The executives at André Rieu Productions are fond of calling their multimillion-selling boss "the most popular unknown artist in the world." They had better start thinking of a new sobriquet. That in-house nickname may have once accurately described Rieu, the Dutch master of the waltzing violin who has built a global following with his live performances. But with global CD and DVD sales estimated by his company at 30 million, the number of territories in which Rieu remains "unknown" is shrinking fast.
Rieu hit a remarkable milestone recently: He ranked among the top 10 global touring artists of 2009, according to Billboard Boxscore.
Appearing on the year-end recap below U2, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC and Pink, Rieu ranked at No. 6, just above Britney Spears, the double bill of Billy Joel and Elton John, Tina Turner and Coldplay. Not bad company for a classical violinist and conductor. During the 2009 Boxscore chart year, Rieu sold 1.1 million tickets, grossing $95.9 million.
Rieu opens a summer tour of North America June 18 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. On May 1, tickets went on sale for 10 more North American dates on his Celebration of Music tour in November and December. (In April, Rieu chartered a plane for his 100-member entourage to play dates in South Africa after volcanic ash shut down commercial air traffic in Europe.)
In February, Rieu's most recent album, "Forever Vienna," climbed to No. 2 in the United Kingdom and was selling at a rate of 50,000 units per week. Released Dec. 28 in the United Kingdom on Decca/Universal, it's Rieu's first chart appearance in a market that had previously seemed immune to his charms, and sales have since climbed toward platinum certification (300,000 shipments).
What attracted you to playing the waltz in the first place?
When I was 4 or 5, I attended my father's concerts. He very often played Strauss waltzes as encores and I saw something happening with the audience. For Beethoven or whatever, they were sitting like this [snores], but with the waltz there was something alive within the same audience. The musicians also.
But it wasn't fashionable music when you started playing it.
No, and that was the fault of the classical musicians. I was in a classical orchestra and it would be like, "We have five minutes left, we can do 'The Blue Danube.' " And I was always so angry because it's magnificent music. So I fought not just for the waltz, but for bringing humor back to classical music. That's part of our success; it's something that you cannot have anywhere else. You go to a pop concert or a classical concert but there's nothing in between. [We do] classical music brought to you with humor; you can be yourself, cry, dance, whatever. It doesn't matter as long as there's interaction between me and the audience. That's why they come.
Your shows seem to be the opposite of what many people expect from a classical show.
Yes. I want to give classical music back to the people, where it belongs. Mozart composed his music not for the elite, but for everybody. He was a fantastic, lively guy; he was drinking and having fun in life and being a genius at the same time. But now you see people playing Mozart with faces as if they are already dead. Why?