Violinist and conductor André Rieu emerged rapidly in the late 1980s as a latter-day Waltz King, specializing in light classics and Viennese salon music. Rieu came from a suitably musical family: his father was the conductor of the Limburg Symphony Orchestra and a conductor at the Leipzig Opera, and most of André's brothers and sisters are professional musicians. The music that filled the Rieu household was mostly classical; symphonies, chamber works, and operas provided the major fare. André trained as a violinist and singer and was for ten years a member of the Limburg Symphony Orchestra.
It was during Rieu's conservatory training that an event occurred that changed the direction of his life and career. Rieu took a job to play a date in a salon ensemble, which entailed presenting dance and light music as it might have been heard in the palmy days before World War I. As part of that job, he played Franz Lehár's "Gold and Silver Waltz." As Rieu became involved in projecting "Gold and Silver" to the listeners, he found himself captivated by the lilt of the music and decided he wanted to continue making this kind of music.
Rieu formed a salon group in Maastricht that survived, with some personnel changes, from about 1982 to 1987. The group's instrumentation generally consisted of solo violin with violin, cello, double bass, and piano, sometimes with members of the group doubling on trumpet and glockenspiel. The group made a number of recordings recorded, first for Da Capo and then for Philips, the label with which Rieu has since remained associated.
Rieu presently founded a larger ensemble, adopting the historic name the Johann Strauss Orchestra. Rieu and the Strauss Orchestra seek to recreate the spirit and ambience of a nineteenth-century Strauss appearance. As Johann Strauss and his brothers did, Rieu conducts while playing the violin, providing the beat with his bow and instrument and by motions of the body, virtually dancing the rhythm. The Strauss Orchestra's programs consist mainly of music by the Strausses and other composers of light music and operetta.
Rieu has written that he recognizes that the concert platform and the presence of a seated audience erects a barrier between players and listeners that was not typically a part of Strauss' own appearances, but he actively attempts to bridge this gap and involve the audience in the music. Accordingly, audiences have responded with great enthusiasm. Rieu's first CD, From Holland with Love, was an international best-seller, and subsequent CDs have enjoyed a similar success. Rieu's concerts throughout Europe and the United States consistenly sell out. The musician attributes such success to his ability to provide the romance of a bygone era, "the Vienna of the nineteenth century, with its palatial ballrooms, their walls fitted with resplendent mirrors and ornate chandeliers, the swish of swirling skirts and a sense of romance in the air." ~ Joseph Stevenson, Rovi