Pianist Einaudi draws from diverse inspiration
> BY ALEXANDER VARTY
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.