Behind the Scenes at Yanni’s Hotel - The New Indian Express

Behind the Scenes at Yanni’s Hotel

Published: 27th April 2014 08:48 AM

Last Updated: 27th April 2014 10:43 AM

On his first ever visit to Bangalore, Yanni stayed at a hotel in Yeshwantpur. On the afternoon of the show (April 18), about 50 fans were waiting in the lounge to meet him. They had come from all over India. Some were musicians.

Quite a few in the crowd were middle-aged and affluent, bringing with them memories of Yanni’s  glory days in the 1990s, but a majority comprised young fans who had heard his music on CD and YouTube.

Miniature artist Murthy was among the excited crowd. He had missed the Chennai show, held two days before, because he couldn’t afford it. A kindly member of the event management team had noticed his tears, and brought him down to Bangalore, all expenses paid.

Like other celebrities, Yanni is protected by tough-looking security guards who form a protective ring around him at all times. The moment Yanni left the room, his guards spoke  over the wireless to colleagues waiting downstairs. Bouncers were also on duty. Some fans in Chennai had gone overboard, patting Yanni on the back and jostling him around: the organisers were anxious that wasn’t repeated here.

The security team ensured Yanni wasn’t mobbed. Murthy presented him a grain of rice with his name inscribed on it. (He has earlier gifted a similar grain to Barack Obama). Fans handed him framed portraits and requested him to pose for pictures with them. “In India, I can see the light in their eyes,” Yanni said, when I asked him about his experience in this country.

“One question,” his staff had said, but he answered four more, and cheerfully. The last time Yanni came to India, he had played at the spectacular Taj Mahal. He has also played at the Acropolis in his native Greece, and Forbidden City in China, drawing criticism that the packaging  had gained over the music. But those were early days, and he was trying to create a space for instrumental music in a world grooving to pop.

Yanni’s music shares many elements with wholesome pop. Almost anyone can relate to it. Some critics have given the label of New Age to his music, a genre associated with yoga and meditation classes. Yanni has objected to that, and rightly so. A big chunk of his music is energetic and vibrant in rhythm.

“I am inspired by Indian rhythms,” he said, in the course of an exclusive chat with City Express. “I like the flow of Indian music.” Pandit Ravishankar, he recalled, had encouraged him in his younger years. Any other Indian inspiration? “Indian names, don’t ask me about them. I can’t get them right,” he said, with a disarming smile.

 Yanni’s show in Bangalore was a hit. Although the organisers had got permission only seven days before the show, word had got around effectively, and the house was full. The venue was a convention hall near Manyata Tech Park, mundane in comparison with his more famous historical monuments. The organisers had almost given up on the show when the police, allegedly harassing them for passes, had threatened to cancel their permission. But things did come together, and the show went off without a hitch.

Yanni’s shows across the world are similar, going by what is posted on the Net. His team comprises members who combine their musical wizardry with flamboyant gestures, making his shows visually delightful.

How the instruments remained in tune through so much intense playing, and how the presentation eliminated the tuning and mike adjustment sounds must be a professional secret. The show was slickly produced. Many in the enthusiastic crowd were familiar with his numbers.

Yanni encouraged quite a few solos, and the instrumentalists executed them with virtuoso flair.

His show offered better gratification than other recent blockbuster shows in Bangalore.

A R Rahman came down and did a show three years ago. It was a lavishly produced show with 3D graphics and laser lights, and he presented a choice of numbers from his sensationally successful film oeuvre. Yet, the show seemed desperately overproduced, with much of the music lip-synced rather than live. Why India’s biggest film composer, with all the resources at his disposal, was unwilling to produce a fully live show remained a puzzle. As if to answer that question, a German film orchestra from Babelsberg came soon after, and presented his songs and background scores at Palace Grounds. All live. This time around, it looked like they were taking his scores a bit too seriously. They didn’t seem to understand the turns of phrase of the Indian film idiom. You can’t play some vague Bollywood score like it was Bach, surely? With no grand visuals to back the music, that effort wasn’t so thrilling either. By comparison, Yanni’s music was compelling, and convincing.

At the hotel, where City Express was the only publication that got exclusive time with him, I asked Yanni (58) what the future held for him.  “I see a lot of music,” he said, explaining how music meant peace to him.

It might surprise you that they don’t read notations as they play, which means they rehearse extensively. Yanni used multiple pianos on stage. Although his music allows some room for improvisation, a lot of it is composed and executed in unison. His rhythms are a joy, too: he often uses the 7/8 time signature that Indian ears are used to, and his orchestral compositions sometimes remind you of the scores we hear in our films.                               

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