Upon parenthood, classical music became cool.
First it was the “Mozart for Mothers” compact disc that was included in a baby-formula manufacturer’s complimentary diaper bag given to me at a prenatal visit. The intent was simple – I would play the music to relax during the pregnancy and as an added bonus I would boost my child’s brainpower because, after all, studies have shown that a child’s intelligence level is increased by a regular dosage of classical music.
And then there was the Baby Einstein collection of videos, the brainchild of an entrepreneurial mom who set classical music to the vivid imagery of the outdoors or the movement of noncommercialized toys. Soothing, attractive and a big hit in my household.
And mostly there is my mother, Paula, who along with my dad, Paul, took daily care of my daughters, MaggieBeth and Lauren, for a couple of years. My parents, especially my mother, are groupies of Andre Rieu, a Dutch violinist and orchestra leader who has attracted worldwide audiences with his suave, entertaining renditions of the classics. Videos of his performances would play in my parents’ home, and all four would dance and hum along.
Now my daughters, too, are groupies.
“Mom, MOOOMMMM, there’s Andre Rieu! He’s on TV!” my daughters will scream when I tune into one of his concerts on Maine Public Television.
It seems fitting that Rieu will perform on Mother’s Day, May 9, at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, a fund-raiser for Maine Public Broadcasting. My parents received their tickets through an annual pledge, and will meet Rieu after the show.
My mother’s fascination with Rieu goes beyond one of her chance viewings of his performances on Maine PBS. The two share a heritage, both having grown up in Maastricht, the Netherlands. And an old Dutch friend’s daughter Manoe Konings has played the clarinet and saxophone in Rieu’s orchestra, the Johann Strauss Orchestra, for more than 10 years.
Rieu’s popularity goes beyond our households. He’s another European act that has captivated millions of people through exposure on public television, combining pageantry and grace with a sense of humor.
“He just has this way of catching people’s attention,” Konings said, speaking by phone between performances in southern France.
Rieu’s shows fire the imagination, carrying the viewer to majestic European concert halls where the Johann Strauss Orchestra’s women musicians perform in elegant, flowing ball gowns.
And, yes, Rieu is a sight to behold too. He is a suave, charismatic and engaging musician. His shoulder-length brown hair somehow never gets in the way when he performs.
Konings said Rieu is both charming and grounded. She noted the violinist has been married for 26 years and has two grown children.
“He made it because of her,” Konings said. “She was always pushing him.”
On his Web site, Rieu states that he wants his audience to play along, to not sit still as if it were a stuffy event.
“I like the audience to enjoy the music as if at one with the orchestra, moving, humming or clapping to the rhythm,” he said. “By nature, I’m a fairly cheerful person, and I prefer to have a lot of humor in my life. That’s why I want to make my concerts cheerful and the audience, as well as myself, to enjoy the music from the heart. The atmosphere of reserved aloofness that puts a lot of people off classical music is completely absent from our concerts.”
Rieu grew up in a household filled with classical music, taking his first violin lesson at age 5. Konings was taught to read music by her grandfather before she learned the alphabet, and he had a custom clarinet made for her in Germany. Both Rieu and Konings studied classical music, and in the 1980s, Rieu asked Konings to join him in his orchestra.
“We were just doing some concerts in Holland, and then we recorded the ‘Second Waltz of Chostakovitch,'” Konings said. “One year we were on the Top 10 of the hit parade, then everything exploded. After that, the world came.”
For Konings, it’s an energizing feeling to see and hear an audience respond so enthusiastically to one of the orchestra’s performances. Children, too, are welcome to join in the colorful spectacle.
“Being onstage is the most wonderful thing you could be doing, looking out and seeing thousands of people smiling,” she said. “As you see on television, we have fun. We have a group of people who really love classical music.”
Andre Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra perform at 6 p.m. Sunday, May 9, at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland. Tickets cost $37.50 to $55 and are available from Ticketmaster. Call 775-3458 or 775-3331 or online at www.ticketmaster.com. Deborah Turcotte can be reached at 990-8133 or firstname.lastname@example.org.