Having begun playing violin at age 5, Rieu studied diligently throughout his youth. In college, he developed a passion for the waltz after a successful performance of Franz Lehar's “Gold and Silver Waltz.” He went on to found the Maastricht Salon Orchestra and join the Limburg Symphony Orchestra before founding the Johann Strauss Orchestra in 1987.
Playing a 1667 Stradivarius violin, Rieu brings something of a rock-star stage persona to his performances which is, most likely, part of the allure for fans. The waltz renaissance begun in earnest in the Netherlands after the Orchestra toured Europe and recorded Shostakovich's “Second Waltz” for their 1994 From Holland with Love album.
The success of that record – it stayed in the Top 10 in the Netherlands for over a year – lead to Rieu being dubbed the Modern King of Waltz in 1996. That same year, the Orchestra followed up with The Vienna I Love and a live recording, In Concert.
Setting his sights on romance in 1998, Rieu's Romantic Moments is anchored by "Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet," as well as compositions by Dvorák, Mozart, and Chopin, to give his fans something different.
In 1999, to mark the 100th anniversary of Johann Strauss's death, Rieu released 100 Years of Strauss to honor his musical hero. The Orchestra's Celebration also made it out before the end of the decade.
As the century turned, more albums followed in close succession, including La vie est belle, Dreaming, and the double CD Romantic Paradise. The release takes them to Japan.
In July, 2004, Rieu and his Orchestra performed for a crowd of 18,000 at Parkstad Limburg Stadium in Kerkrade. The resulting recording was packaged as The Flying Dutchman, in both CD and DVD forms. An extensive tour of North America followed.
Rieu's prolific artistry kept its break-neck pace with still more touring and special performances, and more CD and DVD releases, including 2007's In Wonderland.
The Orchestra, which began with only 12 members, has since blossomed to 43 as Rieu has lead the waltz revival around the globe. One Australian production, A Romantic Vienna Night, featured a full-scale reproduction of the Viennese imperial Schönbrunn Palace with two ice skating rinks, two fountains, and a ballroom dance floor surrounding the Orchestra. Attendance at one Melbourne concert clocked in at 38,000.