André Rieu: ‘I Went from the Brink of Bankruptcy to Outselling Beyoncé – Here’s How It Happened’

Byvu lita

Mar 13, 2024

He is the conductor who made classical music cool, shifting 40 million CDs and DVDs – in fact, so great was Andre Rieu ’s popularity, he even outsold Beyonce.

The cheerful Dutchman fondly recalls when his concert sales outstripped the pop superstar’s – a golden year that saved the 74-year-old’s career. “There was one year in 2009 when I sold more tickets than her when I was touring,” he recalls. “I was number one in the world for sales. It was amazing because the year before, I was almost bankrupt.”

His desire to give fans the most spectacular show possible had led him to create the largest touring stage set in the world – a full-scale replica of Vienna’s Schonbrunn Palace.

It was a lavish spectacle that saddled him with millions of euros of debt. He says: “I had played in front of the real palace and I said to my son Pierre, who was working with me: ‘We are going to make a copy of the castle and we are going to tour the world.’ But it cost €35million. We didn’t sell enough tickets to recoup the money we spent. I miscalculated badly.”

Andre Rieu during a concert in Maastricht, Netherlands

Andre Rieu during a concert in Maastricht, Netherlands (Image: Foto: Marcel van Hoorn)

His bank sent eight executives to see him. Seven of them, he says, wanted to cut their losses. Andre adds: “They wanted to pull the plug on the whole tour but there was one young man who said: ‘No, no, let him play. Because that’s the only way we get our money back.’ That’s exactly what’s happened.”

The following year, word started to spread and Andre’s concert dates were sold out. He repaid the debt and ended up €20m in profit. It was an astonishing reversal in fortunes. Proof of his incredible vision but, he says, not worth the “terrible time” his family went through. “I’m glad and thankful that it was that one young man who felt differently to everyone else, but I have promised my wife Marjorie I’ll never to do anything like that ever again,” he says.

Andre with son Pierre

Andre with son Pierre ( Image: Getty Images)

The couple wed in 1975 and have two sons, musical producer Pierre, 42, and Marc, 45. a painter. They met when Marjorie visited Andre’s childhood home in Maastricht for his sister’s birthday. He says: “I was 11 and she was 13 and in the same class as my sister.

“I remember there were lots of girls but only one girl with a lot of curls – Marjorie. We were friends for a long time and then we got together and within a year married.” The couple live in a 15th-century fairytale castle that overlooks the River Maas. Andre grew up marvelling the castle from afar and decided early in his career he wanted to own it.

He says: “I remember telling Marjorie I wanted to live there and she told me: ‘Well, you better sell more records – and that’s what I did.’” But the road to becoming a best-selling classical artist was a rocky one. “When I started out, making ­classical music was completely against the mainstream,” he recalls. “At that time, it was all about the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

Andre with wife Marjorie and sons

Andre with wife Marjorie and sons

“When I said I wanted to make a classical album, the record company laughed at me – ‘you play waltzes? ‘Go back to your grandmother and play for her’ – that was my struggle.” Now, of course, he is the man who is known as the King Of The Waltz. “The Blue Danube is my favourite,” he says. Fans adore him for the same reason his critics deride him – for making classical music fun. People sing and dance at his live shows, like they are at a Beyonce concert.

And the set list includes tunes very much outside the purists’ canon, such as versions of Elvis Presley ’s Can’t Help Falling in Love, Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Don’t Cry for Me Argentina. “I had a classical music education and I see all music through that lens,” Andre explains. “But there’s only good or bad music – whether it touches the heart or not – that’s what I’m interested in.” He describes his live shows as being a passionate experience – like one that isn’t often shared with thousands of people at once.

“It’s about creating an intimate connection,” he says. “Making eye contact with your audience as you do when making love. My mother used to say don’t look people in the eye, it’s rude. But for me, that’s the meaning of life. When I’m standing on stage with 12,000 people, I try to look into the eyes of each so when they go home, they are sure I played for them.”

Andre's castle home
Andre’s castle home

For those who can’t see Andre and his Johann Strauss Orchestra live, a Christmas concert is coming to cinemas this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, Andre and his Johann Strauss Orchestra White Christmas concert will be showing across the UK. The jovial Dutchman and his band of merry musician men and women will perform ­everything from Ava Maria and Holy Night to Jingle Bells. And Andre, typically, has a soft spot for one in waltz time: “My favourite is Silent Night. It’s is very beautiful and peaceful,” he says.

The title also describes how Andre likes to spend much of his free time. He says: “I will never put on the radio or put a CD on in my car. There is so much music already in my life. Silence for me is beautiful.”

His current tour ends on Sunday, December 17, in Maastricht – right where it all started, and where the Rieu family will be celebrating the holidays. “One of my favourite things about Christmas is decorating the castle, including the outside,” says the grandfather-of-five. “Marjorie’s job every year is to dress the tree. My grandchildren are at the age where they like to get up late so we will have Christmas dinner, not lunch. I will be cooking – maybe a turkey or a beef Wellington.”

And he’ll be looking after dessert. “I think a Black Forest cake.” He means an authentic boozy style – with cherry brandy. “I don’t drink alcohol, but it is fantastic in desserts.” It is not a long break. The talented showman is touring again in the new year, with England and Ireland dates in Spring 2024. But until then, he will be savouring being at home in the most Christmassy of settings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *