André Rieu Almost Had To Let His Orchestra GoAndré Rieu almost went under due to a dream. His tour through Australia in 2008 almost did him and his orchestra in. "I do not mind dying poor," says the 60 year old violin virtuoso, "but it came too close, to the point that I almost had to dismiss all my orchestra members. It was really too intense".
Dressed in a long elegant coat, umbrella above his head, André Rieu is waiting for me in a snow shower at the train station of Maastricht. The immaculately dressed gentleman is quite noticeable in the city which is still full of Carnival atmosphere. "My financial adviser predicted all this. The year end financial figures are now out and there will be a storm of comments."
André gallantly opened the door of his Mercedes. He waves to a seemingly lost person dressed up as a dance puppet in thick tights who is being supported by a person dressed up as a drummer wearing a party hat. They look at him empathically. All of Maastricht sympathizes with their fellow citizen, who this year will turn the Vrijthof no less than Eight Times upside down.
This is the only interview he has given over his now happily passed dramatic low point of his financial situation. "The crazy thing is. I have been able to process everything. It's now sixteen months later and we are almost even. I am also a little proud of that. We were so deeply in debt that we needed a loan of 23 million Euros from the Rabobank. Now almost everything has been repaid. Quietly we crept along the edge of the abyss. It could have been be a tragedy, but it is past now."
On the way to his stately work castle he speaks relaxed while steering through the city. "If we had spent 23 million Euros hanging posters throughout the world, we would not have had a greater marketing effect as we do now. I have to admit: it was very extreme. I had to promise Marjorie and the gentlemen from the bank that I will never do that again. But the world is now at our feet. We are even negotiating a Major Tour through America. Michael Jackson's manager and the gentleman from the record company were here this week."
"My son Pierre arranged everything. He said they will come here, we do not have to go there for an audition. That way they are really interested. Pierre has the business talent, I am the dreamer. The intent is to perform in Forty Stadiums in America where we can place the Schönbrunn Castle."
Weren't These Castles The Cause of Your Financial Problems?
"Correct, but they are already built, yes? Close by I have seven million Euros worth steel stored. We now even have three castles. A prototype and two that are more automated and require less manpower to build. The millions were flying out the door. There was no holding back. And at the end we still had to build one more castle because we could not transport the things fast enough from one side of Australia to the other. Well, there went another three million Euros. And then we had to swallow some more, because a beautiful castle made out of Styrofoam was rejected by the fire department. We paid a thousand for a foam press we purchased. Well, that was only the beginning."
In his own castle, sitting by the crackling fireplace in elegant French furniture, André Rieu ponders for a moment. He points to an oval table with about eight chairs around it. "That's where the bankers were. They came from Utrecht, the gentlemen from Maastricht could do no more for us. We talked for an entire day. It was just prior to the beginning of the Australian tour. I needed a lot more money so I could go. We had to go, we had sold 270,000 tickets. Everything was ready. Yes, everything was perfect. We flew the Viennese ballet over, six white Lipizzaner horses, we had a Golden Carriage, fountains were built just like the real ones in front of the Schönbrunn Castle. There were people who asked me, did you really need the ballet from Vienna? Aren't there also dancers in Australia? And Ivo Niehe, who came along to Melbourne, was amazed that I had perfect tenors in the show, but I'm a perfectionist. I wanted to achieve my dreams and leave the people breathless. That again was achieved".
Continuation: "Pierre wants to make his father happy. And will do everything possible to make the stories in my head a realization. But with this project, I might have gone a bit too far. He was stressed out quite a bit by all this work. Instinctively I also felt that I gone too far. When we had to bring the bankers here, I said to Marjorie, "I do not have to die rich", but now I see that it is nice to have some money for our care for when we are old. As long as I do not need to go to a nursing home, where a lovely nurse determines if and when I should go to the toilet".
André Rieu ponders on, "One of the bankers suggested that we should cancel the tour to Australia and not go. But that was not possible. There was already so much money invested, the tickets were sold. If we had not gone, we all would definitely have gone bankrupt and I would have to let every one go. And then I would have had no means to earn everything back. I would just be back at square one. Twenty years ago I had a job with the Limburg Symphony Orchestra and an ordinary house, that was then my future. So now I had to give everything I owned as collateral, the Real Estate, the Cars, the Articles, the Stradivarius ... I was totally stripped. But there was still a Six Million Euro deficit."
He smiles triumphantly, "The bankers moaned and I thought, it is now or never. In half an hour's time I managed to get six million euros together via the telephone. I managed to get Three Million out of my Recording Company since I could shift the rights of a number of DVD's to them. And I called my German Promoter and said, "Is it worth Three Million Euros to you if I sign for an additional three years?" I immediately received a resounding "yes". That sort of made the bankers take note, but they did not immediately say that was alright. They let us sweat for about four days."
Were You Able To Sleep During Those Days?
"I always sleep. I can very easily turn my thoughts off. Even just before a concert I take a nap because I feel I should give my energy to the orchestra. That way we all can give a new top performance. You might do some strange thinking though. I came to the conclusion that losing money and things were not the worst that could happen. Marjorie and the boys were still here, but I have to admit, it really was a little too exciting. When the "yes" answer was received from Utrecht, we did raise a glass. Nothing exorbitant because the great recovery had to begin. They told me very sternly, "now you have to play a few years longer Mr. Rieu, but I was already planning to do that. And so we received a double stroke of luck. We sold more tickets than expected, the DVD sales were great. We could constantly maintain 11 million above our limit of 23 million. And now, thanks to a bumper year last year, I'm almost completely out of debt.".
."The Orchestra Members did not notice how bad the financial situation was. I told them everything, but it was I alone who took the entire risk. I did not ask them whether they wanted to play for less or anything like that. I was responsible and they trusted me. This has made our orchestra even closer."
André Rieu even put up his Stradivarius as collateral. "I was being positive. I was counting on possibly buying her back in a few years. And no matter how much I love that violin, it is and remains only a thing. Actually it is one of the last violins made by the violin master, Stradivarius. It was built in 1732 and is a larger violin. I already had a Stradivarius, which was much smaller, from his earlier years. During the course of his career Stradivarius developed larger instruments because the rooms were becoming larger and louder acoustics were needed from the body. I brought my violin back to the dealer in Vienna and he put a sales price of Three Million Euros on it. I had secretly added One Million to the bank's imposed value of Two Million since naturally, I really did not want to part with it, and I got to keep it".
He shrugs his shoulders, "When we started doing well fifteen years ago, I could have my pick amongst the violins. A week after the death of Yehudi Menuhin, I had his violin right here in my house, but this instrument I found was too classical, too serious, too cold. My violin is melodious and warm, more suited for the waltz."
André Rieu chuckles, "It is not really the first time that I have given everything as collateral to the bank. In the very beginning it was all about eighty thousand guilders. That was for my first sound system when I was still traveling with the Salon Orchestra, and went to perform in all sort of parties.
It only took one month, but even the birds in the aviary belonged to the bank".
What Is The Difference Between Your Misfortune and That of Marco Borsato? "I almost totally blundered on the Castles I built, but the eccentric decorations have made for so much publicity that I am now on the U.S. lists as the Best Selling Male Artist in The World. Marco's Company bought other companies that did not do too well. I stayed my course with something I could do well. Now that Marco is doing that too, he is doing much better."
André Rieu promised he will never again build Castles, but son Pierre is now working to see if he can reproduce the entire Vrijthof. André Rieu chuckles, "That's right, this year I will perform Eight Times in the Open Air on The Vrijthof. Marjorie has said, and rightly so, that I obviously cannot always be lucky with the weather. In Brisbane we nearly lost another 3 million because we almost had to cancel due to a storm, but it stopped blowing. Anyway, we are now looking at what we can do inside the Congress Center of the MECC in Maastricht. Pierre has already built a piece of the Vrijthof, it could cost as much as 1 Million Euros, but that of course is way too much. Pierre is now working with sponsors. He wants to save his father from another financial dilemma."
The violin virtuoso smiles, "Marjorie's father was a Jewish fugitive. During his life, he lost his entire fortune twice. Once in World War I and once in World War II and his life was in danger. That is no comparison to what we have experienced." ... By Wilma Nanninga