‘Please, I beg of you, take me to see André,’ was my mother’s heartfelt plea. And so it was that we turned up at Wembley Arena — she, my father and I — to experience the global phenomenon that is André Rieu.
André Rieu is a Dutch violinist and conductor who tours the world staging big venue classical concerts featuring all the popular classics you most want to hear. But that description really doesn’t do him justice. You cannot possibly grasp what André Rieu is and does before you see him in action. When you see him perform live with his Johann Strauss Orchestra you realise he is not so much a violinist and conductor as a force of nature. His name could be a verb, if it were not so unpronounceable.
Before we go any further, I need to point out that Rieu is mispronounced ‘Rue’ by all his British fans, because we Brits can never say foreign names ending in vowels properly. But his name is correctly pronounced Reer. This is important to note because to Rue something is the exact opposite of what it means to Rieu something.
To Rieu (pronounced Reer) something is to make it sway from side to side going ‘La la la la laaaaa…La la! La la!’ ecstatically to the tune of ‘The Blue Danube’. Yes, people sing along during his concerts.
But that is not the half of it. Sometimes older couples in the audience get out of their seats and walk to the nearest aisle and actually waltz with each other as André and his orchestra play. My parents did this. It was unbelievably sweet. I have lots of blurry photos of it which I will treasure for ever.
André Rieu makes people happy, you see. I don’t know how else to best describe what he does. My mother has been a fan of his for ages and watches him on the Sky Arts channel that is almost exclusively dedicated to re-running his concerts. She was beyond excited to see him live, and was mesmerised as he swept us all up in a medley of the most stirring and uplifting all-time classical greats.
As well as the staple Puccini arias — you can’t go wrong with a bit of ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’, can you? And this was a particularly soaring rendition — there were feet-stampers like the Radetzky March. André doesn’t just let you sing along, you can clap, too. In fact, he prefers it if you do.
André creates a world where nothing bad can happen. The ladies in his orchestra wear satin ball-gowns that are all the colours of the rainbow. They smile and laugh as they play. André himself wears old-fashioned maestro gear — black tie and tails, white stock and gleaming stock pin at his throat — and has the nicest smile of any smile you ever saw.
Everyone in André’s world is happy. It sounds hideous, but it really isn’t. As a cynic, I expected to hate it but you would have to have a heart of stone not to melt when André welcomes a choir of tiny Japanese children on to the stage to perform a medley of songs that involves them going ‘la-la-la-la-la!’ ever so slightly off key in strategic gaps left by the orchestra.
Or when a beautiful South African singer called Kimmy Skota raises the roof with a stirring anthem entitled ‘My African Dream’.
Or when a little old Argentinian accordion player comes out and plays the haunting tango number ‘Adiós Nonino’.
Or when special effects on a giant screen behind the orchestra feature erupting volcanos as three tenors sing ‘O Fortuna’ from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.
It just presses all the buttons.
By the time the orchestra was playing ‘White Cliffs of Dover’ — and cutting to a video message from dear, dear Dame Vera Lynn — I was well and truly Rieu-ed.
A couple of rounds of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, with the three tenors leading the charge and the audience singing along, and I was dabbing at my eyes and trembling with happiness. And I’m not even a Liverpool fan.
Wouldn’t it be nice if André ruled the world? I thought, as Rieu struck up a chorus of ‘Roses from the South’.
Has anyone thought of using Rieu as a UN peace ambassador, or conflict resolver, or just plain old leader of the free world? I’m pretty sure he would sort out absolutely everything, including Syria, in about two hours and 20 minutes. He is a weapon of mass happiness.
No wonder my mother is in love with him. And my father doesn’t even mind. How could you mind? Everyone who encounters André loves André. If you haven’t already experienced his magic, and are feeling a little jaded by this wicked world, you should definitely give it a try.