The following review is based on the June 10th performance of Yanni’s 25th Anniversary of the “Live at the Acropolis” World Tour at the Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa, CA. The concert runtime was two hours and thirty-five minutes.
Growth and experience lend themselves to a greater capacity to influence sensibly and wisely as time goes on. Twenty-five years ago, Yanni, at the age of 38, pushed through a multitude of obstacles to realize his dream of playing for a hometown crowd at the historic Acropolis in Greece, where the famous Parthenon stood majestically off to the side. As he helmed the piano/keyboards and led 80 orchestra members, Yanni played for not only his parents and friends, but the whole world who was soon exposed to the avant-garde pianist/composer via PBS.
Now, at 63, Yanni has an unparalleled perspective about what he’s accomplished, experienced, seen, and learned. He is very well-aware of the preciousness and delicateness of life, appreciating every moment onstage, where, in addition to reflecting upon his indelible hits, he’s also driven to disseminate his internationally acquired knowledge to his adoring fans.
In the midst of their 25th Anniversary of the “Live at the Acropolis” World Tour, Yanni and his stage family of 12, including Charlie Adams (drums), Yoel del Sol (percussion), Lindsay Deutsch (violin), Benedikt Brydern (violin), Samvel Yervinyan (violin), Sarah O’Brien (cello), Alexander Zhiroff (cello), Dana Teboe (trombone), Jason Carder (trumpet), Ming Freeman (keyboards), and Lauren Jelencovich (voice), were impeccably entwined in a seamless harmony. More so than that, they shared a recurring selflessness in the form of a musical give-and-take, wherein Yanni would defer to his musicians, and they to him.
Though not one false note could be pinpointed among any of them, the true takeaway was the passion and intensity with which they performed the songs from the “Live at the Acropolis” concert, as well as several bonus ones. Beginning with “Keys to Imagination,” Yanni — who was dapperly clad in a blue tee under a white long-sleeved shirt, and white pants – reaffirmed his virtuoso vitality on both a Yamaha grand piano and eight synthesizer keyboards arrayed in three columns. The beautifully gentle rendition of this stirring song was the first of many to conjure up vivid recollections for the Greek composer.
“These concerts are important to me as I’ve made a promise to enjoy each and every one to the fullest. They make me emotional and they bring back memories. We’re going to try to convey these emotions [tonight] and what it was like to be at the Acropolis,” remarked Yanni.
This immediately prompted a moving story in which Yanni recounted getting goosebumps when he saw the Parthenon from his station at the Acropolis, and what it was like to play “Felitsa” for his parents (particularly his mother, whom it is dedicated to) for the first time. This remembrance was poignantly retraced on Yanni’s face, who regularly bared his soul – either verbally or non-verbally – to the audience. Reminiscent of flowers smiling in the breeze, the song has remained a fitting homage to the woman who brought him into the world.
Later in the evening, Yanni honored his father with a piece that underscores the invaluable philosophy that a son learned from his dad during long walks in Kalamata, Greece – “Until the Last Moment.” The poignant track is about never taking any minute of life for granted, or as Yanni recalls his father telling him: “If you don’t know how to live today, you don’t know how to live.” There is, doubtless to say, an essentiality in this message, which motivated Yanni to collaborate for three months with his longtime violinist, Samvel Yervinyan, to recapture the song’s emotional urgency. The result was a triumph – as it was as much a testament to Yanni’s grace on the piano as it was Yervinyan’s ability to invoke his “Armenian soul,” as the two harmonized and complemented one another astoundingly. By the end of it, when Yervinyan’s bow completed its last note, attendees were swept up into the necessity of the here and now.
Like Yervinyan, who effortlessly and exuberantly transitioned from one note to another, yielding appreciative applause and whoops, many of the other musicians also shined in the spotlight. For instance, Ming Freeman often melded a flourish of dulcet sounds on his keyboards, and cellist Sarah O’Brien was similarly exquisite, most notably during “With an Orchid.” Additionally, Jason Carder and Dana Teboe accented the exultant melodic punches of “Santorini” and “Nostalgia” with their trumpet and trombone, respectively.
Moreover, bassist Gabriel Vivas groovily soloed his part in “The Rain Must Fall.” During the same number, violinist Lindsay Deutsch (in a sparkling blue top) elicited a tremendous reaction with her unremitting charisma and fervency, as she played and emoted with a spirited and heedful purpose. Percussionist Yoel del Sol soulfully plied his trade on his conga drums in the middle of “Swept Away,” and, during a seemingly improvisational moment, cellist Alexander Zhiroff showed why he is the “Father of Harmonics” as he humored Yanni by playing 26 harmonics in a fraction of a second. Of course, Charlie Adams, the longest tenured member of Yanni’s group, and the original drummer at the Acropolis, showed why he’s so durable not just as an otherworldly musician, but as a joyously mischievous personality. He commanded the stage in a solo act (during “Marching Season”) that saw him sipping out of his mug, choo-choo-ing like a train (using a whistle), and leaning over to one side, all the while gleefully nun-chucking his drums and cymbals with nary a pause. Adams’ tour-de-force performance was easily a top-five highlight and one that earned a standing ovation.
Soprano Lauren Jelencovich flawlessly produced the effervescent, high-reaching vocals in “Nightingale” — a part that was initially written by Yanni for the Chinese flute. Needless to say, Yanni has found a lady capable of creating a breathtaking tonality just like the melodious bird. However, what was perhaps even more impressive was an anecdote recalled by the pianist about the social change he was a part of at a recent tour stop in Saudi Arabia.
“This woman (Jelencovich) was the first woman in that country to walk on that stage without a veil and sing. There was a mixed audience, as men, women, and families sat together, laughing and crying. She (Jelencovich) cried that night and so did I. I think they’re (Saudi Arabia) going in the right direction, and I support them for it,” Yanni proudly stated.
Instances like this have bore a significant weight for Yanni, who is humbly aware of what these experiences mean to him both as an individual and as one who is blessed to have a platform to share them with others. Somehow — even though he was quite precocious for a young man — Yanni understands his destiny more clearly than ever 25 years later. And surely, the trademark head tilt is still there, as is the knee bend while standing at his keyboards, as well as his unflagging energy as an instrumentalist and a conductor who captains his team. His showmanship was unmistakably communicated while playing his more romantic and pensive works of art, such as “Reflections of Passion,” “Acroyali,” and “The End of August,” and more emphatic ones like the thunderous “Standing in Motion” and “Nostalgia” — which was the last song before the encore. And yet, in spite of his celebrity, never once did it feel like he was above anyone else; in fact, this was something that Yanni himself observed: “You’ve made it so easy [as a great audience] that I’ve become one of you like friends in a living room.”
Throughout the majority of his adult life, Yanni has had to work diligently for this special (and deserved) designation from audience members who can both admire him from afar and see eye-to-eye with him. One of the first, and biggest, hurdles to winning his fans’ trust was persevering and overcoming long odds to make the Acropolis concert a reality a quarter-century ago.
“The Acropolis changed my whole life and showed me that I could make my dreams real. It was such a task for me that I never gave up no matter what happened. Don’t give up on your dreams too quickly; believe in yourself. If I can do it, anyone can do it. And don’t just dream, do it,” Yanni confided.
Since 1993, Yanni has nourished his dreams and accomplished new goals by performing at the Forbidden City (China), the Taj Mahal (India), the Great Pyramids of Egypt, and so on, while immersing himself in countless cultures and traditions. More than anything, it has opened his senses and taught him to always be accepting.
“Nowadays tolerance is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. We’re growing at an enormous rate; we’re practically touching shoulders. I believe in my heart and in my bones that we’re all one interconnected, interdependent community and we all belong to one race, and that is the human race. I have devoted whatever years I have left and have committed myself to responsibly transmitting everything I know, which is why I travel so much.”
When Yanni then performed the serene “One Man’s Dream,” we all felt inspired alongside him — to dream and never stop wanting better things for ourselves and the planet we live on. Just as the song is musically unresolved, so is our continued aim to be more loving human beings. And like that, as we stood and clapped in unison as “The Storm” finale fired us up for what lies ahead for each of us, we felt a little more empowered for having embraced Yanni’s musical and spoken insights.
For more information on upcoming events at the Segerstrom Center, please visit scfta.org