Review: Ludovico Einaudi at the Festival Theatre

It’s definitely a rare breed of classical musician that breaks into the pop charts, but pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi is just that – his album Elements debuted at No. 12 in the UK, even briefly outselling Taylor Swift.

Now back in Australia to tour the album, Einaudi is playing a string of shows across the country, and performed to a packed house at the Festival Theatre last night.

With his piano front and centre, Einaudi was flanked by an ensemble of multi-instrumentalists, and supported by a projected backdrop of glowing illustrations, mathematical notation and abstract light, as well as the occasional burst of strobe lighting.

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Einaudi’s new-age-meets-pop-rock-meets-contemporary-classical blend – often described in terms of its genre-defiance – is a feel-good formula that makes polished use of layering and unusual instrumentation. The pieces employed electric and ‘conventional’ violins and cellos, electric and bass guitars, synthesisers, a vibraphone, and the almost theremin-like sounds of a waterphone.

A certain pop-rock structure was unmistakably present in the work, with ambient or chugging intros giving way to flourishes of strings and sparkling piano atop a driving 4/4 beat, building layer-by-layer to echoing crescendos.

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Einaudi’s influences run wide. Overlapping the classical backdrop were shades of Fleetwood Mac here, Vangelis there, and maybe even a hint of Vespertine-era Björk from time to time – and it’s crowd-pleasing stuff.

Elegy for the Arctic was the standout of the evening, a piece that in collaboration with Greenpeace has lent Einaudi almost 3 million YouTube views. In the video he performs on an ice-like platform – perched in the floe with his piano – to the sounds and sights of glaciers calving, and the work was beautifully translated to the auditorium. Around the stark notes of the piano swirled haunting ambient sounds achieved by dipping a gong-like instrument into an aquarium filled with water, from which crystalline beams of light streamed out at the audience. It was gorgeous.

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Einaudi has achieved quite some success providing soundtracks to films, television shows and commercials, and a number of the pieces did tread the soundtrack line – they’d sit well behind the revelatory final sequences of a Hollywood blockbuster, but live on stage without the benefit of actors on screen there was an occasional sense of an element amiss.

It was an evening of pretty music, that with its arpeggios, swells and spacious reverberation got to the guts of the major human emotions, but rarely ventured to the more challenging spaces in between.

Ludovico Einaudi played at the Festival Theatre as part of his Elements tour on Thursday, February 8

Photography: Rodney Magazinovic

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