Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1269, (5 - 11 November 2015)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1269, (5 - 11 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Magical music on sacred ground

Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian spends a spectacular night at the Pyramids listening to the magical music and messages of tolerance of Greek legend Yanni

Al-Ahram Weekly

Last week thousands of people went to Yanni’s magical world of music. Even more magical were the Sphinx and the Pyramid of Cheops watching over the maestro, his orchestra and us, the audience, as we listened to the music. We all felt secure in the presence of our ancestors, who allowed us to focus on the notes and the energy of the breeze blowing over the Pyramids Plateau.

“Hello Egypt. Al-Salamu Aleikum…Wow, we are here. We finally made it. This is so magical. This is stunning. We are at the heart of civilisation, in Egypt, the heart of civilisation,” Yanni said as he rocked the stage, appearing relieved to finally be in Egypt.  

The impact of the venue on Yanni when he appeared on stage was huge and showed up in his immense excitement. It was surreal and part of his intense desire to perform in front of the Pyramids and the Sphinx, an inspiring historical location like the Acropolis, the Taj Mahal, the Forbidden City in Beijing, London’s Royal Albert Hall, the El Morro in Puerto Rico, Moscow’s Kremlin, or Tunisia’s Carthage Roman Theatre where he has performed many times before.

“I have to pinch myself to make sure this is not all a dream,” Giannis (Yanni) Chryssomallis, 61, said with passion.

Yanni showed his passion for the land of the Pharaohs before he even stepped onto it. “I can’t wait to perform in front of your magnificent Pyramids. It’s going to be phenomenal,” he said in one video message. In another, made at JFK Airport in New York, he said “to those who are following me on this incredible adventure to Egypt, I just wanted you to know that the journey has already begun, and we’re just about to take off to our next stop, Cairo. Be there,” Yanni told his fans.

From inside the burial chamber of Cheops, Yanni was keen to send another message to his fans all over the world. “I cannot describe my feelings and emotions. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. I wish you all could be here, but I thought I would bring you here by being here myself. The Egyptian people have been great towards us. They have smiles on their faces. They can’t wait to show us their country,” he said.

A son of the southern Greek city of Kalamata, Yannis opened the show with “One Man’s Dream” which brought enormous calm to the audience and a feeling that matched the messages he had come to convey. “From the heart of civilisation we open our hearts to all of you around the world for watching this, sending you a very warm message, a message of peace and unity, as we ask for your friendship, acceptance and tolerance,” was one of Yanni’s messages between performances of his songs.  

His breathtaking composition “Felitsa” was written for his mother of the same name. “I wrote this piece for the woman who brought me into this world. I dedicate it to you and to her memory,” he said, imagining that his mother was among the audience that night. “She’s here. She’s inside me, and she’s watching over all of us tonight,” he said. Looking up in the sky, he added “this is for you Felitsa.” That night, Felitsa’s soul rejoiced in Heaven because of her son’s magical music.

Yanni took us to his magical world for 150 minutes. Looking round, it seemed to me that this was a man who was a hero for thousands of young people. I could see one young man in front of me, sitting on his knees to get closer to the stage and acting like a maestro himself. He was waving his hands and moving his body to the rhythm of the music played on stage. Yanni’s compositions were so familiar to him that he knew them all by heart.

Yanni connects with his audience: he has the ability to touch them and they touch him back until they become one. His music is a source of inspiration in people’s lives. All through the night, Yanni divided his time among two decks of electronic keyboards and an acoustic piano, like he usually does in all concerts. Although “End of August” was written a long time ago when he was in his homeland of Greece, where he usually prefers to perform, Yanni announced he would like to play it in Cairo as well, “even though I think Egypt too is going to become a home for me,” he said, adding that the piece had a special place in his heart.

Positive energy flowed throughout the night. “We’re here to bring you a very important message from the rest of the world. A vote of confidence in you, the people of Egypt, and a vote of confidence in your country and in your future. We believe in you, Egypt. I believe in you. Now that I have been here and have seen you and have felt you, I can feel your strength and gentleness and your beauty and your warmth and your expressiveness and your passion. I will never be the same. I’ve been changed by you, by being here on this ground.” This was Yanni’s message to the Egyptians.

Yanni’s exposure to different cultures affects him deeply. He thinks that different cultures fuel the creativity he needs to write his music and that he has a responsibility to communicate the knowledge he has gained. Yanni believes that creativity is a frame of mind and a place of surrender. “Creativity is an inherent human quality of the highest order and one that we all have,” he thinks.

The musicians in his orchestra represent many nations of the world, as well as different religions, philosophies and schools of art and music. It is this diversity that brings such beauty, strength and colour to the music Yanni performs with them. The talent of each member of the orchestra almost surpasses what is imaginable.

American lead drummer Charlie Adams performed a non-stop drum and percussion solo for ten minutes that amazed the audience. Adams is known for his revolving, upside-down drum set. Russian cellist Alexander Zhiroff, or “Sacha” as Yanni calls him, has performed at all Yanni’s major concerts. He rolled his cello a dozen times while performing his solo. One of the most dynamic performers came from Paraguay and was Victor Espinola. We saw the harp in a different form that night. Espinola danced with the instrument, appearing on stage as if the harp was part of his body and carrying it high at the end of his solo.

During the performance, Yanni’s smile for each and every soloist gave each the positive energy to give his or her best for the audience. His encouraging claps after each solo performance were characteristic, and throughout the show Yanni made us feel he was grateful to each and every member of the orchestra.

There were two other vocalists. American Lauren Jelencovich has a voice capable of effortlessly hitting her notes, and Canadian Lisa Lavie has a powerful voice able to take on Yanni’s difficult compositions. It seemed to me that sometimes they replaced the instruments, bringing energy and emotion to the stage.

The first song on Yanni’s first album, released 30 years ago, was called “The Sphinx.” “It’s as if I knew that one day little Yanni from Kalamata in Greece would make it all the way to the Great Pyramids in Egypt. It’s the Alpha and Omega for me, the closing of a very beautiful cycle in my life,” Yanni said, standing in front of the Sphinx on his first day of rehearsals.

Yanni also surprised the audience with a live appearance by one of his astronaut friends on board the International Space Station who was watching the concert. The astronaut greeted the audience, saying that he had flown over the Great Pyramids and the Nile and seen the lights of Cairo. He hoped that one day all humanity would be able to see the Earth as it appears from space, so that all can live in peace and happiness. One of Yanni’s dreams is that the borders between countries will eventually fade away, becoming lines on a map and not on the ground.

“It’s important that we realise we are one people living on this one magical, beautiful place we call Earth,” he said. “As we go on struggling through our difficulties in everyday life we must never forget the profound impact we have on each other. We are all one living, breathing, interconnected, interrelated world community, and we all belong to one race. We all belong to the human race. We’re all one people,” he added, for which the audience cheered loudly.

At the end of the night the Greek legend took up the Egyptian flag, waving it up high and putting it around his neck. He told the audience not to sit down and to stay standing for “The Storm” to come. This is a composition dear to everyone. Armenian violinist Samvel Yervinyan and American-Chinese violinist Mary Simpson were at their best. They took the Giza Plateau by storm with their non-stop beat on the strings. Yervinyan is widely recognised as one of the world’s premier violinists, and he has been a star performer in Yanni’s orchestra for the past decade. Simpson’s rich playing and smile captured the heart of the audience.  

I could feel the beat under my feet. We were all moving our bodies with the maestro and his musicians. We knew this song would be his last on stage that night, and we did not want to depart. Yanni makes you feel the music in the way he composes it. The smile of satisfaction on his face while his fingers express his endless creativity on the keyboard makes you live in the moment, live in the composition, and focus entirely on it.  

Yanni has a positive influence wherever he appears. He believes he is doing his part in healing people’s pain through music, though no single human being can heal all the pain in the world. He has been called a “True Global Artist” and his music is set to reflect his “one world, one people” philosophy. In a live interview at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, Yanni said that he was the only person who had been allowed to adopt a baby panda by the Chinese people in 1997 during his visit to the Forbidden City in Beijing. Pandas are considered a symbol of peace by the Chinese. It was “a great honour,” he said. “Like a Nobel Peace Prize.”

Music without lyrics such as Yanni’s can sweep you away for hours. It makes you want to love, encore et toujours. With loud cheers of “tahya Masr, tahya Masr, tahya Masr” and “shukran”, Giannis Chryssomallis ended a night to remember. 

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