Themes of unity and togetherness permeate the André Rieu concert, Birmingham

What does one expect from an André Rieu show? Bright colours? World class musical performance? Well, it delivered on both of those things, and more, at this year’s Christmas concert at Birmingham’s The Arena in the city centre.

A packed house hosted fans who had come from as far away as Malta to see André and the Johann Stauss Orchestra. In fact, at one point in the show, as he so often does, he engaged with the audience in asking how many people in here tonight are from Birmingham? A few people raised their hands and screamed. Then he asked how many people in here aren’t from Birmingham? A sea of hands appeared all over the auditorium. This is the strength of André Rieu’s following.

Rieu, Vrijthof, Maastricht

“There’s so much colour when it comes to an these shows”

The stage adorned four Christmas trees, 2 left and 2 right. There were blue lights giving a somewhat cold feel to the stage, certainly fitting, as it was freezing outside. On the music stands was Christmas tinsel, which at first I thought was a bit tacky for an André Reiu show (that changed when the stage lights were turned up after the show began).

There’s so much colour when it comes to an these shows and that colour changes as the show progresses. As we sat there eagerly awaiting the arrival of the orchestra, colouring the stage were silvers, golds, reds and whites. We cannot forget this is a Christmas show and this would obviously explain the Santa hats dotted about the stage – obviously for the musicians to put on at some point during the show.

“One thing that couldn’t be missed was a spectacular church steeple stood to the left of the stage”

One thing that couldn’t be missed was a spectacular church steeple stood to the left of the stage. The set up was really very good, because even the tinsel, which we weren’t keen on before the show began, came to life after the full stage lights illuminated.

Boom! It’s what we were waiting for, sound!

Typical, to the left and right of the stage were the screens (for the people at the back, and people mid-stalls, to see clearly the focus on stage) a commercial trail for André’s New Year show plays out. I say typical, because we cannot forget that it’s not cheap putting on spreads like this, and if there was no money in it, they wouldn’t be doing it, would they? I say typical with a smile on my face, because I like that cheeky commercialism.

The audience start turning around. It’s André and his orchestra coming from behind. They’re all in colour and they’re all with huge smiles. Already we are smiling with them. They take their seats on stage and we’re away.

We begin with the three tenors, who certainly lived up to their descriptions, performing in such a tenor way, with pomp and conviction. Annoyingly, the audience couldn’t help but sing along with the classic Volaré. It’s okay, we’re at an André Rieu show – we are all together. There’s an impressive digital LED display behind the stage. It’s changed from its blue/pink to what looks like an Italian lagoon at early sunset. The sky is blue there and it looks exquisite.

Rieu, Vrijthof, Maastricht

“taking away of the world’s guns and the war, “what’s left,” he said, “just peace.”

It’s the first of this together theme embodied in a quick speech from the lead man. He does a quick joke about Brexit (there’s many of these gags he drops throughout the night) and then it’s back to the mention of togetherness, “taking away of the world’s guns and the war, what’s left,” he said, “just peace.” He’s right, and he must say this all over the world. Nothing changes. But that’s not his fault, and the best of it is, we all know it’s right, but it keeps happening… that’s another story. We are now into Jerusalem. The LED goes to the temple in the city as its appropriate backdrop.

“this bell player is fast, but not as fast as Brexit.”

A little while later, André, drops another Brexit joke, saying: “this bell player is fast, but not as fast as Brexit.” The audience seem to like these gags.

“if Andre is the first limb, and the orchestra are the second, then there’s a third limb to a Rieu show and that’s the audience”

The one thing that’s really distinctive in an André Rieu show is that it’s almost circusy – and I do not mean that in its organisational sense. I mean it in that if Andre is the first limb, and the orchestra are the second, then there’s a third limb to a Reiu show and that’s the audience. They’re clapping along on the edge of their seats, they’re dancing, they’re engaged with, even the auditorium lights are never dimmed to the point of being in darkness like so many other shows.

A story that sticks out is where André is in Vienna at a hotel and it’s late at night. He says he’s sitting there with his mates over glasses of wine. He’s singing and so are his mates. Then all of a sudden the windows open from the hotel bedrooms upstairs and rather than yells of shutup, they join in with the singing. I can see why André likes this story. So do I. So do the rest of the audience by their “ahhhhs”.

 “This is, for me, the most Christmasy moment of the show and delivered absolutely beautifully by the stunning soprano singers.”

The lighting changes just so for the three sopranos on Oh Holy Night, and we can almost feel the frost from the decoration on the Christmas trees on the stage. This is, for me, the most Christmasy moment of the show and delivered absolutely beautifully by the stunning soprano singers.

I am guessing André is drinker, what with the self-confessions of alcohol in his stories, and a gesture for a glass before the orchestra follow him off stage and that’s the end of the first half.

Walking past me, a man on my row, did stop to tell me he felt 50mins for the first half was “incredibly short”. I respond by telling him, maybe it feels that way because he has really enjoyed it, and he said no, he’s been counting.

We open the second half with a backdrop of mountains and in the foreground a pipe player. All the musicians are immaculate in their craft.

We’re in the first quarter of the second half and it’s like being in Maastricht, but in Birmingham.

Even the people here that can’t dance, get up and dance. However, there really is some impressive audience members, waltzing together up and down the isles.

The audience becomes even more engaged, with many off their feet by this point. The audience seemed to particularly appreciate the amping up of the pace with the Christmas swing and big band numbers that featured toward the end of the show.

Another touch that seemed to have been appreciated is the balloons, all of different colour – obviously, this is an André Rieu show – colour is such a big thing with these shows.

A fan summed up the concert very well. He said:

“for two hours of my life, I’m happy. Everybody is together. There’s no trouble and we all feel connected. We all feel as one. It really does for two hours really make me happy.”

We cannot forget to mention the comical element to these shows that make even the most serious and professional of people laugh. At one point during the show, André makes facial expressions which match the texture of the music. Another, the countless bottles of Moet Chandon that are passed around and sunk amongst the orchestra. Those boys don’t half know how to drink!

“The stand out moment of the show was by far the solo from Anna Majchrazak”

The stand out moment of the show was by far the solo from Anna Majchrazak. She performed “You Raise Me Up”.

A statement on the André Rieu website says about Anna:

“When I saw Anna for the first time, I thought that a fairy-tale princess had come into the studio. When it also transpired that she could sing, then I knew it: I would take this lady along on tour!

“Anna grew up with a brother and two sisters in Rotterdam. It soon became clear that Anna was the most musical member of the family. Her Polish father has always been a great fan of his musical daughter, and wished that his children would later find work which they would enjoy doing. And that has succeeded! She immediately felt at home in the cosy JSO. For her, our bus trips feel like a luxurious version of the long journeys to Poland that she used to make regularly with her family.

“Anna lives with her husband in Rotterdam. It will not surprise you that this musical lady also chose a singer for spouse!”

Rieu, London, Londen

Anna Majchrazak

André brought with him 3 musicians from Maastricht: Vicktor, Evan and Sergé. The story goes that the musicians were playing there and it was so cold in the city that André spoke with them and decided their dedication and quality were that good an invitation to join him on the show was in order. They clearly accepted as they are on the stage, here.

Another beautiful moment that brought tears to many eyes was the lights on people’s mobile phones that were illuminated and raised all over the arena to Can’t Help Falling In Love, which was delivered in down tempo.

“All men will be brothers.”

A touching quote from André brings the show to a close with the encores and that’s: “All men will be brothers.” On that, the cameras cut to the audience and track out and up. Nice.

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