Austrian magic

André Rieu comes to Israel

André Rieu conducts a full orchestra for Mirusia Louwerse, the Australian soprano, in Maastricht (photo credit: ANDRE RIEU PRODUCTIONS)
André Rieu conducts a full orchestra for Mirusia Louwerse, the Australian soprano, in Maastricht
IMAGINE SITTING in a huge outdoor arena under Mediterranean skies and suddenly finding yourself transported to the palace of Austrian Empress Sissy in Vienna where 150 dancers waltz down the aisle in pairs, the men wearing tails and the women wearing elegant white evening gowns. This is just part of the magic that André Rieu conjures around the world and he is bringing some of it to Israel in April.
For years my wife and I watched Rieu’s concerts on the Sky Arts Channel. When we moved to Israel we resumed this pleasurable pastime on Youtube and then we heard that the great Maestro is coming to Tel Aviv.
His spectacular extravaganzas are known and loved across the globe and his music is adored by millions. In his 30-year career, he has sold 40 million albums, won three Brit Awards and has more than 2.4 million followers on Facebook. It is not difficult to fathom why Rieu and his music are so popular.
At an early stage in his career, he moved away from the stiff formal tradition of the concert halls of Vienna, Amsterdam and London in exchange for the popular romantic galas that are staged with spectacular elegance, thus bringing classical music to ordinary people everywhere.
The sheer scale of Rieu’s staging and choreography against a backdrop of astounding sets and colorful costumes is what makes the Rieu brand so unique. His hallmark is also his vibrant personality and charisma. Rieu’s swashbuckling style and incredible musical talent pervade every performance.
He knows how to captivate an audience and bond with the orchestra. Many of his musicians have been with him for years and form the celebrated Johann Strauss Symphony Orchestra. They are as much musical professionals as they are entertainers. Rieu is the master of multitasking and manages to conduct the orchestra and connect with the audience while at the same time playing his violin, a feat that he carries out with the dedication and passion of a great virtuoso.
Rieu’s father was the conductor of the Maastricht Symphony Orchestra. Young André began studying the violin at the age of five, thus beginning his successful mu- sical journey of violinist, conductor and composer.
He created the Johann Strauss Orchestra in 1987, which started with just 12 members. Over the years it has expanded dramatically, and today the orchestra performs with between 80 and 150 musicians. They have performed throughout Europe, North and South America, South Africa, Japan and Australia. The size and revenue of their tours are rivaled only by the largest pop and rock music acts. In addition to nurturing an orchestra, Rieu has also handpicked a team of brilliant soloists who have evolved into world-class performers in their own right. As the name of his orchestra suggests, he specializes in bringing the music of Vienna to life. He has become known as “ The Waltz King” and his top 10 favorite waltzes include the works of Johan Strauss, Johann Strauss II, Dmitri Shostakovich, Franz Lehar and the Jewish composer Kalman Emmerich.
Over the years, the orchestra has expand- ed its repertoire blending contemporary music with classical favorites. When touring, they will often invite local accomplished performers onto the podium or play music representing a slice of local culture. It will be interesting to see what Rieu selects for his concerts in Tel Aviv.
Dressed in his iconic tuxedo, tails and white cravat, the Maestro cuts a dashing figure. Standing six feet tall with long flax- en hair and blue eyes he is an impressive looking man. He speaks several languages, including Dutch, German, English, French, Italian, Spanish and his native Limburg dialect.
Despite his movie star looks, he comes across as a down to earth individual with a charming manner and a sparkling sense of humor.
In a recent documentary about Rieu’s life, there was a very moving moment at one of his concerts when he spoke about his wife Marjorie’ s Jewish father Edgar Kochmann who fled Berlin with his family in 1933. They sought refuge in the Netherlands and as things got more dangerous for Jews, Kochmann decided to go into hiding. He first hid in Arnhem and Nijmegen, and later in Maastricht. He was lucky to have been tipped off by two telephone operators – cousins of his girlfriend Nelly.
EDGAR AND Nelly met at a dance in Maastricht in 1936. Edgar’s parents also went into hiding. His father passed away while in hid- ing due to pneumonia. Horst, Edgar’s brother and his mother Friedel eventually decided to report to the gathering place in Maastricht from which Jews were transported to the transit camp at Westerbork. Friedel died three days later in the gas chambers in Auschwitz and Horst perished in the notorious Nazi labor camp of Blechhammer in Germany.
After the war, the longtime sweethearts Edgar and Nelly got married. Marjorie was born in 1947 and later met André. They were married in 1975.
In an interview with a Maastricht newspaper last year, Marjorie Kochmann Rieu recalled that one of the few possessions her father was allowed to bring with him from Germany was his collection of records.
“My father was born in Berlin in 1907 and grew up in the Jazz age in the ’20s in that city. He loved dancing, in particular doing the Charleston.
He also liked light music and operettas. He owned a few hundred records. Those were the only things he could take with him from Berlin. Many years later these records were to inspire André and influence his musical tastes.”
The Rieus have two sons Marc and Pierre. Both Marjorie and Pierre are active in the business. They play an important part in the planning, preparation and management of the big events.
When my wife and I heard that Rieu and his people were coming to Israel during the week of Passover, we were incredibly excited. Having been armchair spectators of his concerts from the comfort of our living rooms in London and Jerusalem, we were often tempted to book tickets for the real thing and fly to Europe to one of the venues.
But now, the party is coming here and we can hardly wait. Israelis and visiting tourists will be in for an extraordinary evening with all the glitz and glamour that only he can provide.
The concerts will be performed from April 3-7 at the Menora Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv. Tickets, although selling fast, are available through Le’An online.