(From December 11, 2020 edition of the Jewish Telegraph)
ANDRÉ Rieu is, perhaps, the most famous classical musician in the world.
Having performed in front of some of the largest audiences across the globe, and popularised classical music to new generations, one would be forgiven for wondering why the Jewish Telegraph has an interview with him in today’s edition.
After all, the violinist, conductor and entrepreneur is not Jewish — nor does he have Jewish lineage.
However, the man who had arguably the biggest influence on his musical career was his Jewish father-in-law Edgar Kochmann.
Speaking ahead of his Johann Strauss Orchestra’s virtual concert Magical Maastricht, he told me, from his home in Maastricht, Holland: “Edgar lived in Berlin, and his father came over to Maastricht in 1932 because the situation in Germany was too hard.
“He found a little factory here, which is actually next to my house now. In 1934, the rest of the family came. Edgar went undercover in Masstricht, and was taken care of by a girl in Maastricht — who was my mother-in-law Nelly (nee Eymael).”
Nelly was in the Dutch resistance and risked her life helping many Jews.
André recalled to the Jerusalem Post two years ago how a family from Israel had written to him to say that his mother-in-law had saved their grandmother.
They also included a photograph of a group of people in Maastricht at a ceremony after the war, including his in-laws and people they had saved.
André continued: “Edgar’s brother, Heinz, went to England, changed his last name to Armand-Radcliffe, went into the army, and came back to Europe to liberate his mother and his brother.”
André — who describes Tel Aviv-born Itzhak Perlman as one of the greatest violinists of all time — married Edgar’s daughter Marjorie in 1975, and was then introduced to his large record collection.
Having grown up surrounded by the likes of Bach and Beethoven, André was now introduced to the world of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
He explained: “My father-in-law left everything he had; the only luggage he had was his vinyl record collection, about 300 records — and the music on those albums became the first repertoire I played with my Maastricht Salon Orchestra, back in the 1980s.
“His record collection introduced me to all of this wonderful repertoire like operetta, music from the 1920s and 1930s and so much more.
“My wife was educated with all this marvellous stuff, and she influenced my whole being as a musician.
“Who I am now is due to the record collection of my father-in-law.”
One of André’s most famous performances — and a key part of his concerts — is his version of the klezmer classic, Hava Nagila.
It is so popular in fact that his 2010 performance is one of the most popular classical music videos on YouTube — with more than 14.2 million views.
He explained: “It’s a fantastic piece, you know, and we have a clarinet player in the orchestra, who knows very well how to do that.
“We make it very fast tempo, and it’s really nice to play.”
Playing in Israel is also something ‘King of the Waltz’ André enjoys — and he has done so a few times since his debut there in 2018.
He recalled: “I always say, wherever we play in the world, people are the same.
“They are warm of heart and love music.
“ And, of course, in the encores, we play some Israeli pieces, like we play all over the world, local music, and the people love that.
“So when we played Jerusalem, they were over the moon.”
On YouTube, there are videos of André’s performances in Tel Aviv including Jerusalem of Gold.
He is due to play two concerts in Israel in November at Tel Aviv’s Menora Mivtachim Arena.
Before his first visit to Israel two years ago, he told the Jerusalem Post: “Israel is a fascinating country with an impressive cultural history. My wife Marjorie’s oldest friend has been living in Israel for decades and he has told us beautiful stories about it.
“It is a small country but has contributed so many fantastic musicians to the worldwide arts scene.”
André’s 150-minute long Magical Maastrich concert, which streams from December 19 until January 3 on andrerieu.com, is a compilation of some of his favourite performances from his home concerts.
He said: “This summer unfortunately you couldn’t come to Maastricht, and I thought why not bring Maastricht to you! Myself and Marjorie have chosen some of our favourite performances of the last 15 years on the big square here in my home town.
“Looking back at these concerts, we laughed and we cried and I’m sure viewers will go through the same emotions.
“It’s full of nostalgia and makes me want to jump on stage.
“I’ve always said music brings people together, and I’m so happy we can spend a few hours together this Christmas and rejoice in music.”
Andre. whose new album is Jolly Holiday, has said in the past how he had seen Israel flags being waved by audiences at the Maastrich shows.
The concert features special guests such as Jermaine Jackson, David Hasselhoff, Los del Rio, the late Trini Lopez and more.
André and I also discussed what he had been doing during lockdown, as he has been unable to perform.
“Baking,” he told me “which is what I’m doing now.
“Not the whole day, but you know, it’s a positive thing, and the house smells nice. The whole street is eating my cakes.”