The person behind the phenomenon
A photo book about André Rieu
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The book “André Rieu, De mens achter het fenomeen” (André Rieu, the person behind the phenomenon) was released on July 14th 2011. The well known Dutch photographer Govert de Roos followed André for more than a year. In the fourth episode of “The World of André Rieu” roadsoap, we see Govert de Roos in action. Click here to see this episode.
In the small video below, you can see the reaction of Govert and André on the release of this book.
This book (-for now??- Dutch version only) will be available through the webshop on André Rieu’s official website. Click here to order this book.
The person behind the phenomenon.
July 2011, By Govert de Roos.
"We are going to publish it, Govert!" said Pierre Rieu enthusiastically to me on the telephone. I am walking circles through my studio and listening to André's son. After three years my dream is becoming a reality: creating a photo book about the Netherlands' most famous artist. I am trying to concentrate on the conversation, but I am distracted by my own thoughts. In a flash I realize that my adventure tour of 1000 days through the life of André Rieu, might now be over.
For about 40 years now I have been privileged to photograph renowned Dutch and international artists. Those are often short time contracts. It has to be fast and to the point. Many a star has looked into my eyes more than once, through the lens of the camera. Different settings, different reasons, different result.
But always there is pressure, that eternal pressure.
That's how my wish to follow an artist over a longer period of time, evolved. To almost become one with the star. To really bring out the person behind the phenomenon. André liked the idea from the beginning. Obviously we clicked right away. Two people with two completely different professions, but with the same, almost perfect passion: to entertain others with our creations. André with his music, I with my photography.
André opened the door for me and accepted me into his life. A little step forward every time. He afforded me the confidence to photograph him any time. Even when he had withdrawn from every one while concentrating on his performance, or was resting on his couch. Our growing bond created even more intense photos.
I started with the artist Rieu and learned to know the person André. Someone with many a warm face. By being completely passionate about his music, he is an inspiration to his employees. A perfectionist, for whom the best is not enough. But above all: it is André. The family man who is very fond of his sons, who sees his employees as family members and who – despite his huge successes -- has remained so very modest.
In this book, you'll see André Rieu through my eyes and I give you my personal comments.
My three yearlong discovery journey has ended. But the memories will live on forever.
Sept. 8th 1969: Photographer Iain Macmillan, has 10 minutes to take a picture of the Beatles. The four legendary band members walk in unison over the zebra crossing. Location: Abbey Road, close to the EMI Studios in London. During the session the traffic is halted by a policeman for a cover shoot of the album "Abbey Road". The photo becomes part of the Beatles' history.
November 26th 2010: André walks assuredly through Mexico City. This is not a place to walk by yourself in the streets. André is being protected on his left, right, in front and rear by security people. And of course, son Pierre, who -- as a vice president -- is always present. On this busy road with a lengthy pedestrian crossing, a very exciting, almost James Bond like atmosphere lingered, which I needed to capture. The traffic was stopped, this time by the clicking traffic lights. I only had a few seconds, ran along the group and pressed the button. Back in my hotel room I saw the results. A picture with an uncanny resemblance of the picture of Abbey Road. It was like a fluke. Something like this you cannot nor would you plan for. I think it is symbolically beautiful.
KING OF THE WALTZ.
Although André has been affectionately called "the King of the Waltz" in the vernacular, for André himself there is only one King and that is Johann Baptist Strauss Jr. The Viennese composer, who lived from 1825 to 1899 and composed more than 500 pieces of music. A few of his most famous works are: The Blue Danube, Emperor's Waltz, etc. and the Fledermaus and Gypsy Baron operettas.
Even though father Johann Strauss Sr. was a composer himself, he did not want his son to become a musician too. As a child Johann Jr. secretly studied violin. Among others, with Joseph Lanner, who at that time was his father's biggest rival. Brothers Joseph and Edward were also musically gifted, but Johann Jr. is by far the best known. Strauss made the waltz so popular that the genre of the ball room was lifted to the concert stage.
With his performances André Rieu honors Johann Strauss Jr.’s work, but does not want to be compared to the Grand Maestro. On these pages I wanted to place Strauss and André in the same pose. The Grand Maestro next to the Maestro. But Andre did not want to hear of it. According to him there is only one Strauss, standing very lonely at the top. I took this photo in Vienna where the statue of Johann Strauss Jr. is located.
When you are one of the world's best selling artists, you are in the spotlight all the time. Somewhere, there is always a camera, a photographer, a camera crew….. and of course the fans. That makes for surprising pictures. Also during the concerts, just like here. At the beginning of the concert, André enters the hall from the rear and walks along the audience to the stage. In every country the audience reacts differently. But it invariably leads to a standing ovation. From the very beginning a goose bumps moment. Result: the distance between the show master and his audience disappeared. He is allowing himself to become one of them!
What happened in Mexico went beyond imagination. The enthusiasm there is unmatchable. The Mexicans are so passionate, so emotional, so concerned, that a cacophony of sound filled the hall as soon as André cautiously peeked through the door to have a look at the hall. I took this picture just as he and his orchestra were walking through the audience, on their way to the stage. Everywhere cameras flashed, hands went up high, and those attending attempted to even come closer. Seriously, I was becoming a bit nervous by all that! He walked there with his priceless Stradivarius! What if???? Like nothing at all! The respect that the Mexicans have for him showed in their behavior. They wanted to be close to their hero, but as soon as he came near, they let him through. This is André, the way the audience loves to see him.
I was raised as a concert photographer. After 40 years I know the exact moment to move without disturbing the performance or the people. I try to move like a shadow through the hall. Black clothing, shuffle, bend, crawl… I know how to do that. At least, that is what I think…. But then there is André. He makes a game out of it by telling me after a concert: "I saw you; you were there and there…" Can you imagine! He is performing for 10.000 people, who all look at him. He has to conduct an orchestra and he has to concentrate on his own playing. But he can infallibly tell me where I was. "Next time start walking a little later, disturb the people in the first row a little less", he says jokingly. That is André. Nothing escapes him and he has everything under control.
Even though they are always in the spotlight, stars are normal people with dreams, ideals, and heroes. Anthony Hopkins, one of the biggest actors of the last decade, is a big fan. On April 11th 2011 he was in André's studio for a special recording. Hopkins really loves Johann Strauss' music and in the sixties he composed his own waltz.
And forty years later, with trembling knees, he wrote to André. Would he consider the possibility and determine if his waltz was suitable for recording? To which André replied that he would give it a try. The waltz was played by his orchestra and he adapted some things here and there. I took these pictures during the recordings. That was very special. So beautiful! Anthony was like a child in a candy store. I felt his true emotion and admiration. You just realize that not one member of the orchestra does not know him. Everybody has seen his movies. The big actor from America. But at that moment the roles were reversed. Anthony Hopkins was the fan and André and the orchestra were the heroes. I felt two worlds coming together. Full of mutual respect. There was a sort of harmony in the air in the studios which you seldom experience in your life. Just in that moment everyone was equal.
As a photographer I am a perfectionist. But in comparison, I pale to André, who, in all cases is a perfectionist par excellence. For his concert series in Australia, he organized a guest performance with the famous Australian band “The Seekers”. They are real professionals, through and through. These people have been in the profession for over 50 years. Although they stopped performing, the former member consented to perform with him once more, just for his Australian tour. You would think that they could rehearse perfectly in Australia. No, not according to André, that was not possible. He brought all four band members to the Netherlands, to practice and practice…. I could barely believe my eyes. Everything was orchestrated to perfection. Not only the music pieces. Also entering and exiting the stage. Every detail had to fit. At one point André looked at it from a distance and said satisfied: "This is nice". Then it was okay.
Then there is perfection of the highest degree. I could hardly believe it when I landed in Phoenix in the USA from Mexico. Three identical buses were waiting there for us. Nothing special. Except when you know that those buses are specifically designed for the Rieu orchestra. Eleven months out of the year they are stored in the USA, unused. Because André wants his orchestra members to feel at home. Also -- and rightfully so -- when they are on the road. He wants them to have a place that really feels like "their own". These are the sort of moments that you, as a relative outsider, realize he really considers his employees as family. Something like: "That's what you do for your children". The details on the buses make me smile from time to time: Rieu 1, Rieu 2, Rieu 3. Everything has to be just right! Even the license plates.
Just before the concert everything becomes quite serious. During the preparations nothing is left to chance. André has great confidence in his staff. One by one they are all perfectionists. Just like he is. But ultimately he relies mainly on himself. He checks everything. Each sound check is performed in a specially outfitted jacket. Sound, light ... it must be right. I've noticed several times that he looks up and says that the spotlight has to be changed ever so slightly. I watch in amazement. Every detail no matter how minute catches his eye. Everything you have experienced during the show has been carefully planned and executed. Of course Andre does not do this all by himself. Not in the least, thanks to his wife Marjorie, who - as sort of a chef cook - combines all the show ingredients until they become a delicious meal.
After all the preparations have been completed, only one thing remains: Practice, practice, practice. André does not leave one second unused. I followed him for almost 60 concerts and every time I experienced the same: total passion in playing their musical instruments. So I keep remembering what first violinist Vincenzo Viola said when I asked him why he practiced so much in his spare time. He responded he wanted to be just as good as André. And to place emphases that this would certainly never happen…. This driven passion – bordering on fanaticism - to get the best out of yourself. That's what you see in the shows.
Having accompanied several of the concerts I learned one thing very quickly: you do not only practice in order to improve. This is their life. They don't want anything else. Cello player Tanja Derwahl, in the foreground of the picture, is totally immersed in playing, while her colleague Margriet van Lexmond next to her is enjoying it to the fullest. It is so close together: this perfectionism and the release of the euphoric emotions when everything goes well. That can be summed up in one word: pleasure. You can also see that on the next page. While the hall is filling up with the audience, practice continues behind the screens. The calm before the storm? Just taking it easy? Not everything all at once!
THE SHOW MASTER.
André is a show master through and through. On stage he plays with the audience. Makes jokes, challenges them, and teases them at times. For me, as a photographer, this is a party in itself. He is so photogenic. His facial expressions, his movements. Almost every photo is a hit.
In this picture you see a unique moment. Soloist James Bhemgee who won “ South Africa's Got Talent” program. Nothing special. Until you discover that this soloist until recently was a drifter, earning a living by singing for passersby in the streets. In South Africa he was finally – and with great reluctance and because at first he did not want to - coerced to enter the talent program upon the insistence by his street friends. To win. His life will never be the same again. What a fantastic voice! Then you know immediately that the African Dream really does exists.
The larger shows do not leave you indifferent. I really had an empty feeling after a series of concerts. Homesick for the circus. The basic ingredients are the same all over, no matter where in the world you are. The specifics of the country, the character of the people actually determines how the show will be. The more enthusiastic the audience, the more energy the orchestra has. When the audience is reserved you see André putting in a lot of effort to stimulate them. Until he touches the right nerve. Sometimes that one is very sensitive. And tears flow freely.
Even I - as a photographer - have experienced that. Both my parents have passed away. I just have to close my eyes to visualize my mother on New Year's Day in front of the TV, enjoying tenor Richard Tauber singing: "Dein ist mein ganzes Hertz". This is often played during the concerts. I have heard it several times. Still…..suddenly in Vienna it touched me. At that moment I was happy to have a camera in front of my eyes. I was so being touched!
André's concerts are truly four dimensional. During the winter waltz "Schneewaltzer" fake snow slowly but surely starts to fall in the hall. It is a returning joke. As a spectator you know that somewhere in the hall an enormous amount of fake snow will suddenly come down during the climax. Hilarity all over of course when that happens. Here and there some shocked or just relieved faces.
The impact on the audiences differs from one country to the next. But left or right, it is always a party.
In Mexico, there was not a place to be had. People waltzed everywhere. In front of the stage, in the aisles, on the stairs, even upstairs in front of the emergency exits. You cannot remain still. I really enjoy looking back at those pictures; The happiness in the eyes, the loving glances, the craze amongst the audience: music is then so beautiful!
I have photographed an enormous number of concerts. From real small to huge. Almost nothing can be compared to the massive performances of Rieu. Especially the photo on this page, which brings back good memories. I was allowed to mingle with the orchestra and I even wore the same clothing as the members. For a while I was one of them. This photo was taken from the spot where the kettle drummer stood during a concert in Vienna. What a view! It gives so much adrenaline. Also nice: Rieu's chandeliers. They travel along with the concerts. Again those details.
For me this is a very special picture. It is one of those "lucky shots". One that says it all; happiness and relief. Do you call it a chance hit or was it my experience alone that secured this shot? Does not matter. I was there at the right time at the right place during this concert in Mexico. It was André's first tour after his absence of a few months due to a virus infection on his equilibrium.
Everything is right with this picture. Photo technical with a beautiful diagonal line, the golden section. But more important: It grabs emotionally. André’s relief and the beautiful line made by his violinists. I knew, I saw and I felt it: Okay André, now you are totally back again. You are enjoying it again. When the main role player drops out for a few months, and comes back like this, then everyone enjoys it! This picture captures that moment. André as conductor of his orchestra, and also of his own happiness. So beautiful!
The orchestra is totally attuned to one another. Some members have been with André for 20 to 25 years. One even 34 years! As a conductor he stimulates them during the concert. They know without a doubt if quick tempered movements are real or part of the show. He only has to give them a wink and they know what he means. That is so funny to see. It is give and take. He also spoils them like real family members. The orchestra members do not need to worry about anything during a tour. Everything has been arranged. Time and time again I noticed that he only asks for one thing: perfect and passionate play during the concert. I think that is just fine.
On stage André performs many roles. Of course he is the show master. But above all he is a conductor and musician. As a photographer I don't just try to capture the moment. I also want to capture the emotion at that precise moment. During the second concert in Mexico, he was so happy. You can see it in his eyes. That satisfied look, that blissful smile and the gestures that say all is well. In these past years a bond has grown between André and I, which goes deeper than subject and photographer.
I am happy that I – as a friend -- can capture him on a photo, being so happy.
In that aspect photography is very personal. This is my tribute to André.
The playfulness is characteristic of André. His constant joking during his performance creates a unity throughout the concert. It is a joy to photograph him as a subject. After about 60 concerts I had that feeling. I had captured it. How many concerts can you photograph and where is the difference? But then during a concert I sit on the side of the stage, I watch the show and especially him, the leader on stage…. Then I have to again grab my camera. Every time a different face, a different way of standing on the stage. So many changes.
Each time I am amazed about André's passion for the music. He swings his Stradivarius like a tennis racket, not realizing that it is a priceless instrument from 1732. I think he really does not think about that. For that one particular moment it does not matter.
André stimulates his orchestra. Wild gestures and penetrating glances. When feels that the audience needs to get into the spirit, it becomes even wilder. Then the conducting itself becomes a separate show. It always works. As a conductor he has the ability to have the orchestra and audience become one. Every time at the precise moment he achieves that.
André builds bridges. He saw emptiness, a void, a need that was not being fulfilled. He offers his audience a journey into the past by creating memories with his music. I experienced that myself, several times. Or he lets them escape from their daily realities by immerging them in the music. That's why you see so many emotional people during the concerts. Tears flow freely. He gives the audience a present. Just like Strauss did. He was also on stage for the people. The audience is allowed to laugh and react; they do not need to know exactly how and what. Or to know the music pieces by heart. That's not important, it is whether you are touched or not.
And then the show is over.....the electricity on stage has been discharged, and the festivities behind the scenes are about to start. After every show there is time for a drink for all members, to celebrate another successful concert. The musical instruments are carefully put away. Especially André's Stradivarius, which goes directly into its case. Only three people are allowed to touch it: André, Pierre and first violinist Boris Goldenblank. Boris is responsible for the upkeep of all the instruments. That can sometimes be a very demanding task with many unexpected results.
In the meantime the Mexico City concerts have become legendary. Upon arrival, three cellos were severely damaged. Luckily Boris has a worldwide network of musical friends and artists in Russia, his native country, which he left during the tumultuous eighties. Even in Mexico he could call upon them. Through various people and numerous phone calls, he was finally able to contact an excellent local luthier. Within twenty four hours, the cellos were ready for the stage.
A Stradivarius from 1732 has to be maintained in perfect condition. That is the job for master luthier Marcel Richters from Vienna. Under the watchful eye of first violinist Boris Goldenblank and the security guard, the violin is flown to Vienna for its yearly maintenance service. A violin is subjected to a lot of stress. The temperature on stage, caused by the lights, is too high. Perspiration from the violinist eventually affects the wood. Facial hair rubs against it. To top it off, the violin is taken to exotic places... André tours America with it. How unlikely it seems, desert sand also tends to find the violin. Marcel Richters works meticulously on every part of the violin.
Almost every day, each instrument is diligently played, also when not on tour. Then the entire group gathers in the super modern music studio of André Rieu, in order to play together. To make music is a top sport. Just like the athletes, they have to practice daily as musicians.
I find this to be such a nice, typical moment. While everyone is quietly securing their instruments, André is on stage, eyes closed, playing again. But this time he is not playing his Stradivarius. There are two violins he frequently plays. It is has to do with the sound and the color he wants for that evening. No one in the audience will hear the difference. He does; for him it is a feeling. The high notes on the Stradivarius might be too sharp: they seem to go higher. He then says that he has a need for a more discreet sound. I can already see the difference between the violins. Now still the sound though.......
Of course André is not throwing the contra base around. The evocative picture I found to be funny. It is, as if in a moment of insanity, he is throwing the instrument through the air. The reality was actually less exciting. The base was in the way, and as far as André was concerned, it took too long before it was moved. So he moved the instrument himself. I have at times been curious and asked myself: why don't you ask someone, that way he can remain seated....? No, you get up and do it yourself. That's André..
THE BUSINESS MAN
This too is André for me: firmly connected to his telephone. He is continuously occupied with his business. When you work internationally, there is always someone somewhere in the world who needs you. Although André looks relaxed, I know that in his mind he is always busy with what lies ahead. He cannot sit still and is always ready to partake in something. Also while on tour with days of no performances. Then he invents some nice activity for everyone to enjoy. But the business keeps on going; especially in his head. So you see him, no matter where in the world, always busy with his phone. Quickly sending a message, returning a call or signing a contract just before a concert.
Not just every picture is suitable to be used in black and white. The absence of color has to add to the picture. These images were taken in André's home in Maastricht. A break from the madness of the concerts, at peace in his home. Relaxed, finished with the concerts and enjoying it.....
But of course WITH the telephone. Even when there is nothing to do, André is still doing something. I find that to be a very nice contrast. Knowing that in his mind, André is looking ten steps ahead. Success does not come by itself. I know that by having been around André for three years.
ANDRÉ THE FAMILY MAN.
André Rieu Productions is a family business, one where it is not necessary to be related by blood in order to be accepted by the family. But son Pierre, as vice-president of the company, plays a very important role in the business. I wanted to capture father and son in such a manner that their strong bond immediately would become apparent. To get away from the stage, away from the show. Just plain father and son. My first picture was spot on. I did not need to take any additional pictures. Those two as one, André and Pierre, had been captured.
Oldest son Marc, just like his father, elected an artistic career. But then as a painter and writer.
Marc Rieu conscientiously maintains a distance from the world empire which has been created in Maastricht. Not out of disdain; quite on the contrary. He has great admiration for his father's career, and looks very proudly towards his brother. But Marc, as the eldest son, wants to be entirely on his own. In character he resembles his father. Just like him, he is deeply touched by beauty. So it is not surprising that he too has taken the artistic road. He has emerged as a gifted painter and is working as a writer on his first juvenile book, the adventures of a group of art history students. Marc dreams about a career that far exceed any borders. Like father, like son. But one who wants to stand on his own two feet.
Pierre Rieu is fascinated by World War II, and collects and restores old Army vehicles.
And then we have Pierre Rieu; the second unit of André and Pierre. As André's youngest son, he too stands on his own two feet in the very responsible position as vice-president, and does for André whatever is needed. Pierre owns the largest private military vehicle collection in the Netherlands. His fascination with World War II stems from his mother Marjorie's family history. Her Jewish-German father had a very tough time during the war. Her mother was in the resistance. Through their stories, Pierre's interest in the past grew. Something he could never let go. When he turned eighteen, he obtained his first jeep. He restored it himself, and that started his collection, which slowly expanded. The purpose? A place where the youngsters can learn and understand what took place in the Netherlands during the war years.
During a previous concert series in South Africa, André visited a township. That is where he met the Bloemfontein Children Choir and the Houtbay Music Project. There disadvantaged children are afforded the opportunity to make music together. Their talents exuded from the children, and André was so impressed that he later invited them to partake in part of the Vrijthof concerts in Maastricht. The musical composition of the two cultures and the types of music were an instant hit. And a year later, during his most recent concert tour through South Africa, the children again received an invitation, but this time as observers of the concert, and because they too, are now a small part of the family.
In my profession, a picture has to say more than a thousand words. This is André Rieu as no one knows him. Not as a show master, not as a conductor or leader. Here he is a person, who just like everyone else needs to rest. This picture emphasizes the intimate bond André and I have developed during the past few years. I earned his complete trust to photograph him during his most vulnerable moments: while sleeping. I would not have been able to capture this photo, had I only been photographing a concert every now and then. Nice details with this picture. The featured couch belongs to André and travels with him during his concert series. Nothing sleeps better than your own bed. And that also holds true for his couch.
First edition, Haarlem, July 2011
© 2011 André Rieu Productions, Inc. Maastricht, the Netherlands.
Note: This translation may not be copied, redistributed or republished without express authorization of the translators.
© Translation by Ineke and John
Our thanks to Entia for her assistance
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