Yanni Burton is a musical artist hailing from Adelaide, Australia, who earned both a bachelor's and a master’s degree from the acclaimed Juilliard School of Music. Now the producer and the General Manager of the prestigious Salome Chamber Orchestra in NYC, Yanni is not too proud to admit that he is a fan of pop music. His brand new single titled “Awake” directly combines his love for classical music and pop beats.

Yanni recently discussed his love of music, his new single, and the personal inspiration behind it via an exclusive interview.

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Classical music, Juilliard, and influences

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love for the classical genre?

Yanni Burton (YB): My love for classical music didn’t really fully evolve until I went to college! I started on double bass at about 12 years of age playing jazz, musical theater, classical and pop music. Suddenly, it was time to go to college, and all I really knew was that the bass was cool and that I wanted to keep playing it. I did six months of a jazz degree, hated it, then secretly applied to college in the USA and was lucky enough to receive a scholarship to study at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

It was there that I found my true love and passion for classical music.

MM: How did you hone your musical skills and what was the path to Juilliard like?

YB: I bunkered down in the practice room, spending 5-8 hours a day practicing the bass. It took me almost two solid years of practice to prepare for the Juilliard audition. Applicants had to prepare an hour’s worth of music for the panel, of which only ten minutes was listened to. To add to the pressure, the audition panel consisted of 8 of the world’s most famous double bassists - no pressure! In the end, I was lucky, and well prepared, and managed to squeeze my way into Juilliard!

MM: What’s it like being the General Manager of the Salome Chamber Orchestra in NYC?

YB: It’s an incredible opportunity that was one of those right time/right place moments! I had just graduated from Juilliard and was looking for work.

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I won an audition as the principal bassist of this new chamber orchestra, Salome Chamber Orchestra. They were just starting and it was kind of an all-hands-on deck situation. I helped out with event planning, ticketing, production, and after a year of this, they hired me as their general manager in addition to principal double bassist! I never would have thought a few years down the road in this position that I would be touring the world, producing and performing on shows with John Legend, Bill Clinton, and Rufus Wainwright.

MM: How much did pop music influence you growing up and what are the challenges of infusing it with classical elements?

YB: Pop music was always something I listened to growing up, but it’s hard to say how much of an influence it had on me. I was one of those kids that was a big theater, band, and orchestra geek. I spent high school breaks in the music rooms practicing with my jazz band, and after school was always orchestra or double bass practice. However, we had a piano at home, and I would learn songs by Evanescence, Vanessa Carlton and Beyonce’s first solo album which I think sparked my passion for songwriting and composition.

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I think that being surrounded by a lot of varied styles of music made it easier to infuse classical and pop, and it was more natural to lean on my classical music knowledge than to produce straight pop.

MM: How did your personal life experiences inspire “Awake”?

YB: Awake is one of those songs that was a very close personal experience. So much so that I actually toned it back a little so, a) I wouldn’t isolate the listener, and, b) mortify the person that this song was about. Essentially the song is about coming to terms with the realization that it was time to break free from a stagnant relationship. There’s nothing more isolating than being in a relationship and not feeling connected to your partner.

Pop tunes and musical projects

MM: What have responses to the “Awake” single been like so far?

YB: There has been such a warm and positive response to the single since its release! I had my hesitations about how confronting the video might be to certain audiences, but my intentions were to create a video that was true to myself, and I feel like I have achieved that. It has been so heartwarming and rewarding to see people taking the time to listen, watch the video, and send messages of support!

MM: Might you make other pop tunes in the future?

YB: I’m definitely making more pop tunes in the future. In fact, I have three new singles on the way! I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with some incredible song writers and producers over the past year who have really helped develop my sound and style as a musician. So get ready for some club bangers, power pop ballads, and disco vibes!

MM: What other fun musical projects are you excited about?

YB: Well outside of my pop writing, I’m currently the executive producer of a new musical that’s opening at the National Sawdust in Williamsburg which is a new one for me. After that, I’m heading out to LA to work with the director of Awake, James Daniel, on a couple of new music videos.