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Maksim-izing The Thrill
By Sharmilla Vella (The Malay mail, 22/12/2004), donated by Christina.

CROATIAN pianist Maxim, who was here for the third time recently to promote his new album ‘Variations I and II’, appears to have fallen in love with Malaysia.

He couldn't help feeling that way during his brief stay at the Awana Kijal beach and spa resort in Terengganu after performing in Genting Highlands.

While there, Maksim, who was itching for a swim, was advised not to jump into the South China Sea as the current was too strong.

But that hardly scared the musician with the rock star good looks who grew up as a beach boy in his home town.

Throwing caution to the wind, he dived in with total abandon and had one of the times of his life. "It's so beautiful here. The beach just reminds me of the one back home in Croatia – minus the strong waves,'' said the 29-year-old Maksim, an outdoors person and nature lover.

"Back then, my summer house was just a stone's throw away from the beach.

"Now that I live in London, I miss the beach so much. So, there's no way I can resist having a swim here despite the strong current.'' The beach aside, Maksim also found the people here warm and friendly which made him feel at home despite the cultural differences.

And the local delicacies like satay, lemang, rendang and all the spicy stuff really knocked him out. "I'll surely come back here for a holiday with my wife,'' he added. Maksim's new album, recorded in Britain and Croatia, includes a collection of classical and pop themes. Lending their touch to it are some renowned producers and writers like Youth, Tonci Huljic and Tolga Kashif. Maxim also contributed one composition, based on a theme by Paganini. Some classical works featured are Liszt's Totentanz, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and Scriabin's Etude in D sharp minor.

"The album's first part features cross-over electro-pop music and the second part is all classical pieces," said Maksim, whose producer claims he can hit 14 notes per second.

"I'm excited about the second part as it has pieces I've not played in a long time. And, working with Youth is amazing as he's one of the world's best producers.'' Maksim, who's also a film buff, says his musical taste is not limited to classical stuff as he's also into pop, rock, R&B and ballads.

"You won't believe the database for my collections. I have the theme songs from The Lord of the Rings and the next song will be Sarah Brightman or a French or Croatian song. It's all jumbled up. It can be any type of music.'' Maksim gets more excited and even patriotic when he talks about Croatia.

"Croatia has only eight million people but we're quite famous in basketball. Now, we're third in the NBA league. Croatia is known for sporting activities like skiing and the beautiful beaches.

"We've so many islands and I'm proud to say that we have the cleanest sea in Europe. The waters are crystal clear that you can put any reading material in the water and read it. It's that clear.

"It's becoming a major tourist destination as most people can speak English and they're friendly and warm like here in Malaysia.'' With his virtuosity on the piano, it's amazing to hear Maksim isn't from a musically inclined family. "When I was seven years old, I developed a liking for classical music and I forced my mother to enroll me for piano lessons. From there, it became a passion,'' he said.

"In classical music, I learn how to appreciate the wonderful sounds composed by some of the geniuses.

"My aim is to make classical music interesting not only among the older generation.

"I'm making it more upbeat for the younger generation.

"My first album was a pure classical piece called Gestures which wasn't released here. But it's a wonderful album." Maksim trained as a classical pianist for many years in Croatia and gave his first public performance at nine. His career was almost halted when war broke out in Croatia in 1990. But Maksim was determined to continue his musical studies and spent five years at the Music Academy in Zagreb studying with Professor Vladimir Krpan (a pupil of Arturo Benedetto Michelangeli), followed by a year at the Ferenc Liszt Conservatoire in Budapest. During this time, he won first prize in the Nicolai Rubinstein International Piano Competition in 1999. The following year, he moved to Paris to study with Igor Lazko, and in 2001, he came out tops in the Pontoise Piano Competition.

Maksim's first disc Gestures featured contemporary Croatian piano pieces and it became one of the fastest-selling recordings to be released in Croatia, winning four Porins (Croatia's equivalent to the Grammys), including one for Best Classical album.

He went on to make The Piano Player which was released worldwide in June last year. The Piano Player has reached Double Platinum status in Hong Kong, Platinum in Taiwan, Singapore and Croatia, and Gold status in Malaysia, Indonesia and China. "I was completely taken aback by how younger audiences responded so enthusiastically to my music. "My ambition has always been to bring my love for classical music to others through live performances and recordings. Suddenly it feels like my dreams are coming true. I really look forward to coming back to Malaysia and probably for my next concert here, next year.''