Reluctant sex symbol violinist says he does it for love

For an international megastar and reluctant sex symbol, Andre Rieu is a gossip magazine's worst nightmare.

"I am a very normal, dull guy who does his work," the Dutch violin maestro says.

"There is nothing to write about me in the tabloids because I am married with my wife for 33 years and I am very happy."

He laughs off the suggestion he's a sex symbol.

"Why would I consider myself a sex symbol? I'm not aware of that. I am a classical violinist," he says.

"I play romantic music," he says, as if that explains his ability to make post-middle aged women around the world act like a bunch of teenage girls.

The 59-year-old son of a conductor may say it's all about the music, but there's no denying his Beethovenesque mane of hair and come-hither smile also play a role in his appeal.

He has sold over 1.6 million CDs and DVDS in Australia, including his chart-topping 2008 CD Waltzing Matilda. He was mobbed by the blue-rinse set during a recent visit here - a pattern repeated around the world from Brussels to Brazil.

It wasn't always that way.

Years ago, when Rieu started looking for a recording deal, he was told: "What are you playing? Waltzes? Please go back and play for your grandmother", he says.

It was only when his performances started airing on TV that he got his breakthrough.

Rieu's ego may be modest but his shows are not.

His bigger-than-Ben-Hur world stadium show, which tours Australia this month, features an orchestra, soloists (including 23-year-old Brisbane Soprano Mirusia Louwerse), a choir, dancers, ice skaters (performing on two artificial rinks), horses and a near life-size replica of an Austrian castle.

It's the world's biggest ever touring show.

With 600 tonnes of equipment, A Romantic Night in Vienna beats any stage show by the Rolling Stones.

But Rieu's most treasured cargo is his 1732 Stradivari violin, one of only a few in the world. The precious instrument comes with its own personal bodyguard.

"I bought it and I paid for it and it's mine," Rieu says of the violin, valued at millions of dollars.

"But I don't feel like its owner, I feel like its caretaker, so that next generations can play on it. I have to preserve it and take care of it." Rieu's over-the-top, bordering-on-kitsch approach to performance has of course earned him detractors from the ranks of purists as well as fans among the great unwashed.

But he says Pavarotti, who also performed for the masses, endured the similar charges of "dumbing down" classical music, so he's in good company.

"There is nothing wrong in bringing classical music to the masses," Rieu insists.

A workaholic who sleeps around four to five hours a night and catnaps during the day, Rieu says performing is a labour of love.

"I play music the way it should be played, namely with your heart," he says.

"There is so little to say about me, the best thing you can say is come to the concert and see how it is." Rieu's tour starts in Melbourne on Thursday and then travels to Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane.






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