The Ludovico Einaudi phenomenon hasn’t quite gripped Australia in the same way that it’s taken over Europe. Einaudi’s style of simple piano-based, classical-meets-contemporary folk-meets-pop composition has seen him break chart records in the UK (at the beginning of last year, he had 13 of the top 20 songs in the Official Classical Singles Chart), sell out entire concert tours and play at the iTunes music festival, alongside pop superstars such as Lady Gaga, Elton John and Justin Timberlake.
Late last year, he performed for the first time in Australia with a sell-out concert at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Graphic festival. He returns this month with a solo tour.
Despite his juggernaut success, Einaudi says his focus is on following his own personal vision, rather than selling albums and concert tickets.
“It is not an easy process to achieve for me, but I try to stay within the music,” he says “It has to be connected with yourself, with your brain, with your body, with everything.”
The 58-year-old Italian composer studied at the Conservatorio Verdi under the highly-influential experimental composer Luciano Berio. He began his career as a purely classical composer, but found that a variety of musical influences kept creeping in.
“It’s not just about context or culture, but working with the music that’s interesting and challenging that takes me to a level of intensity and depth that I find satisfying. There are elements inside that connect with folk music and popular music. This is a part of my background that I try to consider when I compose. This is my world. When I write music, it has to contain my history.”
Einaudi is fairly unassuming in the way he speaks and talks about his work. Although he’s clearly proud of his music, he never seems to be overselling. His shows are generally showy affairs, with spectacular lights and visuals, but there’s very little bravura; he’s no Andre Rieu.
Over the course of his career, his albums began to embrace more diverse musical worlds (he collaborated with Ballake Sissoko from Mali on a 2003 album) and veered more into a classical-pop space. In addition to those albums, Einaudi has worked on film scores, composing for I’m Still Here, Intouchables and Clint Eastwood’s latest, J. Edgar.
His latest album In a Time Lapse is inspired by time itself and features his signature swelling and cascading piano arpeggios with strings and percussion wading in to accentuate certain moments.
It’s simplicity that’s his hallmark, and although he lists Philip Glass as one of his greatest sources of inspiration, none of his music fits entirely within the definition of minimalism. The influences are too broad, and Einaudi takes his music into different territory. The deluxe edition of his In a Time Lapse features remixes. Yes, remixes. No wonder he’s attracted the ire of classical purists.
“Recently, someone was talking about the feeling and power of my music,” he says. “There’s sort of a hypnotic dimension, where people enter a different world, and they start to feel differently. It’s funny, but this is what they say.”
He has legions of fans, with his YouTube videos attracting millions of views. The comments are almost uniformly rapturous: “This music is a gateway to another dimension. It’s giving my emotions colors and sounds,” wrote one commenter. “Pure, essential soul paradise…” wrote another.
But although In a Time Lapse has won acclaim, Einaudi hasn’t always had the critics onside. A 2006 review in the Guardian praised his technical skills, but said his compositions all felt uncomfortably close to extended introductions to soft rock songs by Elton John or Billy Joel. Einaudi admits to reading a lot of what’s written about him.
“It depends whether the critics are interesting or not,” he says. “Especially when there’s a sort of snobbery about something they think is too popular. When people start to like something too much, they think there’s something wrong about it. You can read between the lines that they don’t like it. They feel it has to be elite, for a small group of people.”
It’s something that a lot of classical crossover artists have faced, but Einaudi is often accused of pandering to the broadest crowd possible.
“It’s just a personal search that I do. I decided that I wanted to follow my way of working. It’s my vision, and I keep working with my vision. Of course, I’m happy that a lot of people come to the concerts.”
But Einaudi is quick to shrug off the suggestion that he spends too much time agonising over what the critics think.
“Now we are talking about it, it might sound like I’m obsessed by it, but it’s not true. I don’t care so much. Sometimes I read reviews, sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad.”