Sunday, August 17, 2014

Roving Pittsburgher Report, Yanni Brings Agape, "Love" to Benedum

Yanni Brings Agape, "Love" to Benedum 

YANNI: WORLD TOUR 2014August 16, 2014 | 8 p.m. | Benedum Center

Good News Reporter, Joanne Quinn-Smith

Yanni GRACED the Benedum Stage last night with his mesmerizing smile and consummate rapport with the audience who were raucous and appreciative and never faltered in their unity with the performance. The audience was captivated as Yanni took the stage and seemed to say, "Excuse me while I make love to my piano and you can watch and listen as I am accompanied by my 'United Nations' of musicians."

For those few who do not know who Yanni is.  He is a Greek pianist, keyboardist, composer and music producer who has spent most of his adult life in the United States while managing to still travel the world and appear in such historic places as the Acropolis, the Taj Mahal, China's Forbidden City, Russia's Kremlin, Puerto Ricco's El Morro Castle and last night, the world famous Benedum in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Yanni photo by Krystal Ann
Yanni continues to use the musical shorthand that he developed as a child blending jazz, classical, soft rock, and world music to create predominantly instrumental works. As this genre of music was not well suited for commercial pop radio and music television, Yanni achieved international recognition by producing concerts at historic monuments and by producing videos that were broadcast on public television.  That was my first experience with Yanni on PBS, "Yanni, Live at the Acropolis," which by the way yielded the second best-selling music video of all time.

I must tell you it is nothing like sitting in an orchestra seat in a theatre as intimate as the Benedum which, Yanni mentioned how cool it was to be so close to the audience and he took full advantage in engaging and interacting with the audience throughout the evening.  At least fourteen of Yanni's albums have peaked at No. 1 in Billboard's "Top New Age Album" category and two albums (Dare to Dream andIn My Time) received Grammy Award nominations.

Yanni photo by Krystal Ann
Yanni's musicians represent 11 different nationalities including England, Germany, Venezuela, Cuba, Paraguay, China, Canada, USA, Russia, Armenia and Greece.  The talents from each member surpass anything you can imagine prior to attending a performance, and they are all brought to you on one stage under the guidance of a true modern day orchestrator.  The first thing you notice about this orchestra is how much fun they are having and the smiles on their faces. 

The music is at once uplifting, calming, romantic and often intensely sensual and erotic. My nephew had not even heard of Yanni when I asked him to attend at the last minute but became an instant fan coming away from the concert slightly hoarse from cheering.

My nephew Josh (an engineering student form WVU) and I immediately zeroed in on Victor Espinola, the harpist from Asuncion Paraguay.   We were amazed at the octaves that his Paraguayan harp was able to reach with its 36 strings and also excited to discover with research that the harp is Paraguay's national instrument.  His World Electronic Acoustic Music brings a blend of flamenco and gypsy style to the music of the Yanni orchestra.

Yanni, photo by Whit Padgett.
About half way through the concert Yanni features Alexander Zhiroff from Russia on the cello.  We decided that we never knew that the cello could issue such sounds and be such "fun."  The solo was an experience in pure, light-hearted amusement.

From amusement to the international language of music,  Samvel Yervinyan, Violinist from Yerevan, Armenia clearly knew how to make his instrument speak and have it understood in any language. He shows all the signs of beginning his studies at the age of 7 and graduating from Tchaikovsky’s Music Conservatory, perhaps inheriting Tchaikovsky's penchant for gypsy melody.

From the bigness reminiscent of Tchaikovsky to the sounds of the the violin played by the diminutive Mary Simpson, Violin, Virginia, USA who brings a touch of bluegrass to Yanni's orchestra.  From row E we could see her constant smile and hear her making her violin smile also.  Her hi-lighted performances were both energetic and musically endearing.

Other Hi-lights of the concert:

Yanni describes this song as something he wrote about the learning that took place rather than initial reactions like frustration and anger.

Charlie Adams brought down the house with his drum solo.  We weren't timing it but it seemed at least ten minutes long without a hint of boring the audience.  Charlie with his Steeler t-shirt and "Pittsburgh Coffee" used his high energy stage performance and stamina in what was probably the best drum solo the audience had ever heard.

Yanni, photo by Whit Padgett.

Played with the orchestra bathed in red light, you could feel the agape love that Yanni speaks of in his introduction about his mother knowing about "healing" love.  The music wraps around you like a mother's arms and encourages the audience to at once feel loved and excited to be alive.

This rendition is so LARGE that it makes you feel as though something epic is about to happen not only from the stage but in your life and at times let you languish in the victory. This piece puts you in the mind of running through open fields, ascending the mountain and then triumphantly observing the beauty of the view.

Yanni didn't tell the story but the world knows he was inspired to help protect giant pandas after he “adopted” a two-month old panda cub at the Chinese Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in October 2011. Yanni was the first western artist to be given the honor of symbolically adopting one of Chengdu’s pandas (a privilege reserved almost exclusively for nations, rather than personalities). He named the panda “Santorini” after one of the most beautiful islands in his native Greece.

Lauren Jelencovich joins Yanni for 'Nightingale' with its oriental theme with her effortless soprano very realistically portraying the song of the Nightingale which Yanni says has the sweetest song of any bird in the world.

The concert was just too full of too much to talk about and after this review is published I will remember more dynamic moments.  I should not neglect to mention outstanding solos by Jason Carder; Trumpet from Arizona and moments of grandeur from Yoel Del Sol; Percussion, Cuba and the duets of Yanni with keyboard player,  Ming Freeman, Taiwan; and also some very unique runs and scales from Gabriel Vivas, Bass from Caracas Venezuela.

There is just not one musician in the group who is not a consummate professional and cannot or has not shown brightly on their own on the international music scene.  I attended the concert under physical duress coming straight from my new daughter-in-law's bridal shower which I had been preparing for three days.  I had told my nephew to nudge me if I fell asleep.  Fat chance!  I arrived exhausted and spent and from the time the orchestra hit the stage began to revitalize.  I left like all of the rest of the audience with a feeling of absolute joy and elation at hearing "art" personified in music with passion, verve, compassion and style.

Joanne Quinn-Smith, Award winning internet radio broadcaster, blogger, author and internet radio and TV network editor and publisher. Joanne is the owner and CEO, Creative Energy Officer, of Dreamweaver Marketing Associates, a successful Pittsburgh-based marketing company. She is a grandmother and great grandmother, an unlikely trendsetter for online journalism and broadcasting. Joanne is internationally known as the “Get Your Google On” Gal. But better known as Techno Granny™ to over one million accumulated online listeners worldwide. Joanne has created a revolutionary online NEW MEDIA platform in Internet broadcasting, blogging and other social media participation that represents the new second generation of World Wide Web interactions, known in technology circles as Web 2.0. JQS is the online publisher of, an online community magazine to disseminate the Positive News for Positive Pittsburghers. PPL Mag is Pittsburgh’s First Internet radio and TV network with syndicated channels and online radio and TV capabilities. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Family Night at the Symphony is a Home Run Review of Triple Play the PSO's Aug. 2nd 2014 Performance

Family Night at the Symphony is a Home Run
Review of Triple Play the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's Aug. 2nd 2014 Performance

From:  Roving Pittsburgher Report and
Written By:  Stephanie Curtice  |  Aug. 02, 2014

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra closed their 2014 summer season on Saturday, August 2nd, with a concert entitled Triple Play.  For a baseball loving family, we thought the concert was a home run.  With my partner’s children visiting for the summer, this was a great concert to take the whole family to.  It featured opera and operetta overtures in the first third, a stunningly played piano concerto in the second, and for the final third movie music from some of our favorite action blockbusters.  Now I normally report mostly on the music and just a little on the experience, but for this review I will share how fun it can be to take the whole family to the symphony.

We have only been here for a year, so this was the first opportunity to bring the kids to Heinz Hall and it was so fun to see their reaction walking into the beautiful hall.  They were in aw just as we were the first time.  But the most quote of the evening came as we were getting seated.  We had two sets of seats: two media seats fifth row/stage left, and four towards the back/center section/isle seats - still main floor mind you.  First, we got Dad (Mike VanStipdonk), Martin (15), Josie (13), and Quinn (10) seated and then Nina (7) and I proceeded to find our seats.  After we at least located them I asked Nina if she wanted to go back and hang out with the rest of the family until the concert started.  She replied, “No I don’t think I want to go way back there.  These seats are WAY better.”  And with that we now have a seven year old, prime seating connoisseur.  Instead we practiced reading the concert notes, which proved to be very good concert preparation even for her.

Christian Capocaccia
(photo courtesy: PSO)
With a countdown of the side stage doors closing one by one, we were tuning up for our first family PSO experience.  As a result of her pre-concert reading, Nina was able to point out the evil dwarf played by the basses in Glinka’s Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla.  Next was one of my favorites of the evening, Franz Von Suppe’s Overture to The Beautiful Galatea.  Nina thought she might have been familiar with the third piece, Intermezzo and Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffmann.  But at its conclusion, said “Maybe I know one of his other songs, because I did not know that one after all.”  To close out the first section of the concert, the PSO played Rossini’s Overture to William Tell.  Guest conductor Christian Capocaccia playfully reminded us that we should also recognize it from many cartoons, like Looney Tunes.  During this piece Nina nudged me and perceptively pointed to the words thunderstorm, countryside, and triumphant return during each of the respective sections.  During the first intermission we met up with the rest of the troops for a leg stretch and work out the wiggles walk.  Quinn noted that he heard lots of cymbals during the Bugs Bunny song.

Xiayin Wang
(photo courtesy: PSO)
Next on deck was Ravel’s Concerto in G major for Piano and Orchestra.  As we readied for the second part of the concert and enjoyed a rootbeer barrel, Nina noted how beautiful the pianist Xiayin Wang is and that she studied from another person named Nina (Svetlanova).  Miss Wang played exquisitely.  The program notes used the perfect words to describe each of the movements, the first sparkling, the second graceful, and the third whirling.  Wang’s care in how she played each note was stellar and her interaction and balance with the PSO was perfect.  As we got up for the 7th inning stretch (yes, exactly after seven movements) Nina again pointed out how primo our seats were and that we could actually see Miss Wang playing each note even in high heals and a pretty purple dress with sparkly gems.

Reluctantly Nina, shared her great seats with Martin and Josie for the last section of the concert.  Leading off was a Medley from Pirates of the Caribbean by Hans Badelt and then Hans Zimmer’s Music from Batman: The Dark Knight Rises.  And finally, as maestro Capocaccia pointed out, no movie music section is complete without John Williams.  The concert concluded with Suite from Star Wars including The Imperial March, Princess Leia’s Theme, and the Main Title.  Watching the older kids from afar made Mike and me smile to see how engaged they were enjoying the music.

As we were exiting the concert hall we got many compliments on how well behaved everyone was and that we brought them at all.  As a note to other parents who might be thinking this all happened in the twilight zone of perfection… the evening was not without little reminders to not have our feet in the chairs or that you can read the program but not whip it around like a fan.  We took potty breaks, exploration walks, and had a piece of hard candy before the show and at each intermission.

There was something for everyone in the family at our night at the symphony.  Other than the music being “very pretty” and the PSO being “really good,” the kids noted the hall is beautiful, the 12 chandelers are “very sparkely,” the main stair case is “really old and cool,” and the small round red couch in the ladies lounge is “so fun.”

On the ride home, we went around the car and all shared our favorite pieces from the concert.  Here are the final stats:
Nina (7) – Overture to William Tell AND Star Wars: The Imperial March
Quinn (10) – Star Wars
Josie (13) – Medley from Pirates of the Caribbean
Martin (15) –  Music from Batman: The Dark Knight Rises
Dad – Ravel Piano Concerto and Star Wars: The Imperial March
Miss Stephanie – Overture to The Barcarolle and Ravel Piano Concerto

So if you are on the fence about taking your children or grand children to the symphony, our advice is to take them.  It is an experience they will always remember, and you will too.  The PSO has two great series that are extra family friendly PNC POPS! And Fiddlesticks Family Concerts presented by Macy’s.  As for our experience, we all thought our evening at Heinz Hall with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was an out of the park home run.

Fiddlesticks Family Concerts presented by Macy's – Recommended for children ages 3 to 8
Introduce your children to music at these special Saturday morning concerts with your world-class Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra!  During the pre-concert DISCOVERY TIME ADVENTURES, children will have the opportunity to sing, dance, create a take-home craft, meet musicians and listen to stories – all unique to each concert.

PNC POPS! – Rated E: For Everyone
Welcome to a season of big pictures, accompanied by big sounds. Popular movies, beloved Broadway musicals, animated Disney adventures, successful television shows and award-winning jazz artists take front and center stage in the 2014-2015 season of PNC POPS! It's entertainment for the ages. For all ages.

By:  Stephanie Curtice
Good News and Cultural Reporter
(c) 2014