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Maksim effect
by Tham Ai Mei (The Star, April 2004). Donated by Michelle Kay.

ENTHUSIASTIC teens, elderly folks, children and loads of female fans, started to fill up the seats at Stadium Putra, Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur last Thursday night. An impressive grand piano was placed right in the middle of the makeshift stage. By half past eight, the time had come for the much-awaited concert of the handsome Croatian pianist Maksim.

Moments later, lights dimmed and the crowd worked itself into a screaming frenzy as anticipation rose for the appearance of the musical genius. Suddenly a lean, tall figure strolled out onto the podium, and the crowd practically yelled themselves hoarse as the lights came on and Maksim, clad in simple black shirt and pants, made his way to the piano.

Immediately one thing was for sure: Maksim presented a very romantic vision of an intense, talented pianist.

From Croation Rhapsody to Claudine to Cubana, Maksim has his audience mesmerised throughout his concert. Soon the multi-coloured spotlights were focused on the star as he proceeded to start pounding on the Yamaha Disklavier grand piano to the frantic pace of the famed The Flight Of The Bumble Bee. With a close-up of Maksim and his deft fingers projected onto a large video screen behind the stage, everyone had the chance to savour the dexterity and sheer magic of the pianist as he lost himself in the music.

Staccatos were executed with precision and most of the audience looked as it they were slowly but surely being enveloped in Maksim's world of electro-pop and classical piano tunes. The back-up bass guitarist, drummer and five-female strings section were the perfect foil for the frenetic piece. What a great start indeed!

Grieg's Piano Concerto In A Minor was presented next. With one majestic gesture, Maksim brought life to a single chord, marking the start of his second piece. Electric keyboards were interspersed with the imposing tune, and classical music never sounded so intriguing.

The tall musician stood up soon to interact with the crowd. As expected, the crowd went into yet another screaming frenzy, with some girls yelling: "Maksim, I love you!" Slightly embarrassed, the amicable pianist said: "You are the best crowd I have ever played to." With a playful grin, he added: "And no, I don't say this to every audience that I play to."

Handel's Sarabande was spiced up with some funky disco-beat as Maksim once again became engulf-ed in his musical haze. The dignified piece was truly brought to life in this raw performance. This was followed by the faster-paced Croatian Rhapsody.

More screaming ensued as Mak-sim picked up the microphone again to let the crowd know that he had infused something special to his repertoire that night.

"This is something that is not found in my album (The Piano Player). It is a song called Olympic Dream which I have composed for the official CD for the Olympic games this year," said the gifted one before gracefully taking his seat in front of the piano. As expected of a song fit for the Olympics, there was a dignified and solemn feel to it. A female soprano provided the ethereal vocals as Maksim proudly showcased a truly beautiful tune.

The magnificent arrangement that is Exodus, from Maksim's album, filled the hall next. Maksim was clearly in his element, filling the hypnotic piece with flawless flair. After the explosive applause subsided, the star once again took the microphone to announce: "I will be presenting my classical repertoire next."

While the back-up musicians went off stage, the lights dimmed to set the mood for a string of solo performances. The frantic chords of Dance Of The Baroness were struck and once again the musician was clearly lost in his own world, although it seemed as if many in the audience had gone along for the ride.

In stark contrast to the audience's previous reaction to the music, there was total silence as the pure classical pieces were played out. Photo Gallery came next; at this point, it appeared as if Maksim lost some of the audience's attention as the atmosphere became too serious. After the last of the classical pieces was played out, the piano player took a break while his back-up musicians treated audiences to the light-hearted, Caribbean-like tune Cubana Cubana. Breezy percussions lent a tropical feel to the concert hall, providing a brief respite from the slightly gothic feel of Maksim's brand of music.

The expectant crowd went wild when the good-looking pianist bounded onto the stage clad in his signature black sleeveless tee, black wrist band and scrunched-up hair. Slightly bashful but nonetheless ready to go, Maksim proceeded to treat his audience to the sedate Claudine. Reverie-inducing and sweetly mesmerising, the piece was played out effortlessly.

Soaring violins brought Wonder-land to new heights as Maksim pounded furiously on the keyboards to a catchy disco-pop beat. Truly magnificent!

The grand finale came in the form of a techno Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini, which swept this writer right off her feet with its intoxicating beauty.

Soon after, the tireless pianist waved to the crowd, signalling the end of the night. As expected, the crowds were not satiated yet and started chanting: "We want more!" even as the entertainer headed backstage.

It seemed a relatively short concert, considering that the show started at 8.40pm and it was barely 10pm when Maksim waved goodbye to his adoring audience. Was that it?

Murmurs turned to shouts of joy as the obliging maestro came bounding back onto the stage to present his encore piece of the sultry Cubana. What flair he displayed as he played the tune with renewed enthusiasm and zest! The crowd just could not get enough of him as they screamed for even more as Maksim courteously waved his goodbye once again.

But there was more!

Playfully putting up one finger to indicate he would only be playing one more encore song, Maksim then did an impromptu Flight Of The Bumble Bee sans backup musicians. The audience was totally bowled over by his sheer genius and were really sorry to see the concert come to an end. It had indeed been a magnificent musical extravaganza.

While Maksim's brand of music might have its detractors, it is safe to say that classical music has not been so palatable in a long while.