Ludovico Einaudi at The Arts Centre’s Hamer Hall, Melbourne, Tuesday February 14. 2017.
As the audience filed in to Hamer Hall on Tuesday night, a voice over the PA system crackled for the umpteenth time: “Please note there will be no interval during this evening’s performance. Please note, there will be… NO… INTERVAL… during this evening’s performance.” It seemed a really intentionally ominous warning, and I started to wonder how long Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi might actually play for, and whether I could hold on to my two glasses of Prosecco for that long.
The answers to those questions were two hours, and no. But never have two hours in the dark fluttered away so quickly; Einaudi’s performance of his 2015 release Elements was something totally transformative, with not a wasted second of stage time.
Opening with Petricor, each member of Einaudi’s band joined the dim stage as their parts entered the piece; though Einaudi’s grand piano was front and centre, it was positioned so his back was to the audience, giving him an innocuous Larry David look. On the screen behind the five-piece band, the symbols from Elements’ cover were inverted (white on black) and drifted slowly from right to left. At first it looked like a night sky timelapse, but as the piece built, my impression flipped (like when you suddenly see the rabbit instead of the duck) and then we were all drifting gently together as on a sheet of ice.
Einaudi has assembled an astonishing band to deliver live the subtle electronics of this album. One multi-instrumentalist used his thumb piano both melodically and percussively, swapped over to a singing saw, and pulled out a waterphone – an eerie as hell instrument normally used for horror movie soundtracks – and managed to make it strangely benevolent. The honestly remarkable string section – a violinist who doubled on the guitar and a cellist who swapped between electric and traditional – recreated some of the record’s sounds that I was sure were either synths or the slides of a human voice.
The percussionist proper moved between vibraphone, bodhran, something I’m going to call a ‘thump-ball’ which he beat with a closed fist, and at one point came to the front of stage to play a weird contraption that comprised a rectangular gong on a rope handle, semi-submerged in a fish tank. Conducted by Einaudi’s hypnotic left hand, the player warped the gong’s tone and pitch by moving it in and out of the water. Its sound was something like those deep, otherworldly moans James Cameron imagined the Titanic emitted as its hull slowly split and water rushed in.
Restrained use of lighting effects (small flickers of a strobe to denote lightning, wide red lights over thin smoke for fire, and a stunning few moments when concentrated, static lightshafts hit several disco balls half sunk in the stage’s floor, sending sudden moonbeams straight to the Hall’s darkest corners) tied the entire production together. Einaudi’s Elements is furious and terrifying, sometimes gentle with compassion, and often bursting with love, just like the natural world it was inspired by. Listening alone with headphones is moving, but sharing it live with others is… something else.
Ludovico Einaudi has three dates left in his Australian tour: Wednesday February 15 in Sydney, Friday February 17 back in Melbourne, and Sunday February 19 back in Sydney. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster.
Elements is out now via Decca/Universal.