THAT memory is still vivid. In March 1997, I had visited the banks of the river Yamuna in Agra, to cover the much-awaited Yanni concert. With the glorious Taj Mahal in the backdrop, the setting seemed perfect, and I even ignored the mosquitoes that occasionally did marathons on my forearms.
Before the show, I was confused whether I was a Yanni fan or not. Yes, I had loved the ‘Live at the Acropolis’ album, but his studio albums were too elevator-friendly for my comfort. The show changed everything – for a while, at least.
Lavishly produced, it featured an immensely talented orchestra conducted by Armen Anassian. Violins, cellos, flutes, trumpets, French horns, guitars, basses, drums and the didgeridoo mingled magnificently on tracks like ‘Adagio in C Minor’, ‘Dance with a Stranger’, ‘Niki Nana’ and ‘Santorini’.
While Yanni’s keyboard unleashed its expected magic, violinist Karen Briggs was a revelation. The concert was held over the next two days, and easily, it was one of the best shows India has witnessed.
WITH this background, let’s welcome Yiannis Chryssomallis aka Yanni to India once again. In January, the ace Greek new age composer and musician will perform in Vadodara. Earlier this year, he played in India after 17 years, with shows in Chennai and Bangalore. Those who have missed him so far would want to attend his spectacle this time.
Sounds good? Yes and no. While the concert at Vadodara’s Laxmi Vilas Palace on January 23 promises to be musically-outstanding and larger than life, as is the case with most Yanni shows, there are two major bottlenecks. One is the astonishingly steep ticket fare, and the second revolves whether Yanni’s following in India is remotely as close it was in 1997.
The Chennai and Bangalore concerts didn’t come cheap either. In Chennai, the ticket denominations, from the lowest onwards, were ₹ 2,000, ₹ 3,000, ₹ 5,000, ₹ 8,000, ₹ 15,000 and ₹ 20,000. In Bangalore, they cost ₹ 2,500, ₹ 5,000, ₹ 8.000, ₹ 15,000 and ₹ 20,000.
If you thought that was expensive, check out Vadodara. Part of the four-day VadFest, or Vadodara International Art & Culture Festival, those attending will have to pay ₹ 5,000, ₹ 7,000, ₹ 10,000, ₹ 12,000, ₹ 20,000 or, hold your breaths, ₹ 75,000. Unless they are influential enough to get a free invite, that is.
Yanni is scheduled to play for about two hours. And going by the map of the venue, those with the cheapest tickets will probably be sitting a few kilometres away, watching the proceedings on a giant screen, if at all.
Considering that very few people want to go alone for such shows, and would want to go with their spouses or friends, the cost per individual will naturally multiply. For two people, that will mean ₹ 10,000.
The richer class may be able to afford such fares, but what about the middle-class fan or the student who would want to attend too? Unless no-one wants them in the crowd!
From the viewpoint of organisers, an event of Yanni’s scale would incur huge costs. The Agra show featured 40 musicians, and one would assume similar numbers will be utilised this time. Besides this, there will be personal managers, tour managers, sound engineering teams, lighting teams, set-designing teams and public relations agents, most of whom may come from abroad as they are familiar with Yanni’s requirements. Despite the presence of airline and hospitality sponsors, putting up so many people is a huge cost. On top of that, there are the artiste and crew fees.
Besides the people factor, we have costs related to setting up the show – the equipment, speakers, lights, sets, giant screens, caterers’ fees, beverage company expenses, etc, etc. One has to take taxes into account, and there are many sundry expenses which come up closer to the event. Yes, some of these finances may be offset through sponsors. But this isn’t like many other shows – the sheer scale will be much larger. It’s a different matter that acts like Michael Jackson and Pink Floyd made even grander appearances.
Keeping this in mind, the organisers may try to justify their decision to fix such high ticket rates. But then, who are they actually targeting? From the simple price structure, it’s obvious that a large number will attend just because they have the moolah, irrespective of whether they enjoy Yanni or not. Many of them may not even have heard of him before. The true fans may just dream of a telecast or watch it on DVD.
Another thing needs to be considered. When Yanni came to Agra in 1997, he was at his peak. His ‘Live at the Acropolis’ album had sold hugely across the world, and India was no exception. Even though the Agra shows had a large number of politicians, businessmen and richie-doodles in the crowd, there were a few fans who travelled from Delhi to watch him perform.
The Yanni phase lasted from late 1994, after ‘Acropolis’ was released, to about late 1997, when Yanni combined his shows at Agra and the Forbidden City, Beijing, to release the ‘Tribute’ album. He later played at the Kremlin, Moscow, and Burj Khalifa, Dubai, and though his studio albums did well on the new age charts, they never made it to the top of the overall Billboard charts. Even new age, as a genre, became stagnant after the 2000s.
Today, the world listens to lots of other music, with electronic dance music, modern rock, world music, fusion and ambient lounge attracting listeners. The term ‘new age’ was pretty fashionable in the second half of the 1990s, thanks to artistes like Yanni, Enigma, Enya, Bradley Joseph and Kitaro, but what affected the genre’s long-term popularity was that there was no set pattern of sound. Anything that sounded a little offbeat and unlike the common genres was described as new age, and very often, spiritually uplifting and religious chant-driven music was also placed in the same family.
In all fairness, Yanni’s shows may be still as spectacular as they were 17 years ago. Though the ambience may not have the same effect as the Taj Mahal or Acropolis or Kremlin, the quality of musicianship will undoubtedly be high, as many younger instrumentalists would have joined his troupe. Moreover, his brand of music is best enjoyed live, and not on CD or even DVD.
The question, of course, is: how many people can really afford the Vadodara show? And if they do, how many will comprise the right kind of people? Only those with enough money to throw around can dream of paying ₹ 20,000 to get a hundred yards close to Yanni, and ₹ 75,000 to smell his perfume, and then falsely boast that they shook hands with the man.