In a slight digression this week, I write in praise of Mr. André Rieu. An unlikely subject, perhaps, for a millennial who avowedly plans to write on life’s problems and paradoxes; but still, I feel that I should.
For those of you who do not know, Mr. Rieu is a Dutch musician and conductor who for a number of years has run the very popular and successful Johann Strauss Orchestra, which plays classical music on tours around the world. He sells millions of CDs and tickets every year, and is considered one of the Netherlands’ most internationally-recognised musicians.
I have been a quiet fan of Mr. Rieu for a while, and always watch him if his orchestra appears on the television. You might be wondering why. After all, I am not a particularly-avid fan of classical music; while I have some classical training in two musical instruments, and do listen to it on occasion, it is not my go-to music of choice. I’ve always preferred rock and folk music.
However, that is the wonderful skill of Mr. Rieu. He has made a career of entertaining and enthusing people who do not ordinarily listen to classical music. I have often watched Mr. Rieu’s concerts with my grandfather – a typical salt-of-the-earth working class man who would be the last person you would think to be interested in classical music. And yet, we both happily watch his televised concerts together.
Classical music has an infamous reputation for being snooty, elitist and decidedly ‘anti-popular’. While this of course inflated, I certainly know people who consider their music tastes more refined and ‘superior’ than those of others because they listen almost-exclusively to classical music. In any case, many people – especially those my age – are often put off by classical music, seeing it as dry, boring and exclusive, and never get to experience the depth and breadth that this huge genre has to offer.
Though I hate to use a clichéd phrase, Mr. Rieu really does bring classical music ‘to the masses’. He plays catchy, relatively well-known pieces to audiences who are generally not dedicated fans of classical music. Rather than the quiet, appreciative formality of many classical music concerts, his gigs are informal, energetic and often quite boisterous. When the waltzes start, people get up and dance; he uses the crowd as a choir; he chats to them, tells jokes, and breaks down the barrier between performers and audience. People don’t just enjoy or appreciate the music, they have fun as well. I’m sure some who are far more experienced than me would say that the quality of his orchestra’s playing is not always the best; however, it is good enough for me, and I am sure the same goes for most people who watch his concerts.
Mr. Rieu should be praised not only for his inclusive attitude to his audience, but for the international nature of his orchestra. His fellow orchestral players and singers come from a multitude of countries, and they play music from all over the international classical music canon. He (like many Dutch, it has to be said) speaks excellent English; I understand he can communicate in most of the major European languages as well. He often code-switches during performances, trying to be as inclusive in his speeches to the audience as possible. He outwardly states that music is a way of bringing people together despite political or other social divides and, while that utopian belief can be taken too far, I believe he is broadly correct. A multitude of different flags can be seen waving above the heads of his audiences, regardless of the concert location. Everyone is enjoying themselves, everyone is having a good time.
Of course, not everything is so utopian and broad church. The members of his audience do tend to be middle-aged or older, with less young faces than you might have liked to have seen; his orchestra does tend to be quite white and European, though this is understandable considering that they play western classical music. However, the inclusive, international spirit promoted by Mr. Rieu and his orchestra has to be praised, especially in this time of division, growing nationalism and strife.
In any case, his concerts are fantastic fun – and it’s hard to argue against that.