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André Rieu: Classical concerts lack love and authenticity

October 24, 2017 by norman lebrecht

90 comments.


The Dutch violinist and band leader has been talking to Laurie Niles of violinist.com about why his concerts are so popular when others are not.

André: I don’t know why some shows don’t work; in my case, the magical word is authenticity. My orchestra members and I, we all believe in the magical power of music. We feel every note we play, and then we try to translate that feeling to the audience. We all love these wonderful compositions, and it may be be that that love and authenticity are things that sometimes are hard to find in other classical concerts.

Read on here.


Comments (90)

  1. John says:

    He panders to the lowest common denominator. That’s why his concerts work.

    1. Anon says:

      But his low is much higher than 90% of what popular culture calls high.

      1. Maria says:

        Well said.

        1. DAVID says:

          There are actually great masterpieces in what you are alluding to via the moniker “popular culture”. Perhaps fewer today — but there have been many in a not too distant past.

  2. harold braun says:

    Those plastic people with their fake plastic smiles and totally stiff,boring,echt un-viennese for square readings of Strauss waltzes represent”love and authenticy”?Gimme a break…Commercialism at its worst

    1. Anon says:

      Not it’s worst. It is kitsch, fake, but it’s not the worst.

      1. Ellingtonia says:

        And we wonder why there is crisis in much of the classical music world, talk about arrogance and snobbery. Rieu plays popular classical music that gives pleasure to thousands and I would like to know what is wrong with that? Perhaps he could bring the house down by including a couple of pieces by Birtwistle and Xenakis, now that is real “kitsch and fake”………oh, and crap as well (to use local terminology).

        1. Sue says:

          I agree with you completely about Xenakis and Birtwhistle (isn’t it ‘dog whistle’ for the bien pensant?).

          You are right that Rieu provides immense pleasure for a huge number of people and I wouldn’t deny them that for anything. But Rieu is completely wrong that ‘love and authenticity’ are hard to find in other classical concerts’. Some concerts, certainly, like those composer mentioned – just to name two.

          But “love” and “authenticity”? What do those words mean for art music? To me “authenticity” means playing on the instruments for which they were composed, eg. HIP. And I don’t think “love” is a necessary corollary in classical concerts. I’d be happy with superbly professional musicianship of the highest order. The rest is up to the individual.

          Andre Rieu is comparing apples with oranges. The single thing it has in common with other serious concerts is that the musicians all got much the same kind of training.

        2. Maria says:

          The Snob Police have arrived.

          1. harold braun says:

            Bullshit.I love Fiedler, Williams,Lockhart,the Boston and Cincinatti Pops,Kunzel,John Russel Morris,and giants of light music like Morton Gould,Andre Kostelanetz,Percy Faith,Ray Connif et al.But Rieu in comparison est rien.Boring arrangements,lacklustre and pedestrian playing,just nothing.

          2. Maria says:

            harold braun: You’ve missed the point.

    2. David R Osborne says:

      Oh, the vitriol the man inspires for the crime of being popular. He is a actually a really decent man. They (the players) play for him and are not faking it Harold, that’s an unnecessarily nasty thing to say.

      Sure there have been some musical misteps, it’s not authentic, stylistically Viennese but it’s not terrible either and who cares if people can’t tell the difference, the audience loves it. It makes them happy and that is a force for good.

      1. John Borstlap says:

        What a nonsense, the whole Rieu entertprise is the apotheosis of kitsch for people who have no understanding of classical music but like some of its experience, like drinking the wine in British little town pubs advertised as ‘real vin de table’.

        1. Ellingtonia says:

          What an arrogant, condescending individual you are, who the hell appointed you (other than yourself) as the arbiter of good music. Is it because no one plays the drivel that you compose, and I use the latter word with a deal of generosity of spirit. Go back to your darkened room where you can continue churning out pastiches of what you call classical music. Just a thought………it couldn’t be envy could it? As regards your comment about “British little town pubs”, you haven’t really visited a real British pub that serves real ale, craft beers and often good quality pub grub, so one would have to say that your stereotyping is a little wide of the mark!

          1. Sanity says:

            I wouldn’t get angry with Borstlap. Each time he intervenes, he rather bluntly proves my point.

            Those of us who work everyday in this industry are keenly aware how much of a problem there is.

          2. Adrienne says:

            Well many of your posts seem to involve personal attacks.

            To use your phrase, who the hell appointed you (other than yourself) as the arbiter of what people can and cannot say about other genres?

            You see snobbery everywhere, which makes me think that inverted snobbery is the real problem.

          3. John Borstlap says:

            In classrooms where populism and emancipatory garden gnome movements have infested the curriculum, the sheer observation that 2 + 2 = 4 is considered a serious case of oppression of free speech, since every garden gnome should have the right to define for himself what the outcome is.

          4. Alvaro says:

            JUST for the record. If evaluating the quality of a musical work were as obvious as 2+2 = 4, then theres no way Rhianna would be more popular than Beethoven.

            However, even in that case, still nobody would play whatever it is you scribble.

            😉

          5. John Borstlap says:

            To Elvaro: the observation that Rieu is far beneath serious classical music, is as obvious as 2 + 2 = 4. For people who cannot hear any difference between the two, arithmetic is probably as difficult. In both fields, it helps if one puts a bit of work into it.

            http://www.momonix.com/calc/

            http://davidvanalstyne.com/pg-classicvspop.html

  3. Kundry says:

    How many people slagging off Rieu here have attended one of his shows? Just curious. I’ve never been to one, so don’t feel qualified to comment further.

    1. David R Osborne says:

      The problem is not so much the substance of what he does but the ‘idea’ of him.

      The contemporary classic world should be a serious institution populated by dour, grey and grim-faced men (and the occasional woman), ernestly peering at their scores of Birtwhistle and Xenakis, as they discuss the myriad finer detail of what by definition must remain incomprehensible to all but the most advanced minds.

      That the art-form’s taste makers have been unable despite their best efforts to stop this renegade individual re-introducing joy and fun to music, is nothing more than a tragedy and a crime against art.

      1. Will Duffay says:

        So those are the two possible scenarios, are they: Rieu and Birtwistle/Xenakis?

        There is plenty of joy and authenticity throughout classical music, without resorting to either easy listening or hardcore modernism.

        1. David R Osborne says:

          Will, of course that goes without saying. I’m just having some fun at the expense of those who take themselves way too seriously, allow me that pleasure at least.

      2. MacroV says:

        How many fields did you have to harvest to come up with that straw man?

        The issue with Rieu for a lot of people is mostly about presentation: An average violinist with too-big hair leading cheesy arrangements of generally fine music, leading an orchestra of presumably fine musicians wearing tacky ballgowns and plastic smiles. He may talk about authenticity but it looks more like “the key is sincerity; if you can fake that, you got it made.”

        There are so many classical ensembles that give enthusiastic and well-thought-out performances of various types of repertoire that Rieu’s comment is absurd. And I suspect that by the 20th show on a Rieu tour, many of his players are probably phoning it in, too.

  4. Sanity says:

    I saw him play once, at the Classic Brits. Everyone smiled, everyone swayed along. A Viennese producer at my table got up and danced with his partner. A number of other people were waltzing in between the tables.

    Was it Willi Boskovsky and the Vienna Philharmonic? No it wasn’t. Was it the worst professional orchestra I’d ever heard? Not by a long chalk. They did what they did really quite well.

    Part of the snobbishness we’re seeing comes from the sneaking suspicion that the ‘echt’ classical music institutions aren’t actually doing their job anymore. They’re led by the nose by administrators, agents, publicity men and music critics who do not know their music well enough to be telling the musicians what to do. This is most obvious in opera, where the standard seen in even the greatest theatres is far, far below what it was 30 years ago.

    So before you pile in on Rieu, have a little think about what causes an orchestra like his to have to exist.

    1. David R Osborne says:

      Sanity prevails.

    2. Maria says:

      “have a little think about what causes an orchestra like his to have to exist.”

      Far from a new phenomenon though. Louis-Antoine Jullien?

      1. Sanity says:

        Jullien wasn’t remotely on the same scale as Rieu, though. Added to this the fact that you have to go back to the C19th.

        Oh, and Jullien ended his life in penury…

        1. David R Osborne says:

          Yes it goes a long way back, but then again, classical music’s heyday was a long time ago. Before the rise of unaccountable academic control. If anyone has a problem with André Rieu, as Maria so rightly points out, we need to consider the reasons for this phenomenon.

          It’s all there in simple, unambiguous terms in Act 1 scene 3 of die Meistersinger. Which is of course why today’s masters are so desperate to make that great work about something else.

          1. Sanity says:

            Oh, I can understand that; but what I’m talking about is the sham intellectualism, the reaching for rarer and rarer repertoire to hide the fact that their fundamental knowledge is lacking. You’d be shocked how many casting directors, operndirektors and programming administrators don’t have knowledge of even the musical fundamentals.

          2. David R Osborne says:

            “You’d be shocked how many casting directors, operndirektors and programming administrators don’t have knowledge of even the musical fundamentals.”

            No Sanity I wouldn’t be surprised, but where I live it’s less about that and more about the dictatorship of the avant-garde and the lack of anything remotely resembling creative originality, diversity or individuality. Let alone respect for the views and concerns of audiences.

    3. John Borstlap says:

      Nonsense, there is no need at all for such orchestras to exist. And then, what they play is a niche in the repertoire, the little part of entertainment music at the very margins, it is not serious – and if well played, it is great fun (like the VPO new year concerts which are also not meant seriously). But presented and played à la Rieu, it is dragged-down to the gutter of contemporary vulgarity. It is not representative at all for classical music as a genre, so any comparison is moot.

      1. David R Osborne says:

        Rieu’s favourite work as he’s very fond of telling us is Lehár’s Gold and Silver. Is that a great work of classical music? Absolutely yes. Is it great pop music? Yes, that too. Which puts it in rare company indeed.

        The ability to dream up great melody is the rarest of talents and Lehár, like Dvořák seemed to possess an inexhaustible well.

        If André Rieu is keeping that flame alive in the era of ‘sound design’, then we should be thanking him.

        1. harold braun says:

          Compared to Fiedler, Kostelanetz,Kunzel et all his arrangements and interpretations are as dull as ditchwater.m

      2. Sue says:

        My main concern about Andre Rieu (and I’ve watched his extravangazas on TV so that I don’t just talk from ignorance) is that his violin playing is bog standard and drowned out by the orchestra anyway. The audience doesn’t care: they lap it up in spades and those venues are packed to the rafters with enthusiastic eaters, drinkers, dancers, swayers and kissing hand-holders. There’s something nice about seeing people at their best and enjoying a communal experience – but it need not be confused with serious music. It doesn’t hurt me and mine doesn’t hurt them.

        1. John Borstlap says:

          Agreed…. there is nothing against it and if so many people enjoy this rather than awful pop music, it is contributing something. But let it not be considered serious concert music. Therefore Rieu’s remarks about classical concerts is ridiculous, he has nothing to do with it and comparing what he does with serious orchestral performance is merely embarrassing. (I’m just observing here.)

          1. Sue says:

            I agree with you, but Rieu wasn’t talking to us he was talking to his audiences who DO think they are privileged to be enjoying ‘classical music’. Anything which involves a large symphony orchestra is considered by them to be ‘classical’. When I was on a cruise of the Rhine/Danube in 2009 there were ‘extras’ such as those Mozart concerts in Vienna at the Kurzalon and I wouldn’t go. The people we befriended asked if I was going and I replied that I wasn’t. Andre Rieu came up in conversation and I said I didn’t like what he did. One woman said, “you say you like classical music yet you won’t go to these concerts” and I replied, “it’s precisely because I do like classical music that I won’t go”.

            My last word on this is that Andre Rieu has filled a niche and made himself a fortune into the bargain. Now he has to justify to himself and the rest of the world – since I’ll bet his musical conscience is troubling him – what he is doing and why.

  5. Bill says:

    I’ve stuck up for him before and I’ll do it again. He keeps musicians employed and keeps customers happy. So what if his shows are kitsch. Personally I regard them as in the same league as keeping a spare toilet roll under a doll dressed in a knitted crinoline. I wouldn’t, but who am I to judge those who do?
    Live and let live. Following the general theme here I will say that given the choice between compulsory attendance at a Rieu concert or a performance of anything by Birtwhistle I’d be inclined-just-to go for Rieu!

    1. John Borstlap says:

      There is nothing against Rieu for existing and serving his customers, but everything against the ridiculous claims that it has something to do with classical music.

    2. Sue says:

      Absolutely priceless!!!!! 🙂

    3. Pianofortissimo says:

      Rieu is in the entertainment business. Like Johann Strauss & Co. in their time. As an entertainer he is very good.

      1. DAVID says:

        Doesn’t the Vienna Philharmonic play Johann Strauss’s music — at least once a year? Oh, and what about Karajan’s recordings with Berlin Phil?

        1. Pianofortissimo says:

          Nothing wrong with that.

          (?)

        2. Sue says:

          I expect the VPO females are waiting for their coloured frocks and absolutely resent their Vivienne Westwood livery!!

    4. Graeme Hall says:

      If people are going to slag off Harrison Birtwistle I do wish they would have the decency to spell his name correctly. Unless of course it’s another composer altogether they hate.

      1. John Borstlap says:

        We have an equally negative opinion here about both Harrison Birtwistle and Dwight Birdwhistle, both awful composers.

        Sally

    5. MacroV says:

      I’d go with Birtwistle. And I’ll add that one of the most exciting, enthusiastically presented (and authentic) concerts I’ve ever heard was – ironically enough in Vienna – Sir Simon and the CBSO playing a piece by Kurtag, Gubaidulina’s Offertorium, and Birtwistle’s Earth Dances. Great and inspired music-making.

  6. John Borstlap says:

    What Rieu says, is utter nonsense, there are enough classical concerts happening which are full of musical intensity and high artistic quality. Has he done a survey? Done gründlich research? Has he had the time to visit live concerts regularly and draw-up reports? Has he listened to recordings, both of CD’s and live concerts? Has he explored videos of the proms? Has he sit down at the computer and explored YouTube for recent videos of live concerts anywhere in the world? Has he read music criticism? Surely he did not and merely echo’d the myth around the competition: real classical music. His claims are the typical sour grapes reaction of the inferior against the superior, trying to make the better sort of music appear ‘snobbish’. He is part of the current wave of populism, nothing more. Instead of ‘criticizing’ serious music making, he should stick to his kitsch.

    1. Nik says:

      This is a really important point, isn’t it.
      If people want to go to his concerts, good on him. But for him to slag off the whole of the classical music business in this way is pretty low. It’s the same as when Katherine Jenkins and Alfie Boe say that they don’t want to sing in opera houses because the opera world is too “snooty”.
      They’re making a conscious effort to reinforce the stereotypes held by their fans, thus ensuring that they keep flocking back to their shows rather than broadening their horizons and (shock! horror!) discovering that there is better talent available elsewhere.

      1. John Borstlap says:

        That is indeed the point. Well said.

  7. herrera says:

    It isn’t his music that is bad, it’s his labor practice that is bad: he hires players based on their looks, it’s discriminatory and illegal.

    1. harold braun says:

      The music is good.But the arrangements and playing, dull,metronomic,boring,stiff and pedestrian.

    2. Pianofortissimo says:

      Do you mean that beautiful women can’t play?

        1. John Borstlap says:

          What a stunningly beautiful violin that is.

          1. Pianofortissimo says:

            Lisa Batiashvili is simply wonderful.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgPmLPd6KB0

      1. harold braun says:

        They can,but the arrangements are dull,monochrome, and everything sounds the same.Totally antiseptic.

  8. Ungeheuer says:

    Pardon my French but bullshit! Rieu and his shows remind me of The Lawrence Welk Show: cheesy, tacky, plastic, like getting your entertainment from a Walmart. His shows are designed to appeal to the provincial, the ignorant and the uninterested, and to old ladies and gents on the way to the pearly gates. But wait, there’s more. Also, I suspect, to traditional family and right wing types. His shows are for Caucasians only, the more Catholic or Protestant the better. So, there.

    1. harold braun says:

      Yes,but at least Welk’s arrangers did a better job.

    2. Sue says:

      So much cultural, ageist and racial prejudice here it’s difficult to know where to start – so I won’t.

    3. David R Osborne says:

      A perfect paragraph summing up why we on the left find ourselves jeering impotently from the sidelines as the far right marches back to fill the vacuum left by our cloth-eared snobbery.

      1. harold braun says:

        Nonsensic comment of epic proportions

    4. MacroV says:

      Laurence Welk at least had the great clarinetists Pete Fountain and Henry Cuesta in his band. And Myron Florin.

      1. harold braun says:

        exactly.

  9. Sue says:

    @Sanity Says: Indeed, sir/madam, the emperor really has no clothes. The gig’s up.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      Yes…. and it is not seriously meant, nobody in Vienna takes it as a serious classical music concert, it is just fun. But they do that once a year and not non-stop all over the place and in a rainbow of coloured dresses.

  10. Zachary Floreta says:

    My cousin went to see Rieu in Holland….that instead eating cheese!!!!!

    1. John Borstlap says:

      It’s not without danger… you can get sick of either.

  11. Ungeheuer says:

    André Rieu = Disneyland for the classical and classically ignorant

    1. John Borstlap says:

      That is exactly what it is.

    2. Thomasina says:

      I have been to his concert once and I felt it so. It was the same fun as a stuffed doll show. But if I have a free ticket again, I will go again.

  12. Bouquinist says:

    I couldn’t help but reading : “André Rieu’s classical concerts lack love and authenticity”. I couldn’t agree more. Just because many people come to his “concerts” it doesn’t mean it’s good. Many people voted for Trump, so …? His one-tempo-fits-all mechanical run-through of Strauss’ waltzes is extremely boring. His authenticity is nil and his love seems to be mostly about himself and his bank account. All this just goes to prove that people are not as stupid as you might think, they are a whole lot more stupid !

    1. harold braun says:

      Spot on.You could put a metronome in front of them,it would be the same. Dull,lifeless,antiseptic. Reminds me of Rondo Veneziano,the mock baroque group of the 80s.Anyone remember?

  13. Francine Chavanon says:

    Cet article et ces commentaires sont uniquement motivés par la jalousie et la méchanceté de leurs auteurs !

  14. Silvio Interlandi says:

    “Vultures eat rotten meat”
    (there’s taste for everything).

  15. Foghunter says:

    And here is a blog that states ‘1 No abuse 2 No defamation 3 No personal attacks’ in the rules.

    Rieu, who’s concerts I would not visit as well, does serve a purpose to many people and if only 1 or 2 of the many fans actually start to take a liking in ‘real’ classical music, it is already a big win.

    All we can see and hear in this blog are snotty comments about conductors that, politically wrong or not, have had a profound influence on the current state of performing classical music, comments on conductors that do their say during the proms, airlines that do not transport bulky cases with instruments, people that got their instruments stolen. Professionals (above) that ‘twitter’ other people down in this blog like Trump on a bad day and all with not a shred of decency. If this is the ‘inside track on classical music’ then the state of affairs are just as bad as in the US.

    Come with interesting news and lets approach things a bit more positive. Perhaps people stay tuned.

  16. Robert Holmén says:

    Isn’t his orchestra a touring attraction? It can go somewhere, play the hits, harvest the interested consumers and then take the same program to the next city and do it all over. That’s why his model “works”. He couldn’t do that in one place for 20 years.

    That’s not unethical but it’s not like the challenge a city orchestra has to keep the same audiences coming back every week with hits and non-hits alike adn with just three rehearsals.

  17. Vaquero357 says:

    Huh, well…..as a kid, my love of classical music started with the Boston Pops and Arthur Fielder and Vienna New Year’s Concerts conducted by Willi Boskovsky. Pops concerts were the gateway to the “serious” stuff. I’ve moved on to Mahler and Shostakovich and Wagner and Bruckner and many other heavies. But I still love the pops.

    Andre Rieu has always struck me as the legitimate successor to Fielder, Boskovsky, Andre Kostelanetz, and others like them. Watch the concerts on TV: the crowds are [cue exaggerated Trump voice] HUUUUUUUGE. What’s bad about that?

    Rieu’s not your cup of tea, you want something more challenging? Fine. Move on. Nothing to see here. Leave him to other folks.

    1. harold braun says:

      You cannot compare him to Fiedler and the Boston Pops.Fiedler had fantastic arrangers,like Leroy Anderson,Richard Hayman,Eric Knight and Morton Gould.He had a world class orchestra.Rieu??????

      1. Vaquero357 says:

        Here’s a scary word for ya: Mantovani. (Just kidding.)

        Seriously, I’m gonna spot you on two points: Fiedler did operate at the best time in American history for the convergence of classical and popular music, so yes, he cultivated arranger talent who were also first-rate composers of original works.

        Second, I have to agree that two performers could not be farther apart in the way they interacted with audiences than Fielder and Rieu. There was nothing of the showman about Fiedler, and certainly had chops as a “serious” classical conductor – he did make some recordings of non-pops works and for a long time he had a group called the “Fiedler Sinfonietta” that performed and recorded Classical and Baroque works.

        As far as I know, Rieu has been savvy enough to not have pretensions beyond his talent and sticks to what he’s good at.

        But the key point is that both of them occupied/occupy that middle ground between hardcore classical music and pop music, which is pretty sparsely populated these days.

  18. Bruce says:

    “We feel every note we play, and then we try to translate that feeling to the audience. We all love these wonderful compositions, and it may be be that that love and authenticity are things that sometimes are hard to find in other classical concerts.”

    I wonder if this remark has unleashed such a passionate response here because people recognize that he has a point?

  19. Bill Dodd says:

    My thoughts are my own, my tastes are my own. I love classical music— I have far too many complete sets of Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov. I don’t care that so many like Rieu and others. So long as they don’t put real orchestras out of business, or prevent people from voting (can you imagine Rieu with orange hair?), they’re fine. But for me, ANY one cut from The Who has 100 times the musical interest. And I’m listening to M2 as I type this.

  20. MacroV says:

    I think my annoyance with Rieu is also that people talk of him being less elitist. Not in the financial sense. When he played Prague while I was there, they played the 20,000-seat O2 Arena and ticket prices were through the roof. You could get the best seats at the Berlin Philharmonic for less.

    1. Ellingtonia says:

      May I suggest a quick reading of “Economics for Idiots” which will explain in words of one syllable or less, the concept of market forces. A product or service will only stand what the market will pay! So the man is making money, big deal……….do get off your high horse!

      1. MacroV says:

        Yes, there are a lot of people with more money than discernment. But my point is that people justify Rieu as being “for the people,” as opposed to those snooty people at the symphony. Definite implication about who has money. Yet those of us who can’t afford Rieu tickets (even if we’d want them) are the elitists who need to get off our high horse.

  21. Duane says:

    I attended his concert in Phoenix last Thursday evening. It was superb. The concert hall was packed. And as with most of his concerts, the audience gave him a standing “O” and demanded 3 ‘curtain-calls’.

    I’ll take Rieu over the NY Philharmonic every time…and I’ve seen/heard both.

  22. Esmee says:

    André Rieu never said that classical concerts lack love and authenticity.
    He said: …..”We feel every note we play, and then we try to translate that feeling to the audience. We all love these wonderful compositions, and IT MAY BE THAT that love and authenticity are things that SOMETIMES are hard to find in other classical concerts”.

    Now, is it that hard to read just right?

    Besides, as far as I am concerned, he could have skipped the words ”it may be”, as I know that is a FACT.

    Well never mind. Just enjoy your own kind of music.

  23. Don Hohoho says:

    He’s got some nerve talking about authenticity when he uses a pianist to play harp parts on the piano, did so for years.

    1. David R Osborne says:

      I think he’s referring to a different sort of authenticity. He is of the opinion that it is more authentic when the players love the music they play and feel it when they do so.

      He contrasts this with establishment orchestras in which the players are required to play whatever is stuck in front of them, regardless of whether they care for the work or not. The reality is that often they do not and quite frankly he has a point.

      Now as regards playing harp parts on a digital keyboard, that is something I didn’t know, not having seen an André Rieu concert, but it’s probably not such a bad thing either. I imagine that given the size of the venues that they play, the orchestra would be amplified in any case. With the harp that is not without it’s challenges while at the same time it is an instrument that samples really well. So on balance you may actually get a better musical outcome using the digital option. I wouldn’t though if I were him because apart fromanything else you’d be losing a lot visually.


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