Greek musician never stops experimenting with sound
THERE is an ancient Greek theatre on the southern slope of the Acropolis in Athens called the Herodes Atticus Theatre, built by the Greek aristocrat Herodes Atticus in AD 161.
Some 1,800 years later, another Greek, the musician Yiannis Hrysomallis — better known by his stage name, Yanni — would sell out the 5,000-seat theatre and make modern musical history: The recording of his 1993 concert there — Yanni Live at the Acropolis — sold more than seven million albums and more than a million videos, making it the second-bestselling video concert of all time.
Yanni remembers that September night as clearly as if it were yesterday.
“Returning home to Greece for this concert was a very special, once-ina-lifetime situation,” Yanni recalls. “It was the first time that my parents were going to see me perform and it was at a venue that has been almost mythical to me since I was a young boy. There was so much energy and a lot of nerves, but being able to perform for my mother and father was the best feeling I remember from the concert. They were in the audience and they had a light on them for the shooting, and I could see their faces throughout the show.”
Yanni, who performs at the Centennial Concert Hall Sunday, is hailed as a national treasure in Greece.
“Well, that statement is quite a compliment,” Yanni says, “and I hope I live up to that. I think that an old Greek saying in response to this comes to mind. Loosely translated, ‘A person should not derive honour from the place they come from (but) rather a person should honour the place from which they come.’”
Still, Yanni returned home for that famous Acropolis concert like a conquering hero, after moving to the United States in 1972 to study at University of Minnesota, where he earned a degree in psychology.
“Studying psychology definitely has an influence on the way I create music,” says the self-taught pianist, keyboardist and composer whose music has been adopted by the New Age movement. “When I create music, it is a reflection of my soul, my experiences in life and my relationships with other people and cultures. Psychology, and understanding who we are as people in this world, is present in almost every creative thought I have, either directly or indirectly.” Centennial Concert Hall Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $88 and $98 at Ticketmaster
But Yanni doesn’t much like being pigeonholed as a New Age artist.
“Overall, it makes me happy that people are able to enjoy my music, including people who feel that I have a certain genre based in my music. (But) personally, I have never liked putting art into categories or assigning labels and defining art. I have always composed my music to honestly reflect the lessons learned and the experiences I have shared throughout my life…”
By his mid-20s, Yanni was deeply influenced by electronic music, notably the groundbreaking tracks that producer Giorgio Moroder created with Donna Summer in the 1970s.
“That period of time (the 1970s) was particularly influential on how I developed as an artist,” says Yanni, 57.
“I continue to learn about new technology and how to use it (in) music. In fact, my last studio album, Truth of Touch, was started by having fun experimenting with new sound designs.”
Fans can expect to hear some of Yanni’s new music and many of his classic tracks on his five-month An Evening with Yanni world tour.
Before this series of concerts, during a month-long tour of China in October, Yanni — whose song Santorini is included in the teaching for all primary-school students throughout China — became the first Western artist chosen to adopt a giant panda.
“This was a very heartfelt honour, as China has reserved the adoption of pandas for nations rather than celebrities or personalities,” he says. “They also gave me the opportunity to name the panda, and after careful consideration I chose the name Santorini. Santorini is made up of the Greek words for ‘saint’ and ‘irini,’ which means peace. Santorini also happens to be the most beautiful of the Greek islands, making this panda the Beautiful Panda of Peace.”
Yanni has joined with the World Wildlife Fund to create the $50 Santorini panda adoption program, which enables his fans to symbolically adopt a panda and support the WWF’s panda conservation efforts.