Magazine article The Spectator

The Question My Mum Made Me Ask André Rieu

Magazine article The Spectator

The Question My Mum Made Me Ask André Rieu

Article excerpt

André Rieu is a demigod among classical performing artists - and my mother loves him

When I first encountered the global phenomenon that is André Rieu, I had my heart set on hating him. If that seems unkind, you have to understand that I had been forced to watch hour upon hour of his concerts on the Sky Arts channel that is all but dedicated to him and plays on a constant loop in my parents' home. The moment my mother discovered the classical music impresario, our lives were never quite the same. Every time I went home to visit, I would find her glued to the television watching Rieu conducting an orchestra full of ladies in crinoline dresses every colour of the rainbow. And she was not just watching as the Dutchman conducted while playing his violin (somehow he does both simultaneously) -- she was swaying from side to side as she sat transfixed on the sofa. After a while my father gave up and watched with her. Rather touchingly, I found them both swaying as Rieu conducted Viennese waltzes.

Nevertheless, I started to worry that my mother had been hypnotised by subliminal messages being transmitted beneath the strains of the 'Blue Danube'. 'I hope he's not telling her to send money to the Classical Artists Social Housing fund (please make cheques payable to: CASH),' I fretted, for such was Rieu's apparent power. She seemed to have no control over herself while 'André', as she took to calling him, was on the telly. 'Oh André!' she would exclaim, if a glimpse of an advert for the man came on while we were attempting to watch something on another channel. And that would remind her to switch over to Sky Arts and off we would go again with the waltzes and the crinolines and the flowers and the balloons, and sometimes the horses being trotted around the arena in time to the Radetzky March as audiences full of pensioners gasped in ecstasy, while my parents swayed with delight.

André Rieu -- pronounced Reer -- conducts an orchestra called the Johann Strauss Orchestra. They play the popular classics we all secretly like better than the more challenging pieces we pretend to favour. They also perform tunes from the shows and the movies, anything that 'speaks to the heart', as Rieu, 65, says. Imagine cheesy-listening French pianist Richard Clayderman only older and wiser, with wavier hair and a matinée idol smile so disarming it could effect a truce between Russia and Ukraine.

His shows regularly outsell any other male touring artist in the world, including Bruce Springsteen. His album Forever Vienna reached No. 2 in the British pop chart, the highest ever showing for a classical record; in all he has sold more than 22 million albums and turned classical music into a stadium act.

Rieu started playing the violin aged five. As a student, he decided to pursue the waltz form, and in 1987 formed an orchestra with 12 members. Today, he performs with up to 150 musicians plus guest stars. Rieu is now known as the Waltz King. He is a global businessman, a seemingly unstoppable brand.

Under duress, I arranged tickets for my parents to see his show at Wembley last year. I went along through some morbid sense of curiosity about exactly how much schmaltz a person could absorb before dissolving into a pool of molten sentimentality on the floor. To my utmost horror, I loved it. I abandoned myself to the joy of listening to 'the best bits'. After 'O Mio Babbino Caro' and 'The White Cliffs of Dover', life didn't seem so bad. …

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