Pi­anist Ein­audi draws from di­verse in­spi­ra­tion

> BY ALEXAN­DER VARTY

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

It’s easy to hear why, with min­i­mal fan­fare, Ital­ian pi­anist Lu­dovico Ein­audi is play­ing cul­tural palaces like our own gilded Or­pheum: his in­stru­men­tal com­po­si­tions bring to­gether sev­eral dis­tinct strands of con­tem­po­rary mu­sic— from the “holy min­i­mal­ism” of Arvo Pärt to the am­bi­ent sounds of Brian Eno to song forms that wouldn’t sound out of place be­hind Sarah Mclach­lan—in a warm, ac­ces­si­ble, and tune­ful way.

And in the light of re­cent hor­rific events, they also pro­vide the ner­vous crowd with a safe space where noth­ing bloody or chaotic dare in­trude.

But that’s not why Ein­audi makes such re­lent­lessly con­so­nant mu­sic, which of­ten man­ages to be both melan­cholic and up­lift­ing. He is, by his own ad­mis­sion, try­ing to please him­self first.

“I know that there are some peo­ple that lis­ten to my mu­sic when they are writ­ing, when they are study­ing.… It helps them, I don’t know why, to de­velop a sense of con­cen­tra­tion,” the 61-year-old mu­si­cian ex­plains, speak­ing in flu­ent but ac­cented English from his home city, Mi­lan. “But the idea of mak­ing mu­sic, for me, is that I felt I wanted to do some­thing that was not for me there al­ready at the mo­ment.…there was a ne­ces­sity to cre­ate some­thing that didn’t feel like it al­ready was com­posed by other peo­ple.”

This doesn’t mean Ein­audi is with­out in­flu­ences; he read­ily ad­mits to ad­mir­ing min­i­mal­ist maven Philip Glass, feels an affin­ity with the folk­mu­sic-in­spired com­po­si­tions of 19th­cen­tury pi­anist-com­posers Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schu­mann, and notes that a trip to Mali widened his rhyth­mic hori­zons con­sid­er­ably. More sur­pris­ing, per­haps, is his rev­er­ence for com­poser and elec­tronic pi­o­neer Lu­ciano Be­rio, whose dense and vir­tu­osic scores might seem the po­lar op­po­site of his own.

Still, Ein­audi cred­its his former teacher’s ad­ven­tur­ous Coro—an early ex­per­i­ment in fus­ing global styles with Euro­pean art mu­sic—with help­ing shape his sim­i­larly in­clu­sive ap­proach, and says that Be­rio’s ex­tra­mu­si­cal lessons were per­haps even more for­ma­tive.

“Be­rio was al­ways talk­ing about mu­sic with­out talk­ing about mu­sic,” he ex­plains. “He was talk­ing about mu­sic when he was ob­serv­ing the flight of a group of birds in the sky, or when he was talk­ing about phi­los­o­phy, or about Greek mythol­ogy. And this is some­thing that I al­ways do with my mu­si­cal think­ing, with my mu­si­cal projects. I tend to work first on an idea that is not purely mu­si­cal, and then I sort of tran­scribe this idea into mu­sic.”

Which ex­plains, in part, how Ein­audi found him­self adrift among ice floes last sum­mer, at the keys of an el­e­gant Stein­way grand set on a small white raft. The video shoot for his com­po­si­tion El­egy for the Arc­tic was part of a Green­peace cam­paign to raise aware­ness of the threat­ened po­lar en­vi­ron­ment—and a good ex­am­ple of how even the most con­tem­pla­tive art can be in­spired by the wider world.

“I was try­ing to have in mind the glacier as my au­di­ence, like a group of lis­ten­ers there,” the pi­anist says of his ven­ture to north­ern­most Nor­way. “And I was help­ing the peo­ple and also some govern­ments to fo­cus on the idea—to­gether, of course, with Green­peace—of pro­tect­ing an area that is not pro­tected. And I think even that when you are not re­lat­ing to a spe­cific idea, mu­sic has a vi­sion.…i try to have this ro­man­tic idea that I can con­trib­ute, with what I do, to a bet­ter place.”

Fall—the sea­son of dy­ing—is 2

of­fi­cially upon us. If you need an an­ti­dote, this pro­duc­tion is pos­i­tively burst­ing with life.

As You Like It sees Duke Se­nior ex­iled to the For­est of Ar­den, where he lives with a group of fol­low­ers. His daugh­ter, Ros­alind, has stayed be­hind as a com­pan­ion to her cousin, Celia, daugh­ter of the usurp­ing Duke Fred­er­ick. But Fred­er­ick soon ban­ishes Ros­alind—right after a wrestling match in which the victor, a young no­ble­man named Or­lando, has caught the eye of both young women. Ros­alind dis­guises her­self as a boy, Ganymede, and, along with Celia and their fool, Touch­stone, flees to Ar­den—where Or­lando even­tu­ally turns up as well. There, they meet the melan­choly fool Jaques, and Ros­alind-as-ganymede of­fers to let Or­lando prac­tise his woo­ing ways on him (her).

Con­tem­po­rary no­tions of ex­ile in­fuse the style of direc­tor Michael Scholar Jr.’s pro­duc­tion, as is ev­i­dent the mo­ment you walk into the theatre, whose en­tire space has been trans­formed into a refugee camp. Lauch­lin John­ston’s set uses sheets, tarps, pal­lets, tents, clothes­lines, and a patch­work of thread­bare rugs— even the theatre’s seats are draped in oil­cloth. Char­ac­ters carry suit­cases, milk car­tons, and back­packs, and wear cos­tumes (by Mara Got­tler) that ap­pear to have come from a do­na­tion bin.

Scholar also sprin­kles to­kens of fas­cism into the world of Duke Fred­er­ick’s court, with its mil­i­taris­tic rit­u­als and ubiq­ui­tous in­signia. But the play is a ro­man­tic com­edy, after all, so these choices are mostly sur­face trap­pings. In­deed, the at­mos­phere is one not of pri­va­tion, but cel­e­bra­tion: court min­strel Amiens (David John­ston, in mod­er­ately suc­cess­ful drag) opens the pro­ceed­ings with a song, and there are a lot—a lot—of songs through­out the evening. While these serve to show­case a very mu­si­cally tal­ented crop of stu­dents, they some­times de­lay the mul­ti­ple plot lines.

You can’t fault the cast for com­mit­ment, though: there is so much en­ergy in this show, from the de­light­fully silly stag­ing of a group of sheep pil­ing on top of a pair of lovers to the in­ven­tive phys­i­cal­ity of a wrestling match in which the com­bat­ants fight with­out touch­ing each other.

And there are some out­stand­ing per­for­mances, notably Wil­liam Edward’s Or­lando, who makes a virtue of sim­ply be­ing present, and Michelle Mor­ris’s, whose Celia is so re­spon­sive that she com­mu­ni­cates vol­umes even when she doesn’t have a line. Ai­dan Drum­mond is also ex­cel­lent as the shep­herd, Sil­vius; he com­mits to the char­ac­ter’s fool­ish­ness with­out mak­ing him a car­i­ca­ture. As Ros­alind, Mar­guerite Hanna lo­cates the boy­ish en­thu­si­asm in her dis­guise as Ganymede, but her char­ac­ter comes across as less nu­anced and less nat­u­ral than her com­pan­ions.

Though the play drags at times, the ex­cite­ment of its best moments makes this For­est of Ar­den worth a visit.

> KATH­LEEN OLIVER

As You Like It.

Mar­guerite Hanna in an en­er­gized David Cooper photo.

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