The Waltz King has beaten out the Queen of Pop, at least in one country.
You could almost hear Andre Rieu beaming over the phone from Montreal on Wednesday. “By the way, we’re number one in Australia,” said the violinist with a chuckle. “We knocked Madonna off, from place two.”
Rieu had just come off a four-day promotional tour in Australia, supporting his latest release in that country, “Waltzing Matilda.” His concert at 8 tonight at the Times Union Center comes after two dates in Canada, and is the first in a short string of Northeast shows before Rieu takes time off to record a special for European television and a DVD release.
Andre Rieu with the Johann Strauss Orchestra
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: Times Union Center, Albany
How much: $76, $66, $51
More info: Tickets available at Times Union Center box office, some Price Chopper supermarkets, 1-800-30EVENT and www.timesunioncenter-albany.com.
That’s a pretty hectic schedule of recording and touring by most music industry standards, considering that “Waltzing Matilda” was only just released this month. Indeed, he said he releases at least one new product every year, out of necessity.
“I think I’ve been making records now for about 20 years — so I have about 20 CDs and 30 DVDs,” Rieu said. “Of course the live performance, being on stage [is most important], but you need the products out there so that people know who you are. That’s why I make them.”
The abundance of product, combined with Rieu’s flashy performances and appearance, have attracted quite a bit of attention over the years, and not all of it positive. Many classical purists have criticized Rieu’s stage shows; he has often been compared to Liberace in reviews and profiles.
Bigger and flashier
And the shows are only getting bigger and flashier. His World Stadium Tour, which will follow the European special, is being billed as a “romantic night in Vienna,” complete with costumes, an open ballroom, ice skaters on two rinks and the Vienna State Opera Ballet, among other attractions.
But Rieu, who is classically trained in the violin, originally set out to change many of the preconceptions about performing in modern classical music.
“Nowadays, [the music] belongs suddenly to a small, elite group; it should belong to everybody, like always,” Rieu said. “When Mozart composed his melodies, everybody in the streets whistled his tunes. Now, sitting in a hall, if somebody claps too early, people turn around and give dirty looks.”
Rieu formed his Johann Strauss Orchestra, which he will perform with tonight, in 1987, with those goals in mind. But he insisted that changing the concert-going experience is not his main mission.
“I play music because I love it,” he said. “There are people around in my orchestra who think the same thing.”
Rieu was born in Maastricht, in the Netherlands in 1949. Classical music has followed Rieu throughout his life; his father was conductor of the Limburg Symphony Orchestra, and all of his brothers and sisters perform classical music as well.
“Everyone in our home was playing music all the time,” Rieu said. “There was no way not to play music.”
He got his start early, first picking up the violin at age 5. He studied for a time at conservatories in Liege and Maastricht before completing his training in Brussels in 1977. Until 1989, Rieu was a violinist in the Limburg Symphony Orchestra.
His association with the waltz form is widely known. While still at the music academy, Rieu performed “Gold und Silber” by Franz Lehar with a salon orchestra. In 1996, he earned the nickname “The Waltz King,” something that he is still proud of to this day.
His Johann Strauss Orchestra, as the name suggests, got its start by performing many of Johann Strauss’ works, and of course, waltzes. However, Rieu leads his orchestra through a wide variety of classical, popular and folk music, as well as soundtracks from movies and TV. His latest DVD, “Andre Rieu in Wunderland,” features renditions of “Over the Rainbow” and “Some Day My Prince Will Come” from the Walt Disney film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
When asked how he chooses the songs his orchestra performs, Rieu responded, “With my heart.”
“It’s another cliché, but it’s true,” he continued. “When I choose a song, or a melody, or a piece of music, it’s because I love it, it touches me, it does something with me. That’s why on stage I play music that touches me, because when it touches me I know it will touch the audience. I think that’s the only way to play music.”
This eclectic program selection, coupled with the flash of his performances, has attracted a wide audience to Rieu’s concerts. While traditionally classical music audiences have been getting older, attracting younger generations to the genre is not one of Rieu’s goals.
“Everybody can listen to my music and come to the concerts,” Rieu said. “And everybody comes, of all ages and educational backgrounds.” Humming music over the phone, he continues: “When I perform, you see the whole audience starting to move, to hum and to smile.”
Rieu credits much of his success to his on-stage demeanor, which he said is exactly the same as he is backstage.
“I know classical musicians who are nice guys, but when they go on stage they are completely different, so serious,” Rieu said. “People like when you go on stage and show your feelings, and that’s what I do.”