Rieu, 66, is the son of a conductor. He grew up in the Netherlands and began playing violin at the age of five. At first, he played in his father's orchestra, but didn't particularly like the serious atmosphere in the concert halls. "They all looked so serious", he recalls. "The music was joyous and yet you weren't allowed to cough nor laugh." He found his inspiration in the evening moments that the audience clearly enjoyed, as the concert ended with waltzes that delighted the crowd. In 1987, he decided to devote his career to the Viennese music of the 19th century, Johann Strauss in particular.
Just like Strauss himself, who preferred to perform in public parks rather than the salons of high society, Rieu stands in the centre of the stage at his concerts, amidst extravagant sets and a huge ensemble of musicians and chorus. Also like Strauss, Rieu conducts his orchestra with his violin bow and breaks the dusty rules of classical music by making jokes, telling stories, and occasionally even adding a dash of slapstick comedy. All the while, the audience clap enthusiastically in the aisles, sing, hum and dance.
"I try to have fun on stage and also involve the audience", he says. "I think that classical music has lost its contact with the people. I'm happy when I play for the crowd and can be with them. That's what I do, and I simply love it!". For the past 25 years, the Dutch superstar has taken the world of classical music by storm, with the dynamic of a rock star. Armed with only a violin and bow, and supported by his own orchestra of 60 musicians, he combines the romance of 19th century Vienna with a phenomenal Rock'n'Roll spectacle. This formula has turned him into the world's biggest star of the classical music scene, or perhaps even the only superstar of classical music. His goals are simple and have never changed: "I want to make people happy with music, with classical and popular music."
Rieu's Johann Strauss Orchestra, the largest private orchestra in the world, is now the world's most successful, having played for more than 15 million people. In Melbourne, 2009, he played his biggest concert ever for an audience of 43,000. He has sold over 35 million albums and DVDs worldwide, and led popular music of a bygone era into the pop charts almost 150 years later.