Being Yanni: An Exclusive Look at the Prolific Performer’s Creative Process

April 27, 2011 Updated: September 29, 2015

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NOTE: This interview is in English. Only the first minute
is in Mandarin Chinese, with English subtitles.

NEW YORK—There is a very short list of artists who can be recognized the world over by merely their first names. Among the top ones on that list is musician and composer Yanni.

From his upbringing in the Mediterranean town of Kalamata, Greece, to his rise to international superstardom, Yanni’s musical genius transcends cultural boundaries. He is famous for staging mega-concerts at the world’s most historically significant venues, such as Greece’s Acropolis. He also performed at China’s Forbidden City and India’s Taj Mahal. Both of these concerts were broadcast on national television, reaching an estimated audience of 250 million according to Yanni’s website.

In February, he released “Truth Of Touch,” his 24th album. (He is also renowned for his four live concert videos.) Presently, he is embarking on yet another ambitious world tour.

Yingying, host of the “E*Star” entertainment show on Chinese satellite television station New Tang Dynasty (NTD), interviewed Yanni just before the curtain rose on New York’s famed Radio City Music Hall, where he enthralled a sold-out audience on Saturday, April 9. In the exclusive interview, the artist shared intimate aspects of his creative process, how he remains positive through life’s trials, such as the loss of his mother, and what he aims to impart to his audiences.

When asked about the life experiences that influenced “Truth Of Touch,” Yanni explained that overcoming personal adversity was a large part of his inspiration, though he prefers not to dwell on life’s sadder aspects and instead remain positive.

“I lost my mom a few years ago. It’s OK, she is always here,” he said suggesting that her memory and love live on.

He reminisced about the wonderful memories they shared together.

“She came to China—I will never forget, when my mother came. They [his hosts] took us through the whole walk of the Forbidden City. It was toward the end of her life, and it was an amazing experience. So she is here [in spirit].”

It is this positive outlook, as well as his genius, that has drawn musicians from all over the world to join Yanni. His group has been informally referred to as a “United Nations” band.

Speaking on their formation, Yanni said, “I did not set out to do that. I set out to find the best musicians in the world, and then in doing that, I ended up with the ‘United Nations.’”

Of course, directing a band of musicians from many different backgrounds requires a unique ability.

“I am open minded … Everybody brings with them their culture. They bring with them knowledge. So we teach each other, and that kind of teaching is very important. The musicians elevate themselves because they teach each other. So you can have a Cuban percussionist talking to an Australian Aborigine playing didgeridoo, and they were all sitting there exchanging.”
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It is this confidence, trust, and vision that enables Yanni to accomplish the unexpected with his music, all the while facilitating this complex musical process and simplifying it.

“My job is to bring the best out of everybody and make it in such a way that it is not forced together—it just comes together effortlessly. It is the same way I write music. I can take different styles of music, and I do not manipulate it. I am going to have a piece influenced by classical music. I will have a rock beat, and this is an emotion I am trying to express. Then I look at my musicians and I hear how they play, and I see how they do naturally very well, and I work with that.”

This delicate mastery of the creative process is what has made Yanni so prolific in producing new material.

“I do not manipulate it [the music]. It is here, and it appears, and it wants to come out, and I let it be. I do not judge. You cannot judge it when it is coming out because you are destroying the creative moment, because [if] you stand outside looking in judging it, then you are not creative anymore. It is very, very important, and who you are and all the experiences in your life will be in the music.”

When asked about what kind of message he aims to bring to his audience with this tour, Yanni responds, “The message remains the same. I want to entertain the people who hear the music. I want to elevate them, and I want to remind them of their power, and how strong we all are. … I want to inspire them so on the way home [from the concert], they are like, ‘I can do anything!’

“I think the positive message in my music is a catalyst. I remind people. If I can do that, I am doing my job.”

With such deep passion for live performance, it comes as no surprise that Yanni often makes his home on the road when he embarks on a world tour. Presently he is touring North America, with plans to cover the globe with such faraway destinations as China loosely planned for the fall.

When asked for more details, he said, “I think we are going to go everywhere in the world. My managers have their ways to send me everywhere, but I love it!”

Reporting by Yingying of NTD Television