You have to hand it to Ludovico
The world-renowned composer talks to Hilary A White about Bono, the Beatles and being a dad
The first thing you notice are the hands. Ludovico Einaudi is Italian, a nation predisposed to elaborate gesticulation, but as a pianist the fingers are elegantly spry and vivacious as he speaks.
The second is a striking similarity to cringe-inducing US comedy scribe Larry David, as thick-frame specs and grey mutton chops huddle together under a hairless cue-ball dome. The similarity ends there, however. On an afternoon where the weather is veering schizophrenically between downpours and brilliant sunshine, Einaudi cuts a calm, Zen-like figure as he pours himself some tea.
The world-renowned composer and musician is in Dublin on promotional duties for his 12th studio LP In A Time Lapse, a typically stately collection of chamber-music moods and subdued orchestration. Travel, and lots of it, is simply par for the course for an artist of Einaudi's stature. He may not be quite a household name, but in classical circles his music is revered for its minimalism and spaciousness, something that has caught the ear of film-makers such as Shane Meadows (This Is England), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and Clint Eastwood (J Edgar), not to mention the ticket-buying public in scores of international concert halls.
Yet rarely does our conversation touch on classical music's rich heritage. Although training in the hallowed Milan Conservatory, as well as with avant-garde heavyweight Luciano Berio, Einaudi is something of a rocker stuck in the body of mild-mannered 57-year-old father of three.
"My generation grew up with the Beatles," he chirps in an Italian lilt that is musical in itself. "Revolver was the first album I had, a gift from my sisters. I saw Pink Floyd in Rome at the start of the 1970s." From here, Einaudi speaks at length about rock music losing its vision after the early 1970s, when the grand designs of the Floyd gave way to punk's rough-hewn anarchy. "I understand the punk philosophy, but in terms of musical expression for me it was not so strong. I was searching for other things in the last part of the 1970s. I was more into searching my musical world."
He is effusive in his love of U2, however, his eyes twinkling with nostalgia as he recalls hearing the opening notes of The Joshua Tree in a record store and being "immediately captured". Some years later, he ended up on a night out with Bono in Milan around the time of the Achtung Baby tour and struggled to keep up with the diminutive frontman. "The day after, I saw him and I said I felt very bad with a terrible hangover. He seemed not to understand what I was talking about."
I ask him what he meant by "searching his musical world", and whether he, in the words of his favourite Irishman, found what he was looking for. "Every time I write music," he begins, "it's very important for me to be reborn, and find a new life with my work.
"I don't like the idea of repeating something I've already experienced, because what is beautiful is when you create something and discover a new part of yourself. This is what I search for, so I struggle every time because it's not easy. It's a process of suffering. It's like when you give a child life, you suffer a bit."
The conversation naturally moves on to fatherhood, and how interlinked Einaudi's artistry has become with his three children (In A Time Lapse is dedicated to them). "Now I have a little daughter who is just over two years old, so this has opened a new perspective. My other children are adults, and when they were young, I was more worried about my immediate future. Now I feel more safe from that point of view; I don't have to struggle in my career.
"I feel I have more concentration to spend with my daughter. On the other hand, I have less time because I am very busy, so every moment away there's a feeling of something that you're losing and any moment together is incredibly beautiful. All this has increased my feeling of my emotional state very much, and the relationship with the other two children has become something bigger, too."
It's unsurprising that his children should form such a large part of his muse, given the influence his own parents had on him. As family histories go, the anti-fascist Einaudi clan are an opera in themselves. His grandfather Luigi was a leading economist and journalist before stepping into politics and ascending to the office of President between 1948 and 1955. In 2005, the composer was awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, a knighthood established by his grandfather (another recipient) during his presidency. Ludovico's father, Giulio, meanwhile, was founder of one of 20th-Century Italy's major publishing houses.
The musical DNA clearly stems from his mother, who soundtracked his childhood by playing Chopin and Bach on the family piano. But something else is required to scale the heights of musical aristocracy, something that he explains emanated from his father's side. The family hailed from Carru, a mountain village between Piedmont and the French border that is said to have "more Einaudis than stones". Such communities, he explains, are known for a traditional lifestyle of sobriety and simplicity. He relates a story about his grandfather dining with world leaders in Rome and sharing a pear with another politician because he didn't want to see his uneaten half thrown away.
"There is this vision of keeping life simple," Einaudi ponders, "and staying close to things that are important. And my father was like that; he had a physical passion for his books. It was a very interesting moment in Italy after the war and fascism. The country wanted a new life. And around my father there were a lot of writers and intellectuals, which made my life very stimulating and interesting as a child."
He smiles as if satisfied with how all these things played midwife to his music. Those communicative, soul-searching, audience-enthralling hands finally come to rest on his lap, their work done for now.
Ludovico Einaudi plays the National Concert Hall on November 9. 'In A Time Lapse' is out now