The Waltz King: With 30 Million Discs Sold, It Doesn't Matter What Critics Think About Andre Rieu
The Waltz King: With 30 Million Discs Sold, It Doesn't Matter What Critics Think About Andre Rieu

No Respect: Andre Rieu, "The Waltz King," who has sold more than 30 million CDs and DVDs worldwide, is preparing to return to American shores with a new album and tour.

The man known as "the Waltz King" has sold more than 30 million CDs and DVDs globally, according to his record company. He had the seventh highest-grossing U.S. tour mid-year, netting $46,052,472 and filling 436,604 seats, according to Billboard Boxscore. And now Dutch conductor and violinist André Rieu releases his latest album, "And The Waltz Goes On" (Decca) on November 7 -- a disc featuring a specially written piece by Oscar-winning actor Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Conducting his 43-strong Johan Strauss orchestra with his violin bow and rock-star demeanor, Rieu's energetic concerts (don't call them "shows" -- he gets cross) have wowed the world. And he's revived the much-mocked waltz form in the process.

He has had four Top 10 albums on the U.S Classical Crossover chart, charted 19 Top 10 albums on the Traditional Classical chart (including five number ones) and his total U.S. album sales equal 1.3 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan. He also had the highest-charting orchestral album ever in the U.K in 2010, with "Forever Vienna" (Decca).

The waltz, says Rieu, is in his genes: "My father was a conductor and he would often play Strauss waltzes. I discovered that when he gave concerts the audience were quiet, almost scared to breathe. But when he played waltzes there was something in the air. They would smile and sometimes even hum."

"The waltz is an attitude," he continues. "It's easy for classical orchestras to play Beethoven badly and get away with it. But when you play a waltz badly, it sounds rubbish."

And as far as he's concerned, the form isn't paid the respect it deserves. "So often," he says, "it's seen as something to do in the last five minutes of a concert." But with a good waltz, he says, "there is melancholy and joy at the same time. It's a mirror of life. When you hear Shostakovich's second waltz it sounds like, 'give me another beer'."

He appears to have an almost universal appeal. "My audience is everybody," Rieu claims, "I see the professor sitting next to the cleaning woman."

"He makes presentation and performance a fun, enjoyable and totally memorable experience for his audience," explains Mark Wilkinson, Decca's managing director, "making for a very wide appeal amongst an older demographic."
Marketing on TV has been key. "The theatricality and the spectacle makes TV the driving medium," Wilkinson says, "with advertising complementing timely performances that are targeted towards the older, more 'passive' music consumer."

Rieu is sanguine about classical purists who call his music trivial: "Who cares? People come to my concerts and I do a good job. And what is pure classical music anyway?"

Rieu is touring North America from Nov. 19 (Washington) until Nov. 30 (Connecticut). Each of his concerts is different from the one the day before, and - unlike many conductors -- he always faces the audience. "Things happen in the audience and I react to it," he explains. "I really want them to be with me."

This laissez-faire attitude extends to his career path as well. So he can't predict what he'll be doing at this time next year. "I don't plan that far ahead," he laughs. "Sometimes I read about opera singers who have their life planned out for the next ten years. That's not me, I would suffocate. There's plenty of time anyway. I'm 62 now, and I am going to live until I am 120."