Arts & Events

The Einaudi Cult Phenomenon

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday June 14, 2019 - 04:56:00 PM

Ludovico Einaudi, a sixty-four year old Italian pianist whose compositions show the influence of the American minimalism he first encountered at age thirty-two when he won a scholarship to the Tanglewood Music Festival, has over the years developed a cult following. His worldwide appearances, now as often in sports arenas as in classical music venues, attract fans of all ages and of diverse musical tastes. But Einaudi fans are extremely devoted, even happy to pay the stratospherically high ticket prices demanded. (For the June 12 concert at Davies Symphony Hall, tickets were far higher than for even the most expensive San Francisco Symphony events this season.) 

Attending an Einaudi concert is like attending a séance. Simple, repetitive music creates a mood, one that is almost paranormal. The audience enters into a kind of trance. At the Davies Symphony Hall concert I attended on Tuesday, June 12, some audience members, specifically, four middle aged women seated in the row in front of me, drank shots of tequila with lime out of plastic cups before the concert began to get in the mood. They said they had heard Ludovico Einaudi several times before and assured us we were in for a treat. During the two hour-long concert, however, some people’s attention seemed to wander. The guy seated two seats to my right kept surreptitiously checking his cell phone to see if anyone had emailed or texted him. Here and there, some audience members seemed to fall asleep. Minimalism can indeed put you to sleep. 

Before attending this concert, my experience of Einaudi’s music was limited. I had heard individual tracks of his music played on KDFC, the Bay Area’s classical music radio station. A friend had given me one of Einaudi’s early CDs, and although I rarely played it through from beginning to end, I usually played only the lovely piece entitled “Due Tramonti/Two Sunsets,” a duet for piano and cello. This piece, and this piece alone, it seemed to me, broke out of the mold of minimalism that characterized the rest of Einaudi’s compositions on that CD.  

Thus, I was pleased to note, on seating myself in Davies Hall, that a cello, a violin, and a viola were set up onstage awaiting the musicians who would accompany Ludovico Einaudi. For this concert, which bore the enigmatic title, “The Seven Days Walking Tour,” there was no printed program. Only by going online after the concert did I learn that the cellist was Redi Hasa, and that Federico Mecozzi played violin, and, on some pieces, viola. Online, too, I read that the inspiration for this music came to Einaudi while taking long walks in the mountains in winter, always following more or less the same trail day after day for seven days. “It snowed heavily, and my thoughts roamed free inside the storm, where all shapes, stripped bare by the cold, lost their contours and colors. Perhaps that feeling of extreme essence was the origin of this album…. Seven Days Walking is divided into seven episodes…. Each episode is focused on several main themes, which are recurring in different form: seven variations following the same imaginary itinerary. Or the same itinerary, retraced in seven different moments.” 

Listening to this concert, I couldn’t possibly have told you there were seven episodes. All I could say was that each extended piece seemed like every other extended piece. They all seemed very much alike. Each piece or “episode” had varying dynamics that went from soft to loud and back to soft, but often ending on loud. Endings were, for the most part, a surprise. The piece or “episode” just suddenly ended, usually on a loud ensemble phrase that just got chopped short. 

The faithful in the audience called out their enthusiasm after each piece or “episode.” One Italian woman shouted “Bravo, Ludo!” Another woman shouted “We love you!” Ludovico Einaudi acknowledged these shouts of appreciation with a hand held high and a bow from his piano bench. When all seven pieces or “episodes” had been played, the three musicians took their bows standing together at the front of the stage. For an encore, Ludovico Einaudi returned to the stage alone to play a solo piece that sounded very much like everything else we had just heard. Then, in a parting gesture, he brought back the other two musicians who played -- what else? – a climax from one of the seven pieces or “episodes” we’d heard earlier. I knew it sounded familiar. The audience, or at least most of the audience, gave Ludovico Einaudi and his accompanists a rapturous ovation combined with enthusiastic whoops and whistling.