While occasionally a punch line, Yanni’s global popularity is quite staggering. A quick visit to Yanni’s Wikipedia page tells me that the mustachioed musician has accumulated over 35 platinum and gold records over the course of his career, selling 20 million albums along the way. He is one of the only performers to play at both the Taj Mahal in India and China’s Forbidden City. His 1994 home movie release Yanni Live at the Acropolis is the second highest-selling music video of all time behind only Michael Jackson’s Thriller. In fact, he’s so popular, the Chinese government allowed Yanni to adopt a baby panda bear, which is an honor normally reserved for entire countries rather than a singular performer or celebrity.
While you may not know or immediately recognize the songs, I can say with absolute certainty, that you have heard Yanni’s music in one form or another. His music is frequently licensed for use in commercials, and has been featured in every television broadcast of the Olympic Games since 1988.
Yet, like soccer, the Americans just don’t seem to share the same passion for Yanni’s music as the rest of the world. Since Yanni’s music is almost entirely instrumental, it allows people of any language, color or creed to enjoy it in the exact same manner. The show at SPAC wasn’t quite a sellout, as the back of the amphitheater still had plenty of seats available. Still, the closer to the stage you got, the more densely populated the venue became with Yanni fans.
The stage was lit with swirling blue lights accenting the smoke machines that poured out around the orchestra. The show began promptly, as no sooner did the music start than Yanni hit the stage dressed in white pants and a tight black T-shirt, sporting his now-signature long brown locks and mustache. His orchestra was rather large, arranged to center around Yanni’s trio of stacked keyboards and grand piano off to the side of the stage. It featured the more standard instruments (electric bass, violins, cellos and keyboards) and the less-than-common (flugelhorn, three different harps and a French horn.)
His opening number was vaguely recognizable, as if it was used in every Hyundai commercial I ever saw but never paid attention to. Yanni’s stage presence sometimes left something to be desired. Imagine your father awkwardly dancing along to a song he might like on the radio. By the third song, it was pretty clear Yanni had exhausted any potential reservoir of dance moves he might have brought with him.
Still, I wasn’t there to see him cut a rug. What Yanni lacked in dance moves, he more than made up for with his own playing, along with the talent of his orchestra. While the spotlight never left Yanni, a convenient second spotlight was available to shine on different soloing orchestra members. Yanni takes plenty of time to gratefully and openly acknowledge how talented his band is. He lets the audience see for themselves, with blistering violin, electric bass and drum solos during longer arrangements. Yanni has been playing with his drummer Charlie Adams since the two were 18. As someone who has seen Rush’s Neil Peart on that very same stage, his solo was a highlight for the rock and roll fan within me screaming to be engaged at a recital.
One particularly notable moment saw Yanni play one of his more commercially recognizable songs “Nightingale,” with a beautiful vocal accompaniment from Michelle Amato. Yanni would periodically engage the crowd, even going so far as to apologize for the rainy weather. While he never seemed uncomfortable on stage, Yanni’s enthusiasm for performing seemed to grow as the night went on from when he first started the show.
In all, if you’re a fan of Yanni’s music, I can say you should definitely make it a point to see the show. The problem is if you’re like me, and aren’t familiar with his music, it can start to get a bit repetitive after a while. Though Yanni isn’t the type of performer that’s going to sell out the lawn seats and force the police station to issue traffic advisories, he’s certainly one of the most prolific to grace the stage at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.