No Yanni Come Lately : It Was a Long Trip From Obscure Immigrant to Orchestral Pop Superstar, Though the Learning Continues


Yanni was on the verge of having what would, for most people, be a distinctly hair-raising day. About 45 musicians were setting up their instruments on one of the vast Sony Studios soundstages here; there were audio and lighting decisions to be made, new scores to be rehearsed and schedules to be arranged for the 84 people, eight buses and six huge trucks required for a coast-to-coast tour that was to begin almost immediately.

That might be enough to make some artists--even those with tresses as famous as Yanni’s--go so far as to start tearing out their hair. But not Yanni, the king of light orchestral pop music.

Looking as serenely calm offstage as he does in his performances, the keyboardist smiled, tossed his long, glistening black mane over one shoulder, and said, “No problem. We’ll work everything out.”


Still, when he sat down and relaxed for a few minutes, he acknowledged that the pace lately has been “pretty frantic.” Yanni’s career has exploded in the past couple of years, and he has been touring almost constantly since the release in March, 1994, of his “Yanni Live at the Acropolis” album, which has sold more than 3 million copies.

This summer’s concert schedule kicked off May 19 in Texas and winds up in Puerto Rico in late July. He plays The Pond of Anaheim on Sunday, on the heels of a three-night stand at the Universal Amphitheatre that closes tonight (see accompanying review). All this comes after an SRO tour that had him globe-trotting around the Pacific Rim in March and April.

In the rare moments when he can step back and get a broader perspective on the “pretty frantic” pace, Yanni--characteristically philosophical--sees his current agenda as part of a larger, life-illuminating process.

“I’m looking for answers in life, like all of us,” the native of Greece said in soft-spoken, extremely articulate, barely accented English. “And I think we can’t really have the answers unless we are exposed to a wide variety of societies, and ideas and different kinds of thinking. . . .

“The truth is that when you meet people from other societies, and you see their personalities and their attitudes about life, you realize how different they are--from us and from each other,” he said. “And that’s one part of the learning process in all this touring.

“But there’s another part, and it has to do with a realization of how alike we all are as well. Because I don’t use lyrics, my whole message is in my music. And I’ve discovered that when I take music from country to country, the differences in language usually don’t matter.

The thing that was so fascinating about the Far East tour was how the audiences in Hong Kong, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea responded to the music very similarly to audiences in the U.S.”

Does it bother him that a few less-than-supportive critics have dubbed him “Yawni?” Not at all, because Yanni has been greeted in almost every venue with sold-out congregations of enthusiastic fans.

Yanni is considerably more perplexed about other aspects of his rise to international celebrity. His relationship with former “Dynasty” star Linda Evans--much discussed in the tabloids after it began in 1989--clearly was a factor in initially bringing him greater public recognition.

But his high visibility appearances on public television, his best-selling records and videos and his overflow concerts have taken him well beyond the early identification of Yanni as nothing more than a good-looking consort to a well-known actress.

“One of the things that has really surprised me about myself,” he said, “has been to discover how shy I am in public. As this process has unfolded, I’ve discovered that I don’t particularly enjoy people knowing who I am when I’m out in public. I didn’t know that.

“In the beginning, I thought it was kind of neat if somebody recognized me. But that was when it happened once every two weeks. When it happens to you 24 hours a day, it’s not as much fun anymore. It’s not that I don’t like the public and don’t enjoy the attention, but a lot of times you want to be anonymous. You don’t want to be the public Yanni--whatever the persona is--you just want to be.”

The journey from obscure immigrant to entertainment business superstar has been a long one for the 40-year-old musician and composer. After acquiring a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota in the mid-'70s, Yanni (whose full name is Yanni Chryssomallis) dabbled briefly with rock ‘n’ roll before developing his signature sound.

Described often--not always accurately--as New Age, his music is based on sweeping romantic melodies underscored with energetic Mediterranean rhythms. And, most important, it is completely his own.

“I keep thinking,” said Yanni, heading toward the aural chaos of the soundstage, “that this whole experience is a training ground for something--that it is forcing me to grow, to have a deeper understanding, to become stronger, and also to remain open to the fundamental processes of life.

“As best as I can understand it, I’m not doing this for the fame. I like the game, and I like to win at the game. Setting goals and accomplishing them is very important to me. Other than that, however, to be more famous and make more money is not No. 1. In fact, it’s falling way down on the list.

“My career hasn’t always been a bed of roses,” Yanni said. “I’ve had to fight for everything I’ve got. But I still think I’m open; I work hard to stay open. I’m not shut down. And if I do shut down, my audience will know it, because it will be obvious in the music. The notes will be there, and the sound will be there, but the message will be nothing.”

* Yanni plays Sunday at The Pond of Anaheim, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim. 8 p.m. $30-$45. (714) 704-2500.