ATLANTIC CITY - The lights dimmed at Boardwalk Hall, leaving the audience staring at a stage enveloped in a shimmering, almost translucent curtain.

Cue a slow buildup of powerful percussion, humming strings and the haunting wail of male and female voices intertwining.

Slowly, the lights rose, and scenes of crashing waves and barren deserts were projected onto the curtain.

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Suddenly, the drape fell away, and Yanni took his rightful place at the head of his orchestra, in front of his piano.

The Greek composer and pianist who gave us "Yanni Live at the Acropolis" and "Tribute" was back on stage Saturday night as part of his latest tour, "Yanni Voices."

At first sight, this was not the Yanni who took on the Herod Atticus Theater in Athens 15 years ago. The luxuriant moustache was gone. The flowing locks straight off a romance novel cover were clipped short, barely brushing his collar.

But he still managed to capture his trademark musical drama in every movement, every glance, every keystroke.

"Yanni Voices," is the composer's first studio album release in six years. In the past, Yanni's albums and concerts have been all about the music, allowing the strings, the percussion and the horns to convey the messages of the songs. With "Voices," the composer finally put words to both old and new musical works.

Singers Leslie Mills, Chloe, Ender Thomas and Nathan Pacheco (a dead vocal ringer for Josh Groban) gave a voice to Yanni's music with songs such as "Change," "Before the Night Ends" and "Tribute."

The singers enhanced but did not overpower the orchestra behind them. In Yanni's world, it's still all about the music. The two-hour set included several orchestra-only pieces, including the popular "Santorini" and "Within Attraction."

Yanni fluttered between a grand piano and two keyboards at the front of the stage. His body spasmed with every keystroke. He often kept his eyes shut, letting his fingers fly over the keys unsupervised.

Even when Yanni was not playing, he wanted to be. His fingers fluttered in the air, mimicking the flying frenzy of the violinists, trumpet players and drummers during their solos.

The excitement was held throughout the performance, even through a few technical difficulties with Yanni's elaborate projection and lighting setups.

The composer just seemed grateful to be back on the stage.

"I have so much music to share with you," Yanni gleefully promised the audience early in the show. "This is so exciting."

E-mail Courtney McCann:

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