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Published Friday, March 26, 2004

Yanni Is Back
After Five-Year Hiatus, New-Age Musician Recording and Touring Again

By Bill Dean
The Ledger
bill.dean@theledger.com

After a five-year, self-imposed musical exile, Yanni is back.

But he returns in such a prodigiously effective way that observers may think he never left at all.

His most recent album, "Ethnicity," remains at No. 5 this week on Billboard's New Age Albums chart after 56 weeks in release.

And his first tour in five years, which plays The Lakeland Center on Saturday, features the keyboardist in the grandiose fashion that fans of his 1990s performances have come to expect: surrounded by his band and symphony orchestra in a fittingly lush production.

So why the break in the first place? The 49-year-old, Greek artist says it was in reaction to an intense period of nonstop performing and recording, as well as the aftermath of a 1998 breakup with his longtime girlfriend, actress Linda Evans.

"It wasn't a period of `meditation,' it was a period of pain," Yanni said in an interview with the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

The ending of the nine-year relationship, as well as Yanni's realization that years of work had left him exhausted, fueled a musical funk in which he canceled the remaining dates of his 1998 tour -- and then wondered if he would ever play again.

"I went to my mom and dad's house in Greece," Yanni said. "At that point, I was resigned to never coming back. I didn't touch the piano for a whole year."

In his hometown of Kalamata, Greece, the performer re-immersed himself in the simple life that, as a youth, had turned him into a local swimming champion and selftaught pianist.

In "Yanni in Words," the performer's 2002 autobiography, Yanni wrote that he walked in the mountains with his father, stayed up late at night talking with his mother, and gradually learned to redesign his life.

"I didn't know how to do nothing," he wrote. "I could lock myself in a studio for days, not eat and hardly sleep, but I didn't know how to have fun."

Music, however, gradually led to a life-affirming renewal.

Letters by fans from around the world reminded the keyboardist how his music had touched people's lives. And a new house near Miami -- and his construction of a studio there -- became a healing project.

After first being terrified at the sight of a piano in the finished studio, Yanni sat on the piano bench, closed his eyes and "let the music play," he wrote in the book.

"I don't know how long I sat there; perhaps an hour or two. Then suddenly, I was playing the piano as if I had never stopped."

He eventually recorded the 2000 album, "If I Could Tell You," as well as last year's "Ethnicity," an album filled with influences and instruments from cultures around the world.

"I had a lot of fun with that album," he said in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News.

"It was the first time in my career that I wasn't under any pressure to create an album, and I just started having fun with the music in the studio."

Unlike his previous albums, Yanni's 13th recording features female vocals on most of the songs, as well as contributions ranging from the Australian didgeridoo on "Rainmaker" to the Celtic violin of "Playing By Heart."

The result is an album that reflects a happier and more productive period of his life than those that preceded it.

"For the past few years I've had more of an opportunity to think deeply about life," Yanni said in a statement released by his office.

"I have tasted and felt so many things in my life and been welcomed all around the world. I have surpassed the wildest dreams I ever had as a child."

Bill Dean can be reached at bill.dean@theledger.com or 863-802-7527.
 
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