The saying that “art imitates life” is something that Yanni takes quite seriously in his live show.
Since at least the early 1990s, the Greek-born new age pianist hasn’t had to worry about drawing people to his shows. In a recent teleconference with members of the press, Yanni revealed that an audience of 1,700 people is “probably the smallest” that he plays in front of these days. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Yanni often finds himself playing in front of “tens of thousands of people.”
While the approach may vary depending on the size of the venue, the basic idea remains the same. Whether it’s a show that’s being taped for one of his Public Broadcasting specials — such as this year’s “Yanni Live at El Morro, Puerto Rico” — or a smaller, more intimate affair, Yanni doesn’t scrimp on the performance.
“I will perform as strongly for 300 people as I would do for 300,000 people,” he said. “It makes no difference to me. Once I get on that stage, I’m on. And I’m on 100 percent. There’s no 99 percent, or, I don’t feel good today, or any of that stuff. It’s just you’re on, you’re on. That’s it.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, 108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs
How Much: $145-$30
Concert as journey
“When I’m on stage, you know, I just — there are times — it’s like life. And a concert is like life. It’s not all just beauty or just edginess. It’s both and everything in between. So I try to take the audience through a journey if I can. The journey lasts a couple of hours, so a significant amount of time to keep people’s attention. And we do very well from what I’ve seen playing around the world. And I’m grateful for that.”
Yanni has managed to switch things up in recent years, beginning with his 2009 compilation “Yanni Voices,” which incorporated vocals into his instrumental pieces for the first time. His 2012 tour will continue this, with new vocalists on board along with the requisite orchestra required to bring his often melodramatic, pop- and jazz-influenced work to life. The tour lands at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night.
In addition to “Live at El Morro,” Yanni is also supporting his first album of all-new original material since 2003’s “Ethnicity,” last year’s “Truth of Touch,” which finds the composer scaling back his compositions and using his ’90s pop heyday as a reference point.
In addition to new material, the ongoing tour has given him a chance to travel to more new places around the world than ever before on a single tour. This year is the tour’s U.S. and Canadian leg, but last year he hop-scotched all throughout Europe, Asia and South America.
“In the early ’90s, I went to Southeast Asia and Australia, and I felt that was really exotic,” he said. “But now, I mean, we just — in a matter of a month or less or around that area, we’ve been through, I mean, all of South America, Mexico of course. But we turned around, and all of a sudden, now we’re in Beijing. We were playing cities in China, doing a really large tour in China. We’re playing in South Korea and then we’re going to Thailand. Amazing experiences there because we were there when the floods were there. So I was on the frontline filling the sandbags myself. Amazing experiences.”
The Yanni experience that’s touring the globe right now is documented, at least in part, by “Live in El Morro,” which was recorded during two outdoor concerts last Dec. 16 and 17. This DVD has been something Yanni has wanted to do for two decades now, he revealed, and was finally able to arrange for the concerts — although the weather on those nights almost nixed the whole project.
“I get there, [and] guess what’s going on? It’s raining,” he said. “[It had been raining] every day for 25 days in a row. . . . On Friday night — we have planned three nights for the concerts, Friday, Saturday and Sunday in case of rain of course — on Friday, we managed to go through three-quarters of the show and then we had to stop. It was the first time in 30 years of my career that I’ve been [rained out].
“So Saturday night, the next night, we got very lucky. It was the only day it didn’t rain, so we were able to capture the concert. . . . I remember flying out to Puerto Rico Sunday at 6 o’clock with my manager and we had looked out the window and my manager said, ‘Look at El Morro; it’s raining.’ ”
Adopting a panda
In addition to playing shows and dodging rain, Yanni has also been flexing his philanthropic muscles. While in China, he became the first person to adopt a panda from the Chinese government (typically only countries are allowed to adopt pandas).
The panda, which he named Santorini in honor of the Greek island that he named one of his compositions after, is the public face of his new partnership with the World Wildlife Fund. Through the fund, he is offering $50 Panda Adoption Kits to his fans commemorating his adoption of Santorini, with the money going to support the fund’s panda conservation efforts.
“My job right now is to make Santorini the most famous panda in the world, because I want her to become a symbol to raise funds and help the World Wildlife Fund, which not only cares — obviously they care about the giant pandas as much as I do,” Yanni said. “But they care just as much about the rest of animals around the planet. And they care about the whole planet.”