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Posted on Fri, Mar. 26, 2004

Challenged and changed, Yanni is back on stage

By Kati Schardl

DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER

Even million-selling superstars with hordes of worshipful fans suffer midlife crises.

Just ask Yanni, the world- and classical-music composer and keyboard artist who's made women around the world swoon with his passionate music and smoldering good looks.

At the height of his fame, Yanni - who performs tonight at the Civic Center with his core orchestra - walked away from the concert stage and recording studio, a victim of career burnout.

"At the time, I was going through an extremely difficult period in my life," Yanni said in a recent phone interview. "My career had become my life, which I realized wasn't a healthy thing. I wanted to find out if I could exist without my career."

By 1998, the stress of success had pushed Yanni to the edge of a psychic precipice. His longtime, highly publicized relationship with actress Linda Evans had ended. He'd been touring nonstop for more than a decade, staging spectacular performances at such landmarks as the Forbidden City in China, the Taj Mahal in India and the Acropolis in his native Greece.

Along the way, the former Greek swimming champion had also released a string of platinum and gold albums, including "Reflections of Passion" and the worldwide hit "Yanni Live at the Acropolis."

Yanni, who holds a degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota, realized he needed to step out of the spotlight - perhaps forever - in order to maintain his mental health.

"I was in a lot of (emotional) pain," he said. "I didn't know where my limits were. The only way I found them was by exceeding them. It was hard to walk away, but it was the right thing to do.

"I didn't touch the piano for a whole year. I went to my mother and father's house in Greece. At first, I was climbing the walls, because my life had been going 150,000 miles per hour and then it was suddenly just standing still.

"I tried to change my life and let some new experiences come in. I wrote a couple of albums, and now I'm back in full force."

Yanni decided to make his comeback at the urging of fans, family and friends. But stepping back into the public eye wasn't easy.

"It took a while," Yanni said. "I wasn't really sure in the beginning if I could handle it. I didn't know if I could pull the musicians together again (for a tour), go through the rehearsals, everything it takes to put together a show.

"But you know, it's like riding a bike, you never really forget. And I had healed. My batteries were recharged."

Yanni came back with a splash, publishing a memoir - "Yanni in Words" - that shot up the New York Times best-seller list, and releasing a best-selling world-music-flavored album, "Ethnicity," recorded at his home studio in South Florida.

"I don't know how to go into the studio and kind of write some music," he said. "It's 100 percent or nothing. But now I try to build in breaks. I work for a month or so and then take some time off."

Once he launched the Ethnicity World Tour last year in Las Vegas, Yanni realized how much he'd missed performing.

"I've enjoyed these live performances so much," he said. "All my musicians are virtuosos and add such different colors to the music.

"I use that analogy because we're such a visually oriented society, and we tend to relate to things we can see. I've always equated sound with color and have thought that the (process) musicians and composers use to create sound is much like an artist using color on canvas.

"Life is inspiration. You live, you experience, you have things to talk about. I think the key is to keep being challenged and keep changing."
 
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