August 14, 2012
Kansas City, MO USA
Review by Patricia Huff
Photos by Steve Thompson
New Age Maestro
An Italian painter named Carlotti once defined beauty as the summation of the parts working together in such a way that nothing needed to be added, taken away, or altered. In every sense of the word, the artist could have easily been describing the music of Yanni.
For nearly two and a half hours, this master New Age maestro brilliantly conducted his orchestra in symphonic harmony, to the delight of a nearly sold-out audience at the Midland Theater in Kansas City. There were highlights galore in this show. One of the more poignant moments came when Yanni and violinist Mary Simpson performed "Felitsa". This particular composition, dedicated to the musician's mother, Felitsa Chyssomallis, was especially powerful as Yanni and Simpson captured the essence of the song and really brought it home to the audience.
Seriously, every moment of this show was a true highlight. The beauty of the show was the fact the music actually did the talking. It also helped that the individual musicians Yanni had assembled for this second leg of his North American tour, truly was a representation of world class talent with five of the seven continents represented on stage. These performers were so amazing they could have easily starred in their own productions.
Charles Adams, from Chicago, has no equals when it comes to playing the drums. His extended solo performance was a jaw dropper. Yanni told the audience that he and Chuck, as he playfully calls his friend, had a rock band when they started out. More than 30 years later, he noted with a slight grin that their musical styles had evolved. To emphasize that point, Cuban-born percussionist Yoel Del Sol joined Adams in a dueling number that enveloped the whole band. South American harpist Victor Espinola literally stole the show at one point as he dazzled the crowd with his deft musicianship. He added a dramatic flair to his performance by lifting his instrument into the air, never missing a note. You'll never see anything like him in the world except on this stage with Yanni.
There were two star violinists in this impressive entourage as well. The aforementioned Simpson is a beautiful girl with a radiant smile and a direct descendant to Pocahontas. When she's not on tour with Yanni, the musician is playing with her bluegrass band, The Whiskey Rebellion. Armenian born violinist Samvel Yervinyan has few rivals. The classically trained artisan has been with Yanni for almost ten years has masterful playing is spectacular. Simpson may not have Yervinyan's pedigree, but she certainly gave him a run for his money in the several duets they performed throughout the evening.
I'm spending time talking about members of the band because there individual talents truly breathed new life into Yanni's compositions. When you have hundreds of numbers to choose from, it's nice to see how your music is interpreted by others and to go with it. One such instance involved trumpeter and flugelhorn expert Jason Carder. As Yanni pointed out, Carder pulled sounds out of the flugelhorn the likes no one had ever seen before. Russian cellist Alexander Zhiroff did the most unbelievable solo I have ever witnessed. He performed an entire number unaccompanied, and stunned the appreciated audience with his genius.
Not to be outperformed was keyboardist Ming Freeman, who did an amazing job with the scores. During the group's recent trip to China, Yanni relayed to the audience that his friend was able to visit his ancestral home. He also told the story of being asked to name a recently born baby panda. It was an honor never before bestowed upon a performer. Yanni named the cub after his hit song, "Santorini", the name of his home town. Translated, it means peace.
Then there was Lauren Jelencovich, an indescribable soprano who warbled "Nightingale"with such intensity and power, her voice was like a feast for your senses. She was accompanied later in the show by another beautiful and talented soprano, Lisa Lavie, and the two led an enthusiastic audience in a sing-a-long during the show. Again, I want to say kudos to the 13-member orchestra and vocalists who lifted Yanni's complex compositions to new heights with their undeniable skills and technical brilliance.
Yanni is a handsome, charismatic performer who looked much younger than his 58 years. He chatted easily with the crowd, and encouraged them to interact with him, which the PBS crowd up front most certainly did. The artist best summed up the evening with a story told to him by an astronaut. Up in space, his friend told him, when you look down upon the earth, there are no divisive lines that carve up the land masses separating people. These are all man-made. With that, he related his personal wish that we could all be one world with one people. Back at you Yanni!