August ~ 2009
Not too long ago Pierre Rieu was at a U2 concert in the Amsterdam Arena. He enjoyed it, but did not understand anything about the ending. The band members were not even out of sight yet and the hall lights went on already, those white work lights". Dozens of people with helmets and safety gear jumped on the stage to tear everything down. Then I thought, "Couldn't they just wait ten minutes? Sixty thousand people have been swept up in the music and then all at once their dream is shattered. We will not allow that."
'We', is the Johann Strauss Orchestra and violinist André Rieu, Pierre's father. Here the crew waits until the public has left the hall before they start to break down the stage. People who come to us are temporarily transported into a fairytale world." When the concert is over, there is often still some music. The soft lights come on, to make the atmosphere linger for a while."
For the past two years the Rieu-family (staff also included) traveled the world with a replica of the Viennese Schloss Schönbrunn, better known as the palace where Empress Sissi once lived. During the summer of 2006, the orchestra gave a concert in front of the real castle in Vienna and father Rieu wanted to take that atmosphere with him wherever he went.
As a production manager, Pierre was responsible for the largest touring scenery in the world. “I thought, "Maybe we could at least sleep on it for a night or so. But my father had some good arguments. With the concert in Vienna, the whole entire atmosphere was just right, it was phenomenal. Within a week we were putting our heads together and made a first sketch with the engineer who builds all our stages."
Together with the TROS reality soap and the successful sale of CDs and DVD's, the World Stadium Tour with the Sissi-decor of Andre Rieu, who in 1994 broke through with the Second Waltz, became even more popular than it already was. In the meantime, the violinist can now be named as the best-selling male artist of 2009. Only female mega stars such as Madonna, Britney Spears and Tina Turner sold more concert tickets in the first half of 2009, than Maastricht's pride.
During an interview with Pierre Rieu in his parents' Castle with a view across the river, the best selling artist himself comes by on the way to his private Portuguese teacher. "Hi Dad," says Pierre, who still lives in the castle but will soon move to a house next to it. Dad squeezes the shoulders of his son, who currently is also studying Portuguese. When later on they go on a promotional tour to Brazil, it would be so very nice to be able to speak a few words in that national language.
You were nineteen when you started in your father's business. On your first day you were in charge of forty men. People who taught you the job.
"Yes, I was immediately their leader. The most difficult part was to prove that I could do it. If that was true, I needed to discover that too."
"I had been around the technical aspect for a while, helped erect and break down during the performances. They really helped me a lot along the way.But I also received some rock hard lessons. When I look back, I was still just a greenhorn. You are gone a lot with a nice group and they give you a warm feeling. I thought, this is great, I only have friends here. Until the time I hear a colleague speak when he thought that I had hung up. "I heard something about a snotty nose...or 'son of'..... Like the friends you have at home, I just knew then, that they are just like family. I went to my parents. I thought, darn. See, "the son of.... ,' but I will always be that. But in the meantime I've proven that I can do the job. Ask my co-workers, and I think they are happy with the way I operate. .' We discuss everything; I am definitely not the commanding type. "
That working in harmony concept was part of his upbringing. Pi, as he is called by friends, hopes to give his children the same kind of upbringing as he and his two year older brother Marc received. "We always had fun together and were rarely punished. If something went amiss we were always asked: "What do you think of that?” Opa André was senior director, father André was attending the conservatory and played in the Limburg Symphony Orchestra.
Mother Marjorie was a German teacher. Today she plays a very important role in the André Rieu Productions. "She tends to all the concert programs, along with Dad. In addition she also writes all his lyrics for when he is on stage, he says. They review everything together."
The first violin Pierre ever received, he broke over the head of his brother. The trumpet, which came later, survived. "Recently when I was in Japan I played along with a show for the first time. True, but without a microphone, since I'm still not good enough. But I was extremely nervous. Even if I messed up, you would still hear it right through my neighbor’s microphone." Brother Marc enjoys coming to the concerts, but has "zero involvement with the company." He paints landscapes and according to Pierre is "a very sweet boy, floating a bit above the ground. "He would not want to work here for all the gold in the world. Just a little pressure makes him already nervous."
NORTH POLE The Johan Strauss Orchestra wants to travel in the future to the North Pole to conduct a concert for several different nationalities; "A couple of Chinese, Australians, Brazilians." Kind of a Noah's Ark? "No, rather to create a world idea. We first want to draw attention to the environment. Next we want to record pieces of music and show the beauty of the Arctic " But first we have to get all the environmental organizations to agree with the idea. Rieu: "If the North pole is not resigned to the fact that we come, then we won't.
Yes, it seemed grateful work to ensure that right prevailed. My father had an impressive lawyer in his services for portrait copy rights and the likes. If he could not exchange a product in a store, he would call out and say: "I am going to close this place down." Later you find out that a statement like that is nonsense, but my interests were awakened. "
But you did break off your studies very soon.
"After five weeks. I had already been orienting myself in the business. My parents then asked me if I thought it would be a nice job if I directed the technical aspects. Well, yes, it seemed fantastic."
"In the beginning it was difficult. Suddenly you receive orders from your father. With the first concert with which I had assisted in erecting, he walked into the hall and he asked: why isn't this done yet? Why is that still there? Although we still had two hours before the sound check. That went on like that for six weeks. So I made it clear to him that I would quit if he would continue like that. He could have come in with a "Hey, that looks good, nice, and that will be finished, correct? C'est le ton qui fait la musique. It's the tone that makes the music. He said: "You are absolutely right."
Your father is demanding.
"I would rather say: a perfectionist. That is something else. When you are asked to do something and you do it to the best of your ability, then it must be correct. Otherwise you're in the wrong place. "
Did you always wanted to work in your parents' company?
"Yes, even when I wanted to become a lawyer. If you have ever before experienced a concert, you understand why. These people become happy, emotional, and are grateful. To be partially responsibility for that, makes me tremendously proud. What happens on stage is sincere. If you dare to bring your emotions along, you have a wonderful evening with us. "
Pierre's role as production manager was mainly to exclude as many problems as possible. He ponders a lot: it will remain dry during an outdoor concert? Are the technicians abiding by the safety rules? Is every one doing what they are supposed to do? During the kick-off of the World Stadium Tour at the end of 2007, he, together with about seven hundred men, took five days to do have everything build. Then, something went wrong. The organization that Pierre had hired for the power supply connected the backup power the wrong way. Twelve hours before the show - an audience of 35 thousand - all the power was lost.
"A human error. I thought, let them figure it out. But nothing happened.
Eventually we ourselves were able to obtain an emergency generator from the airport. Just twenty minutes before the show, the power came on again. "
What does something like this do to you?
It's not nice, not very nice at all. During the performance you are continually just looking at the lights: will they stay on?"
Once home, almost two years ago, when a weeks holiday awaited him, the incident seemed to have had a major effect on him because of his working too hard and too long. I was sitting on a bench and thought: pffrrt. I do not want to do anything anymore, there's just no sense in it. I'm not put together that way. I thought, whoa, something is very wrong here. "STRESS". "I had to accept that even with me something could be too much. I always said: "Everything goes, everything is possible, just let me do it. But it was just a little too much."
Did you learn anything from it?
"To delegate, that is one of the main things. When I came here as a nineteen year old, I did not dare to ask anyone anything. But with the world tour I just could not do everything myself any more. I learned also that it is not necessary to be there every day. And to let go. I've had good therapy. The first thing I said there was: "I hope that I'll soon be my own self again." My therapist said: "Well, I sure hope not." I can still go to him. In the beginning I was ashamed to go, it was just as if I had gone insane or something like that. But not at all, I just needed help. "
How did your parents react?
"They thought it was awful. My father of course felt responsible, he had the idea that he had asked too much of me. I talked him out of that idea. He did make use of the fact that I took on too much, but he did not abuse me. When he heard about it, he forbade everyone in the company to make contact with me. One time when I only saw the name of a supplier in my phone, all the activities connected with this gentleman flashed before me. Just like flywheel that has been cranked up high. It gave me heart palpitations."
Are you successful now in establishing your boundaries?
"I am aware of the alarm indicators: nightmares, not sleeping well. I still need to take that step in order to then take immediate action. "
When he met a friend who taught him more about war vehicles, they together started a collection." Today they have over 45 vehicles standing in a warehouse. Tanks and trucks from the allies. And uniforms and radio equipment." Currently, the two are looking for a suitable location for a museum.
What sort of changes did you bring into the company?
"The company is one large family. I think that I have had an important share in that. Ever since I have been in the production department, Andre knows the entire crew by name. For him that is easier and the boys love it."
You seem to be good in creating atmosphere.
"You have to keep people interested. With us is all about unity, helping each other. Atmosphere is so important, especially when you are together on the road a lot. I know that Mom and Dad are always happy when I join a discussion, because at times I do joke around. This past week we were watching the new DVD recordings made in Maastricht. Someone from the German TV broadcast station ZDF was also there. Dad had worked on it day and night. Somewhere in there he said: "This is a beautiful piece." So then I say with every one there: "Yes, but it is just too bad that a violin is in it." "That's my son again," says dad then. And that of course makes them laugh. They are silly jokes, but then again, no one else will say anything of the kind. That is the biggest advantage of us working together. We know one another well and I can say things to him that no one else does."
Does it place extra pressure upon you to work for your parents?
"It might perhaps be a bit closer than with any other company, even with mistakes. I remember one time I forgot to cancel a concert hall, that cost us 50 thousand Euros. I told my father: "For the next two years I'll work for nothing. I had to tell him what had happened. Very dumb, he thought so too. But I still received my salary."
On your wedding day last year your father was crying, was he afraid of losing you?
"Yes", that's what he said: "I have the feeling that I am losing you." I said: "Now, stop being foolish, after this I am again going on tour with you for five weeks. But I can well imagine that it feels like that, that it looks as if someone else will be taking care of your child."
It wasn't because he was afraid that maybe you would look for another job?
"No, certainly not. Sometimes he still asks: "Do you still enjoy it? That is a kind of politeness, because he knows that I still enjoy it. I tell him: "Yes", and he: "Good, because I would not know what I would do without you. "Don't be afraid", I say. That for me, does not add any additional stresses that he needs me. It is a form of appreciation. It makes you stronger."
In the meantime you have become Vice President. You are still responsible for the technical team, but you also have new duties.
"Yes, we have grown. On the production side we have very good people who regulate everything when on the road. Because of them and now that children are on the way (Pierre and his wife are expecting twins in November, ed), I can be more at home. I am now involved in tapping into new markets. Since recently, we are working together with travel agencies, who want to connect our name with travel packages. Last month a lot of people came to Maastricht. From places like Africa, Australia and Brazil."
You were also hired because your father had bad experiences with managers, who kept a large portion of the sales profits for themselves. A lot of money passes through your hands.
"Yes, I spend someone else's money, and that still makes me uncomfortable at times. But if necessary, I can always fall back on the executive office and my parents. Dad can throw his money around a lot better then I. It's his money, he worked for it."
How did you learn to manage such a lot of money? You have no economic training.
"No, I was always very bad in arithmetic. Mathematics was the worst. Luckily I do not have to use formulas at work, just simple math."
You mean there is a budget and that is as close as it gets.
"Well, actually we never work with budgets."
Education: athenaeum, law, not completed Career: During the period that Andre Rieu breaks through with his Second Waltz, Pierre Rieu continues his schooling with an international school in Maastricht, where his father's reputation has less of an impact on him. In 2002 he joined the company. In the meantime he has become Vice President. Rieu is married. His wife is a production manager in the Efteling. The couple is expecting 'twins' in November.
This English translation is copyrighted © by John. No item in part or in it's entirety may be copied or redistributed without the express written authorization of the translator.