March 14, 2004
Review: Yanni enchants Omaha audience
BY JAN DEKNOCK
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
On a cold, windy Saturday night in the Midlands, Yanni and his engaging band of musicians created a wide world of beautiful sights and sounds that warmed thousands of hearts at the Omaha Arena.
In a show of two one-hour sets, plus an extended encore, the composer presented a generous sampling of songs that spanned his more than two decades as a recording artist.
Among the most dynamic were selections from his current CD, "Ethnicity," which featured such exotic instruments as the Australian didgeridoo, the Armenian duduk and the Indian tabla.
And while the music played, three large video screens - one nearly as wide as the stage - mixed live images of the performers with taped footage of where the music has taken them, from the Great Wall of China to the Taj Mahal.
Although Yanni's music is generally classified as New Age, his dramatic, intense compositions - an electrified blend of symphonic sounds, ancient instruments and a bit of rock opera - have little in common with the soothing, meditative sounds associated with that genre.
After all, his career as a musician started as a keyboardist in Midwest rock bands in the early 1970s, when the young Greek �migr�, whose full name is Yanni Chryssomallis, was a student at the University of Minnesota. (The university recently announced that on May 6, Yanni will be awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree in recognition of his cultural contributions.)
At 50, Yanni still could pass for a rock star. Clad in black leather pants and a snug black sweater in place of the more ethereal all-white look of some previous tours, he bounded about the stage as he conducted his orchestra of more than two dozen instrumentalists and vocalists.
With so large a musical assemblage and so busy a sound, the soloists had to really work to get noticed.
But in a night of many fine performers, one stood out as the crowd favorite: Karen Briggs, a firecracker of a violinist who lit up the arena with her scorching solos and engaging stage presence. Those who have seen Yanni's hugely popular "Live at the Acropolis" concert video know Briggs as "the woman in the red dress."
Yanni himself served more as a genial host than serious player, leaving most of the heavy-duty keyboard work to Ming Freeman. But he did have several nice turns on the piano, especially on one of his more gentle songs, "Enchantment."
"It's nice to be in Omaha," he told the audience early in the show.
The audience, clearly enchanted, let him know how nice he - and his music -made them feel.