Saturday, March 24 , 2018, 1:35 am | Fair 46º


Jeff Moehlis: Yanni Under the Stars

Greek keyboardist/composer makes first visit to Santa Barbara

It is safe to say that Yanni’s music is not universally loved. As just one example, the number of fans on the Facebook page for my music website actually went down a bit after I posted the link to an interview I did with him to promote his show Saturday night at the Santa Barbara Bowl, something that I sensed wasn’t a coincidence.

However, Yanni and his music are certainly loved by many, many, many people, with total lifetime album sales estimated at more than 20 million, including more than 7 million for his album Live at the Acropolis alone.

And while the Bowl was not quite full for the show billed as “An Evening with Yanni Under the Stars,” there were definitely a lot of fans excited to be witnessing his first-ever performance in Santa Barbara.

Yanni, still with long, flowing black hair but no longer with his trademark mustache, alternated between playing a bank of six synthesizers and a grand piano, all the while overseeing up to 15 other musicians, many with whom he graciously shared the spotlight.

The music ranged from the expected New Age fare to Middle Eastern-tinged almost-prog rock, typically with at least a touch of bombast — and one sensed that the fans wouldn’t want it any other way.

Yanni also gave extended intros to several of his songs, including “Felista” (named for his mother and described as an “important song for me in my life,” saying that “for all the forces that have been exerted over us, the most powerful is love”), “The End of August” (which he wrote in Greece at the end of the summer of 1986, and about which he said, “I tend to want to write music that’s positive ... then I can be free”), and “Nightingale” (which Yanni wrote for his performance at the Forbidden City in Beijing, the first ever by a Westerner, and before which he told of the honor of recently adopting a baby panda; of course he chose a female, which he named Satorini, the “most beautiful Greek Island,” and he said, “Like any proud father, I think that my panda is the most beautiful panda”).

Some of the backing musicians from around the world who wowed the audience were Samvel Yervinyan and Mary Simpson on violin, Alexander Zhiroff on cello, Gabriel Vivas on bass, Jason Carder on horns and Victor Espinola on harp. These musicians pushed their instruments beyond the norm during their solos, but somehow made this seem effortless and natural.

Let’s not forget Charlie Adams, who has been a drummer with Yanni since they were “kids” in a rock ‘n’ roll band a few decades ago, and who did an extended drum solo during “Marching Season.”

And then, performing rare vocal parts was soprano-and-beyond Lauren Jelencovich, who hit some amazingly high notes for “Nightingale.” She also did a duet with Lisa Lavie on “Aria,” the “club mix” opera song that arose from Yanni’s curious collaboration with former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren. (For the record, when I sent interview questions to Yanni, I asked how this collaboration came about, and whether he was a closet Sex Pistols fan, but he skipped that question.) Jelencovich and Lavie also sang the dancey “Niki Nana (We’re One),” which closed the main set and got the people, up front at least, on their feet dancing.

The overhead stars finally came out in time for the first encore, which included “The Storm,” with some intense flugelhorn and violin solos. For the second encore, Yanni recalled the band’s many recent travels all over the world, and recounted how astronauts have pointed out that from space they have a “hard time telling countries apart from each other” and that that he “dreams of the day when the [border] lines all fade away.” This led into the song “One Man’s Dream,” one of those sweeping pieces that you probably think of when you think of Yanni.

Yanni may not be universally loved — who is? — but there was certainly an abundance of love from him in the Santa Barbara Bowl. He said he’d like to make such visits to the Bowl an annual event, so if you missed him this time, you just might get another chance.

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site,

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