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Crossover Charm

By Rubin Khoo for The Star, Malaysia. Date: 1st October 2004

Piano playing has been more electrifying with Croatian pianist Maksim Mrvica about. With his flashy style and flamboyant looks, Maksim has introduced classical music to a generation more accustomed to boy bands and pop divas. His debut album, The Piano Player released last year was a hit in this region (double platinum in Hong Kong, platinum in Singapore, and Gold in Malaysia, Indonesia, and China.)

"I'm completely taken aback by how younger international audiences have responded so enthusiastically to my music," Maksim said in a recent phone interview from London.

Could it be his brooding good looks and unconventional approach that have endeared his music to younger audiences? Well, his style may play a part but Maksim believes that it is ultimately the music, particularly in Asia.

Interestingly, Maksim has become quite a familiar name in these parts (and in such a short span of time, too!) He even played in Kuala Lumpur twice in the past year - a showcase and a full concert.

"It is the music," he noted. "In Asia, they like good music. Young people want to listen to classical music but they have difficulty finding this to listen to."

For an artiste who is often on the road, he has made it his business to introduce classical music to younger audiences. There is no better proof of this than his concert performance at Stadium Putra, Bukit Jalil in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year that attracted a mixed crowd.

"It was amazing at the stadium," he recalled. "My ambition has always to bring my love of classical music to thers through live performances and recordings."

And his dream is most certainly coming true. Maksim, 29, has just completed his second album entitled Variations Part I & II. It is a collection of classical and pop themes. His new material is a little more ambitious than his previous work and comes in two discs - the first features crossover tracks white the second is purely classical.

This album is a mixed bag. Among the classical numbers are Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Scriabin's Etude in D sharp minor 'Patetico' and Chopin's Nocturne in E-flat major Op. 9. The crossover tracks include Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, Ryuichi Sakamoto's Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, and David Essex's Olympic Dream. The album also includes a composition by Maksim based on Paganini's PagRag.

The album was completed in a record-breaking 10 days, which Maksim admits was pretty hectic.

"It was a big challenge to record it (in 10 days). It normally takes much longer but I was already familliar with the classical repertoire."

Maksim had originally intended the second album to be a purely classical one but upon reflection, decided to follow his previous formula. He believes that a crossover CD is a good way of getting people interested in the music. However, this move has also drawn some critism.

"It's always difficult because a lot of classical audiences don't accept it but as long as others come and listen to the music, that's the important thing. You have to take a different approach," he asserted. "It's not interesting when you come into a concert hall and people are all sitting in the dark wearing suits."

The fan of Christian Dior has been known to take to the stage in torn jeans and a sleeveless shirt. This ragged look is usually taboo among classical enthusiasts.

It gets more flamboyant - extensive lighting and laser effects are also frequently used to enhance the atmosphere at his concerts. Maksim is more of a rock star in his outlook despite his classical background.

The artiste frimly believes that crossover styles cut across boundaries, but it is the classical repertoire that remains his favourite. "Crossover and classical (music) are very very different," he said. "variations are okay, but I don't want to change anything (in terms of his love for classical)."