CANBERRA (Reuters) - It's not often a classical violinist ranks alongside pop stars like Madonna and Bon Jovi on the concert tour circuit. Then again, Andre Rieu has not followed a conventional path.
The Dutch violinist and conductor has carved out a career playing the waltz, performing to massive crowds around the world, most recently in Australia, with his fans in the habit of getting up and dancing in the aisles.
Rieu, who ranked eighth in Pollstar's 2008 list of the world's top touring acts with revenue of US$76.9 million, says he is delighted to see his audiences having so much fun -- and just as delighted for his critics to see that enjoyment.
"I never asked people to dance in the aisles but they do it and they have fun. People often ask if I am disturbed when people dance as I play the Danube but not at all. It is great to see they are alive," he told Reuters.
"When I play a waltz, I can see the whole audience starting to move and smile, but every night you see two or three people who do not move as they don't want to be like that ... but we live in a free world and they don't have to come."
Rieu, 59, who has been dubbed the king of waltz by media -- and by some critics, the king of schmaltz -- says music is his life. He was raised by a father who was a symphony conductor and began playing the violin from the age of five.
He studied at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and in 1987, set up the Johann Strauss Orchestra with original 12 members. It now has up to 50 musicians.
Rieu's revival of the waltz has put him in the global spotlight and made him a concert tour sensation, winning him credit for doing as much for the waltz as Michael Flatley did for Irish dancing.
But his huge sets and his showmanship -- cracking jokes on stage and bantering with the audience -- has not endeared him to the music purists.
His live show in Australia involved a replica of the Viennese Schoenbrunn Palace complete with skaters, princesses, white horses, footmen and a 500 strong touring party.
Rieu, who has sold more than 25 million albums globally, said touring is his life with an estimated 700,000 fans attending his concerts each year. He has plans this year to perform in the United States, Canada and Europe.
But the Dutchman with his long, flowing hair and theatrical stage outfits, is puzzled by critics who dislike him so much.
"I do nothing wrong. I play my music in a very serious way. I am a classical musician and I do it in a good way," he said.
"I don't do crossover music. I like to play the music as it was composed. Every now and then I make it shorter and quicker time. At the time of Johann Strauss there was no juke box or television and people wanted the waltz to be 18 minutes, but now it is better to make it four or five minutes."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte