'The Croatian Piano Player' mesmerizes fans in Jakarta
Tantri Yuliandini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Screams, claps and whistles greeted his arrival on stage at the Indoor Tennis Stadium in South Jakarta on Tuesday night. It was a rousing welcome fit for a rock star. The 3,000-strong audience of mainly under 30s that packed the stadium made it difficult to believe they had all come to watch a classical piano recital.
Only it was not just any classical piano recital, it was Maksim "The Piano Player" and his brand of crossover -- infusing techno beats to invigorate centuries old classical compositions.
Maksim's all black costume of sleeveless shirt, leg-hugging pants, leather wrist bands and black rings on each finger, together with his jet-black hair streaked with white highlights, was far from the standard black tie and tails of the classical pianist.
Matching the costume, the stage was also draped in black, and the lively play of lights made the performance a feast for the eyes as well as for the ears. It was a classical concert refurbished.
Amid the screaming of fans, Maksim launched into Flight of the Bumblebee, the prelude to act three of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's 1899 opera Skazka o Tsare Saltane (The Tale of Tsar Saltan).
No hesitation and without any music score, Maksim's deft fingers dancing on the chromatic scales of the Yamaha Grand Piano in the middle of the stage whipped the audience to a frenzy and brought thunderous applause and shouts at the end of the piece.
Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A-Minor (1868), a more buoyant piece with less repetition, followed before Maksim addressed the audience.
There was no need to pretend to know a little Bahasa Indonesia, there was not even the need for much rapport for the audience to love Maksim, who took up the piano when he was nine years old. His evident bashfulness upon hearing a shout of "we love you Maksim!" made this 28-year-old Croatian even more endearing to his Indonesian fans.
"It's easier to play in front of an audience, because I feel there's energy from the audience," he said earlier.
But more than his energetic pieces, Maksim's treatment of the calmer compositions of his repertoire were like those of a lover's caress. His fingers moving in deliberate strokes across the keyboard, back hunched, the piano player was lost in his own world.
Maksim's rendition of the Sarabande by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was like a cooling shower after a hot summer day, which he followed with Tonci Huljic's Croatian Rhapsody, a piece thick with the nuances of Eastern European traditional music.
Olympic Dream followed, a new composition Maksim wrote for the official album of the 2004 Olympic Games. Lead violinist Sally Jackson lent her voice for this inspiring piece.
Next came Ernest Gold's Exodus from the motion picture of the same name starring Paul Newman and directed by Otto Preminger about the founding of Israel in the days following World War II.
True to his classical background, Maksim then played three solo classical pieces on the piano, while his accompanying band and string ensemble retired backstage.
With Croatian composer Frano Parac's Dance of the Baroness, Fryderyk Chopin's Nocturne in D-Flat, and his own Variations on the Theme of Paganini, Maksim seemed most at home. Without accompaniment, he was in his element. Feeling the music flow from his fingers.
"I don't think about anything when I play, I just focus on the tone and color of the piece I am playing," Maksim, who admits to being a nostalgic person and always craves the sight of the sea as it reminds him of home, said.
He then took a short break while the band played Tonci Huljic's Cubana Cubana.
Maksim Mrvica (pronounced Maravitsa with a rolled "r") was born in Sibenik, a town on the Adriatic coast, in 1975. Amid the turmoil of war in Croatia in the 1990s, he kept practicing with his professor, Marija Sekso, and even won his first major competition in Zagreb, the capital, in 1993.
He moved to Budapest, Hungary, when he was 22 years old to study at the Ferenc Liszt Music Academy. During this time Maksim won first prize in the Nicolai Rubinstein International Piano Competition.
In 2000, Maksim moved to Paris to study with Igor Lazko and the following year he won first prize in the Pontoise Piano Competition.
Maksim's breakthrough had not gone unnoticed in his own country, and when he returned to Croatia Maksim found himself in the media spotlight.
He released his first album Gestures, a compilation of contemporary Croatian piano music, in 2001 and it became the fastest-selling classical recording ever released in Croatia. Gestures brought him four Porin (equivalent to the Grammy Awards), including one for Best Classical Album.
It was not long before he was spotted by musician-poet-author Tonci Huljic -- who had composed several tracks for string quartet Bond -- and introduced to promoter Mel Bush.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
The second part of the concert was dedicated to Tonci Huljic's crossover compositions Claudine, Hana's Eyes and Wonderland. The last piece, and the longest, was the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, but the audience had not had enough. Shouts for an encore brought the piano player back on stage with more of Bumblebee and Cubana, then he was done for the night.
It was another step toward conquering the world for Maksim, as his website www.maksim.co.uk boasts.