The Andre Rieu extravaganza: A first for Israel

He announced that “tonight is exactly 30 years” since their first rehearsal in Holland, adding that there was no better way to mark the occasion than his first concert in Israel.

CONDUCTOR-VIOLINIST Andre Rieu (center) flanked by guest sopranos and tenors, with his orchestra at back. (photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
CONDUCTOR-VIOLINIST Andre Rieu (center) flanked by guest sopranos and tenors, with his orchestra at back.
(photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
Menora-Mivtachim Arena
Tel Aviv April 3
When I think of Andre Rieu, I think of Christmas.
Yes, I’m a religious Jew, but his Christmas special in London is something I’ve always shared with my dad; it has sentimental value.
Every year on Christmas Eve, his show would play on the local TV channel in Johannesburg. My dad and I would sit on the couch together, eating take-out food and watch in awe. He captivated us and grabbed our attention even on a couch thousands of kilometers away. Afterward, we’d both always say how one day we’d see him live together.
Well, on Tuesday evening that pipe dream became a reality – albeit without my dad, who is in South Africa. But that didn’t stop me from sending mountains of videos and pictures his way.
As the Menora-Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv filled up, the atmosphere was electric. Attendees were visibly excited for the show – and for good reason.
Known for his charismatic and comedic performances, Rieu has an impeccable way of captivating his audience from start to finish, making classical music fun and contemporary.
As we waited for the show to begin (my companion Erica and I had seats on the floor near the stage), I noticed there was a commotion near the entrance next to our seats; cell phones were out and people were snapping away wildly and chattering excitedly.
I walked toward the stairs and low and behold, there stood Rieu with his entire ensemble – the Johann Strauss Orchestra. Within seconds, I, too, was snapping away furiously, starstruck that the musical maestro I revered so deeply was standing not even a meter away from me. He smiled and nodded toward the cameras pointing his way.
Soon after, we took our seats and the extravaganza began. He walked out through that same entrance with his orchestra to a beautiful marching band, while the crowd cheered and clapped along as they made their way to the stage. The men were dressed in immaculate tailcoat tuxedos and the women in the most extravagant ball gowns – it was almost like a scene from a Disney movie where you expect Belle, Snow White and Cinderella to pop out at any moment. It was mesmerizing.
The music ended and he welcomed visitors: “Shalom, Chevrutai v’Rabbotai,” [loosely, “Hello, ladies and gentleman”]. He joked that that was all the Hebrew he could remember and proceeded to start the show. He announced that “tonight is exactly 30 years” since their first rehearsal in Holland, adding that there was no better way to mark the occasion than his first concert in Israel.
It began with a beautiful rendition of the Russian folk song “Dark Eyes,” moving through a number of personal favorites, including a tenor version of “Bolero,” a soprano rendition of “Think of Me,” and as it played, the strains of music pulsated through me. He and the ensemble know how to touch a chord within (no pun intended!). A local Israeli troupe brandishing drums and bagpipes also joined the orchestra for several moving performances of “The Brave” and “Highland Cathedral.”
Following the intermission, which was preceded by the famous hymn “Hallelujah,” the “boys” of the orchestra gave a most hilarious and “naughty” comedic performance following a Dutch clog dance by the women of the ensemble who had disappeared offstage for some time. Second violinist, Cord and double bassist Franco began “flirting” with Erica and me – Franco taking out his cell phone and pointing to it as if to ask for our numbers, while Cord pointed, waved and smiled. Then both playfully argued over who would “woo” me and who would “woo” Erica.
They took out binoculars to “get a closer look” as we both stood up, waving frantically, and I blew a kiss just to play the part. Minutes later, Cord pointed at us and then at them - nodded naughtily with Franco and suddenly they were both holding up a number and making gestures for us to call.
Needless to say, straight after the concert I checked to see if the number actually showed up on Whatsapp because, hey, you never know… To my disappointment, it seems to have been phony (obviously!).
The concert continued with a gorgeous waltz and Johann Strauss’s “Blue Danube,” to name a few items. Tenors and sopranos took to the stage with the orchestra as they rumbled toward the finale.
One thing Rieu seemed unaccustomed to was that Israelis don’t often give standing ovations – something he hinted at several times.
Toward the end of the show, that the crowd livened up as rules relaxed on the floor and people gathered around the stage, watching Rieu fervently while some couples danced across the arena as the waltz played.
He played a chilling rendition of “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” and a jovial “Hava Negilah” as part of the concert’s last round of encores, which had the whole crowd singing along.
He also brandished an Israeli flag just before playing both songs and placed it on one of the music stands.
With his strong Dutch accent, he said “Sababa” multiple times as the crowd shouted continuously in response to his “Layla tov [good night], it’s to time to go to bed” with: “Don’t stop playing!” and “No, it’s not!” At one point, I put my camera on selfie mode in a bid to get Rieu and some of the orchestra in the background.
He saw, and at the perfect moment turned and smiled into the camera while playing his Stradivarius violin as I clicked the button. That sealed the deal; my night was made.
Sadly, as he had stated a little earlier in the show, Rieu looked at the crowd and said, “All good things must come to an end.” True to his word, he and the ensemble stood up, they bowed and began to shuffle slowly off stage.
The crowd was finally on their feet, cheering and clapping. He got that standing ovation and I got my selfie. Mission accomplished.