got married and they are now the proud parents of two Strauss babies, as children of two members of the Johann Strauss Orchestra are affectionately called: Cas (11) and Youp (9). René and Virgenie Henket met while preparing for a concert tour through Japan. “André was still working with a project choir for Ravel's ‘Bolero’ and included Virgenie, who had just graduated from the conservatory. There was an immediate click. Yet it took another six months before the spark really flew. In a cafe in Japan. After that, things went quickly. Less than a year later she moved in with me.” Virgenie: “We tried to keep it a bit quiet during that trip. Also, for our families at home. But all colleagues immediately noticed what was going on. Especially when we asked if we could switch places during the return flight and ended up sitting next to each other on the plane. Back then, one and one was two for everyone.” Early loves René: “And in fact it is still like this twenty-two years later. Even now, during rehearsals, we see the beginnings of love developing from the back rows between orchestra members who exchange meaningful glances with each other.” Looks that did not go unnoticed by the orchestra leader himself. “André sees this perfectly and has no problem with it. As long as everyone continues to do their work flawlessly.” The couple understands that the Johann Strauss Orchestra thus occupies an exceptional position within the business community. Virgenie: “But we are not a standard company.” The Johann Strauss Orchestra currently has seven official couples. René: “There used to be about ten, which together produced about thirty Strauss babies. I don't know the exact number. Then we would have to count them one by one and there is still a risk that we will forget one.” The love couples within the Johann Strauss Orchestra André Rieu's Johann Strauss Orchestra currently has seven couples: Richard Bovee (production) and Gosia Tarnowski (clothing), Glenn Falize (percussion) and Serena Vanheuverswijn (violin), Michèl (video director) and Agnes (violin) Fizzano, René (trumpet) and Virgenie (vocals) Henket, Ton (tuba) and Jet (violin) Maessen, Frank (violin) and Madieke (vocals) Steijns, Leon (trombone) and Lara (violin) van Wijck. In addition, violinist Alina-Lin Merx is still part of the orchestra. Her husband Ruud (trombone) died in 2016. Although René has been a trumpet player for 35 years and he and Virgenie met 22 years ago, they have both been part of the Strauss orchestra for only 15 years. “As mentioned, André still worked with a project choir in 2001 that ceased to exist after a year. Because the music industry was such a precarious existence, Virgenie then trained as an optician and worked at an optician in Brunssum (village in Limburg) for seven years.” Audition Yet the blood crawled where it could not go. Virgenie: “When André started working with a permanent choir years later, I first finished my studies and did not audition. Until a number of shifts occurred a few years later. Then I started singing.” René: “I understand that. Because you are a musician, you cannot learn that. However, I have completely refrained from doing so. I didn't even go to the auditions. André is also very businesslike about that. It either clicks or it doesn't click. If it doesn't click, that's a shame. But at least this way you don't have to deal with any hassle afterwards.” When Virgenie was hired, René had to get used to it. “I had traveled the world alone with the orchestra for twenty years. But if you suddenly go on tour together, you also want to do everything together. But that doesn't work, because then you are twenty-four seven together. You also have to create space for yourself. To ensure that irritation does not occur. Because you can't bang the doors in a hotel room and say: go sleep on the couch. If we ever have words, it never lasts long. The great side of going on tour together is that you visit many special places. Just sit there, just the two of you, on a terrace at the Opera House, looking out over Sydney Harbor.” Of the ten most beautiful coastal roads in the world that they once saw on a TV program, they have already seen seven of them themselves. “We went on safari together in South Africa, looked out over Rio de Janeiro at the statue of Christ in Brazil, and visited the most beautiful places in Australia and New Zealand together. And of course, every time we perform in Japan remains extra special for the two of us. Because it started for us in that country.” Pregnant After three years of touring, Virgenie became pregnant in 2011. “We also wanted to keep that a secret, but I was immediately caught out. At ‘Libiamo’ from La Traviata we always toast on stage with a glass of champagne. But I kept shaking that glass and didn't finish it. To which my colleague Karin Haine asked: are you pregnant? I was shocked. Shortly afterwards, we recorded a Christmas special in André's backyard in the middle of the summer and I had to tip a few glasses of mulled wine into the flowers without being noticed. Because no one knew except Karin. I thought. Until André announced that someone was pregnant and I almost changed color. ‘Judith’.” Proclaiming happy news within the orchestra is reserved for the orchestra leader himself. Virgenie: “We finally told André about my pregnancy in Mexico. After which he shared it with the orchestra. (Laughing) “Like some kind of angel Gabriel. Although – even though my first name may suggest otherwise – I was not received immaculately, haha.” When Youp arrived, it was actually even funnier. “During that period, two more colleagues turned out to be pregnant. So, when André informed the orchestra about this, he concluded with: “So, is anyone else pregnant?” If he had known….” Arranged The arrival of their sons meant that Virgenie and René had to organize their lives differently. “Fortunately, Virgenie's parents immediately volunteered to babysit. While they themselves were still working. Although not full-time, they immediately put all kinds of things aside to help us. Which was not at all obvious and still is not. We realize that all too well. Especially because we live in Vaesrade, they go to school in Landgraaf and the children go to school in Schinnen. That requires quite a bit of arranging. It has created an indestructible bond. When the children visit grandma and grandpa, it feels like coming home, not like visiting. You can see that in how they take their own drinks from the refrigerator, but also in how they lie stretched out on the couch.” With the Johann Strauss Orchestra they give about ninety concerts a year. “Add to that the travel days and you realize that we are often away from home. But when we are at home, we are fully at home,” says Virgenie. “That doesn't change the fact that when we had to go on tour to South Africa for the first time without him five months after Cas' birth, our hearts broke." As the years passed, that bad feeling became less bad. René: “What really helps is that we don't drop the children off, but have grandpa and grandma pick them up. That feels very different, even though it is never nice to say goodbye.” Virgenie: “Even now it sometimes happens that we are crying during a very long tour. Even though we FaceTime every day. And you get creative. For example, we made countdown calendars and once – when the children were still small – we took a cuddly toy with us on a trip and said that it had secretly crawled into our suitcase. We then had that bear Josje do a travel report. He sent photos in which he looked at the boats in the harbor or the planes at the airport or looked for comfort in the inside pocket of André's jacket.” When the orchestra is not on tour and has CD recordings, for example, the Rieu musicians can fall back on their own daycare center run by Rietje Sassen, the wife of double bassist Jean, on the top floor of the warehouse opposite the studios. “We can take the children there for the rehearsal and pick them up afterwards. When Cas and Youp were not yet at school, Rietje had to care for ten or twelve members there. A solution because you do not find that flexibility of sometimes a whole month of childcare and then only one or two days at regular daycare centers. It also creates a nice bond between each other. You also saw this when we went to the Efteling (amusement park) for a day with the entire orchestra for André's seventieth birthday. Then the children immediately sought each other out. And André himself knows them all by name.” Add to this that the orchestra members have approximately seven weeks off per year - at Christmas, Carnival, Easter and, if possible, during the May holidays, after the Vrijthof concerts and during the autumn holidays. And it is clear that the children lack little. “Because don't forget that we also have a lot of days off in between. Within Europe, we often only spend three days on the road and four days at home, or vice versa. Days when we are also fully there for our children. And not like a 9 to 5 job only in the evening. Days when we don't feel the need for a dinner out or an evening at the cinema. Then we opt for quality time with the four of us. Because the two of us already experience it enough during our work.”