You've been described as "a rock star conductor." What do you think of that comparison?
Why the rock star? Because of the entourage? Perhaps. Because I have a lot of trucks? I don't think I'm a showman. I wouldn't even call my concerts a show. My concerts are more of a show than a classical concert, but things are different every night, therefore I call it a concert. But the moment you put your tuxedo on and go onstage with your violin, even as a classical violinist, you are an entertainer. Otherwise you'd play in your bathroom.
Have you been influenced by pop or rock stars at all?
My influences come from all over the place. Michael Jackson-I admire him in everything he did, so professional. Madonna, Queen. I was a teenager in the '60s, but my education was very severe, so the Beatles and the Rolling Stones passed by my house. I did my puberty some years later so I missed all that.
Why did it take you so long to get a record deal?
It took me seven years. I was successful, so I thought I had to have a record deal. I went to [see labels] and said I was very successful playing in theaters in Holland, Belgium and parts of Germany. "What do you play? Waltzes?" [makes vomiting gesture] Really, the first guy did that.
But I went back every year and after seven years one guy listened. He came to a concert and phoned me the next day to say, "Let's make a record." But even the seven years when I didn't have a record deal the halls were filled, so I could make the orchestra bigger, buy nicer clothes, better sound, lights and flowers. I put all my money back into the company because this is all I do.
Did you have to adjust your style for international markets?
No. The only thing I do is try to speak the language and in my encores, I might try and do something [local], like in Australia I do "Waltzing Matilda." But people don't want me to play American music, they want my music. The English didn't believe that I could be successful in an English-language market but Australia was the proof. And that was the moment that the guys [at the U.K. label] said, "OK, let's do André because he proved it in Australia."
You're phenomenally successful in Australia. To what do you attribute that?
Yeah, I sold 2.7 million albums in Australia in two years and it's a small country. It started with the Ovation channel, a classical pay-TV channel with about 7,000 viewers a night-[which is] nothing. They wrote me and said, "We have a DVD-can we broadcast that?" We said OK. A week later, they said, "Do you have more DVDs?" It started a word-of-mouth process. Universal put [product] in the stores and after three or four months we sold 500,000. Then I went there to do promotion and pow! I even got to appear on [hit Australian soap opera] "Neighbours."
In the United Kingdom, you appeared at the Royal Variety Appearance. How was that?
Me, the Queen and Lady Gaga; it was quite a combination. The Queen was there watching in the dark and I told a story about Queen Victoria. Johann Strauss did the waltz when he was young, but the church was against it because the dance was body to body-too sexy. So Strauss went to London and Queen Victoria was fond of the waltz; she made the breakthrough here and, from London, it came back to the continent. Afterward we had to stand there and shake hands and the Queen said, "Nice melodies, Mr. Rieu." Funnily enough, I had never played for my Queen [Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands] all these years and then the other day I finally played for her. So I think [Britain's Queen Elizabeth] phoned her and said, "He's good, this guy."