Save the Last Waltz

Dude with the fancy fiddle?

A walking controversy. …. Make that waltzing controversy.

Andre Rieu, Dutch violinist/conductor/composer — aka "The King of Waltz" — totes his Johann Strauss Orchestra to the Orleans Arena on Wednesday. Popular and polarizing in classical music circles, The Maestro did not respond to an interview request from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. (Andy, babe, come on — just because we like polkas, the Macarena and a little funky chicken now and then doesn’t mean we’re not sweethearts.)

Anyway, let’s dance through the world of Andre Rieu, in waltz rhythm:

1-2-3: Originally from the Netherlands and with a resume thick enough to choke a tuba section, Rieu formed the Johann Strauss Orchestra in 1987 with 12 members, which has since ballooned to between 40 and 60 musicians.

2-2-3: Heralded for democratizing the more refined side of music, he claims there is no divide between classical and nonclassical, only good and bad.

3-2-3: Image onstage? Described as giving "melodramatic stage performances" and possessing a "rock star demeanor" as he exhorts fans to hit the aisles and waltz their fannies off. The sight of him with instrument (a 1667 Stradivarius) tucked under his chin, swaying, rocking, bouncing, literally dancing as he plays and conducts should quell any speculation that he’s really a shrinking violinist.

1-2-3: Popular? Undisputed. By the numbers: Plays to 700,000-plus fans annually worldwide. Named the top classical music artist in the United States by Billboard magazine in 2008. Sold more than 25 million albums, 11 of his releases going gold or platinum. At last count, has approximately 2,200 YouTube videos. … Not kidding. … We pinky-swear.

2-2-3: Unpopular? Undisputed. From writer Eamon Kelly in the newspaper The Australian: "He depicts his critics as members of a stuffy musical elite with narrow aesthetic tastes, yet regularly demeans in interviews music that is not to his taste and classical musicians who choose not to perform in his manner." Alternately praised as "a brilliant virtuosic entertainer" and a "brilliantly marketed master of schmaltz." Fellow musician/composer/conductor Richard Tognetti has called Rieu’s music "schlagermusik" — popular, sentimental ballads with simple, catchy melody lines.

3-2-3: Popular with himself? Undisputed. Asked by the press if he is proud of his ensemble: "Of course we are good. We are the best."

1-2-3: Repertoire? Eclectic: Classical (we apologize Andy, since you say there is, in some sense, no such thing as classical music, but it’s a handy label for the rest of us), popular, folk, movie soundtracks and theater scores. On the classical side (we apologize a second time — please stop scowling), the play list includes Strauss (‘natch), Franz Lehar, Mozart and Robert Stolz, among many.

2-2-3: Tip to keep on his good side: Avoid calling his show, well, a "show." Call it a "concert." As he told "A show is when you go to Broadway and see 25 girls with the same legs doing everything in sync with each other. A show has people pretending to be something they are not. … A concert is something different. In a concert, all of the visual things are not the point. In a concert, the emphasis is all on the music."

So call it a "concert." Then enjoy the show.

3-2-3: "Visual things are not the point"? Really? Rieu reportedly schleps around a traveling set that’s 410 feet wide, 100 feet deep and 115 feet high, including: twin ice rinks, a 900-square-foot grand ballroom, golden chandeliers, fountains, hand-painted ceiling and 14 carriages pulled by three dozen horses. … No kidding. … Double pinky-swear. (No word on exactly what will be in the set he brings to The Orleans.)

1-2-3: Has starred in several public television specials, which surely frustrates his critics, since PBS is considered the cultural seal of approval.

2-2-3: Speaks Dutch, English, German, French, Italian and Spanish, and can probably curse his detractors in all of them.

3-2-3: So that’s everything you need to know before going to the show. … Or the concert. … Or "The Waltzy, Some Say Schmaltzy, Grand, Opulent, Spectacular, My Critics Can Kiss My Stradivarius, Andre Rieu Thingamabob."

Mind if we do the funky chicken now, Andy?

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ or 702-383-0256.

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