Inspired by his travels around the globe, Yanni's new album, 'Ethnicity,' crosses cultures
Don't call him a New Age musician; Yanni prefers to be known as a 'contemporary instrumentalist.'
Never mind. The phenomenon that is Yanni transcends mere matters of record store categories.
In grandly staged performances backed up by scores of musicians, the long-haired composer displays an unequaled flair for the dramatic Ñ not to mention an appreciation for a good setting: Yanni's spectacular extravaganzas have been staged at India's Taj Mahal, China's Forbidden City and the Parthenon in Greece. The last concert was televised worldwide and attracted an audience of half a billion people.
The Greek-born artist adds Portland to his list of venues, with a concert that coincides with the release of his 13th album, 'Ethnicity.'
Yanni says that while his 'one world, one people' philosophy is the foundation of the album, he covers some new territory, too.
'I think it's a little more energetic, and there's a lot of vocalization,' says Yanni, who stopped using his surname (Chryssomallis) long ago. 'The album also has a lot of different cultural influences,' he adds, referring to the use of instruments such as the Australian didgeridoo, the Armenian duduk (a reed instrument) and the Celtic-flavored violin.
Now 48, Yanni says that world travel has provided the greatest inspiration throughout his 27-year career.
'There are so many influences from around the world,' he says. 'I'll stay somewhere for months at a time, and while I'm there, I'm open and I listen to different religions and philosophies. People tell me what's important to them and what they think about life.'
Yanni, who is unmarried and has no children, says that there's a common thread that runs through the cultures he's immersed himself in:
'Although these are dark times, I think that everyone pretty much wants the same thing: They want to be happy, and I think most of them want to be peaceful. A Chinese grandfather feels the same thing towards his grandchildren as an American grandfather does.'
He says that although his audience rarely changes ('They're across the board, from a 6-year-old child to a 70-year-old grandma'), his music is always changing.
'Ideally, you change and your art changes as you get older; it keeps you humble,' he says.
With a core band and symphony that number almost 90, Yanni credits the musicians who support his own evolution as a musician. 'They come from all over the world, and they're true virtuosos,' he says.
Yanni gets tough, though, when defending his music against criticism that it's little more than synthesized treacle.
'I think music connects with whoever it's going to connect with; there's nothing I can do about that,' he says. 'I just do my music the way I've always done it Ñ it's uncompromising. People will respond to it or not.'
That said, will the psychology major from the University of Minnesota ever try to connect in a simpler way? 'Yanni Unplugged,' for example?
'Someday I might do that,' he says with a laugh. 'Never say never.'