Do you have any markets left to conquer?
I haven't broken the United States yet. I play there and make money but we're working on that now. I want to be No. 1. But I love America. The audience there is so hungry, they drive 1,000 miles to come to a concert and suck every note out of my violin. In Holland, people wouldn't go [20 miles]. I want to go to South America, and we're going to South Africa. I haven't played China, and I don't know-because I hear all these stories about even politicians who go to speak and they have to send their speech and then the speech is censored. I'm a free man so I wouldn't like to send my words. I don't know yet.
In many markets, your DVD sales are on a par with your CD sales. Why do you think that is?
It's very important to see me. Although the records sell very well, when you see me perform on DVD or come to see me live, then you understand. In Australia, I sold millions of DVDs before I came [to the country], so it's not just [people buying] a souvenir. It's important to see us and how much fun we have. When I play the violin I use my face to bring the emotions.
You perform everything from pure classical pieces to tracks from musicals and pop hits. How do you choose the songs?
I've been doing this for 35 years so I know how to build a program, but I always choose the pieces only with my heart. I will never play a piece to show how good we are; the only reason is that it touches me. Michael Jackson died the week before our big concerts in Maastricht, so I did "Ben" solo on my violin, and everybody was crying. A week after that we did "Earth Song" with a children's choir. Why not? Because I know when a song touches me it will touch you.
You're very much in control of your own business as well.
Yes. I produce my own albums, I give the tape to Universal and they sell it. After all these years they know what I do and they accept it. I don't have a promoter, I do everything myself. I travel around the world, my people hire arenas, and we start selling tickets. For America, we [initially] worked with promoters because in my head I thought, "No, it's not possible to do America yourself." But it is. It's like every country: The arenas are glad when my people come, so why have a whole organization in between? It works faster, the result is better, the interaction with the audience is more direct.
Why did you choose to do things this way initially though? It must have been a lot of hassle for someone just starting out.
At first, I think it was because what I did was so unusual that no promoter would say, "I want you." Classical music people would say "no." Pop music people would say, "What, violins? No." So I said, "I'll do it myself." Then I discovered it was working very fast and everyone I'd work with liked it. Now, promoters phone every day. But I still do it myself. It's nice to do music and business-I love doing it. The example I always give is Johann Strauss: He was the first pop star. He had five orchestras, I have only one, so he was a real businessman. If it was possible for him, why not for me?
How did Strauss manage to be in five places at once?
He had a contract in Vienna, and each hall where his orchestras played he was there for half an hour, then quickly onto his horse [and onto] the next one. I'm not going to do that though. I started out as a violinist; now I have 130 people on my payroll-it's enough.
Do you still have your detractors in the classical establishment?
They are more silent these days. I do my job as a classical musician. When I play classical music, I will do it with all my education and responsibility and I will not ruin the piece. In the beginning they thought, "He's popularizing." But I don't do that. I play it like it's written, so why be angry at me? But at the same time in the same concert, I play Michael Jackson and I make jokes. [The criticism] bothered me in the beginning but now it's OK. It's also [a lot] of jealousy. When you sell well in classical music now, you sell 800 copies. I sell 8 million.