Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Yanni offers surreal tour of world's music

By Cecelia D. Johnson
Enquirer contributor

War was suspended inside of the U.S. Bank Arena for a few hours Sunday evening when composer/keyboardist Yanni brought his Ethnicity Tour to town, his first visit in five years.

Yanni and his 27-piece ensemble of musicians led a mixture of retirees, couples and a bevy of female admirers on a global sensory excursion - minus the hassle of airport security searches or the need of a passport.

Most of the evening's selections were from the Ethnicity album (released mid-February), and although unfamiliar, the new material was well received, although it was difficult to distinguish song titles.

Continuing his signature eloquence that blends cultures and genres, Yanni's music is sweepingly ethereal and evocative. It was an extended audio-therapy session of inspiration to a soundtrack of hope.

The players and the instruments represent nearly every continent: the primordial depth of the ancient didgeridoo from the land down under, the poignant Mideastern tone of the Armenian duduk (a woodwind instrument), the pulse of the Indian tabla, the elegance of a Paraguayan harp and the charm of a dulcimer. Within the expansive canvas of Yanni's charts, all converge to create a harmonious harvest of the earth's bounty.

To cover such vast distances, Yanni gathered the brightest of musicians who dazzled with a stellar display of artistry. True believers (in the $60 seats) already knew their favorite soloists.

The sweeping grandeur of the opening chords set the tone for the evening. Emerging above the lush orchestration was violinist Karen Briggs with her nimble, soulful playing.

Throughout the program, Ms. Briggs conjured sounds ranging from sweet, fragile high notes heard on a rare Stradivarius to the funky fire of a down-home fiddle in a cutting contest.

Equally astonishing was Venezuelan reed man Pedro Eustache's respiratory feats on a dizzying array of flutes and woodwinds from Armenia, China, Egypt, Japan, Lebanon and the Andes mountains of South America. His furious fingering stunned the audience with the clarity and passion of his playing.

The support players were also stellar. Singers Michelle Amato and Alfreda Gerald have complementary voices, and they shined as they morphed into classically trained operatic divas against a pulsating "Aria."

Dan Landrum's dulcimer lent a folksy-flavor; David Hudson offered a virtuoso performance on didgeridoo and Victor Espinola rocked his harp and the crowd.

Highlights included "If I Could Tell You," "Enchantment," "The Promise" featuring Ms. Gerald, "Santorini" and "Nostalgia."

After so much soothing surrealism, no one was ready to retreat from the sonic refuge. Following thunderous ovations, plus four encores, the evening was over and it was the back to the real world.

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