Tour celebrates passions for piano, Korea
Stories of piano prodigies typically begin at an early age, when their talent was spotted by devoted parents who often are musical themselves. They had pianos before backpacks. Their practice sessions were hardly ever interrupted by the sounds of exploding grenades.
But for Maksim Mrvica, a 37-year-old Croatian, practicing the piano and attending his first competition were life-threatening adventures.
“It was love at first sight,” says Mrvica, recalling his first glimpse of a piano at his friend’s house when he was 8.
A year later, he began learning the instrument. Mrvica’s parents “knew nothing about classical music and even now prefer to listen to pop music on the radio.”
They didn’t understand their son’s new passion but were supportive and two years later acquired a 100-year-old piano for him.
Then a war broke out in Croatia in 1990, when Mrvica was 15, and the pianist said it “basically destroyed a part of my childhood. I wasn’t able to do many things that normal children would do,” including playing the piano in his own home.
The Korea JoongAng Daily sat down with Mrvica last month during his six-day visit to Korea to promote his upcoming tour. On Friday, he will kick off a five-city tour of Korea with a performance at the concert hall of the Seoul Arts Center.
Following are excerpts from the interview.
A. As soon as I played the piano for the first time, I felt this strong connection, first with the instrument then with classical music. When I was 9, I thought this is what I want to do in my life and I stayed like that all my life and had that strong passion toward it.
But war is a horrible thing, especially for me at age 15. I couldn’t practice for the first month after the war broke out because it was too dangerous. We had thousands of grenades a day blowing up in my city. My family had to hide in a basement for a whole month. The worst thing is when you lose interest in your life, but you can’t stop living it.
So you need to find something to concentrate on and in my case that was a piano. It was my escape from reality. So I made many dangerous trips from the basement up to my flat on the first floor to practice. I would hear bombs exploding, but I wouldn’t care. I just had to play the piano, which was my oasis in a desert. The war lasted for four-and-a-half years.
Even during the war, you participated in a competition and won first prize. How did you manage to do that?
My hometown in Sibenik was at war, but there was peace in Zagreb, where the competition was held. My teacher, who is amazing as a teacher and as a person, said that I should go for this competition. So we began practicing all day, every day in the basement of Sibenik’s music school.
When we turned up at the competition, everyone was shocked. They were surprised that we were able to make it to the competition. I performed, then the judges paused the competition. They congratulated me and told me I was the winner. When I went out of the hall, my teacher was standing in the middle of the corridor. She was crying and I was on the verge of crying. People were shouting to my teacher wanting to know where she had been hiding me.
It was the biggest victory of my life, not just because I won, but because of all those circumstances that made life so difficult for me. I survived that.
You’ve been coming to Korea every year for nearly 10 years and this is the first time you have been here so far ahead of the concert. Why?
I am very excited about this trip. Before when I visited Korea for a concert, I would come for only a couple of days and perform and leave. But this time I wanted to have more time here in Korea and get to know the country. It’s basically me getting around and being introduced to Korean culture and the Korean people.
I have a strong connection with Korea because I’ve been coming here for almost 10 years and some of my best and most devoted fans come from Korea .?.?. They follow me all around the world. One girl even followed me to my hometown.
I am very aware that fans are the ones who make me successful, so this is my opportunity to show my appreciation.
Not only in Korea, but also everywhere in the world I perform, I say Korean fans are the most dynamic. They make such an amazing atmosphere in the concert and they are so hearty. This makes such a difference. When you come on stage as an artist, your fans make you feel so welcome and that’s how you feel at ease and more comfortable. This is the energy they give to you and you give back to them through your performance.
In fact, I was very impressed at the fact that classical music here in Korea is so popular. As for me, doing crossover music I’m in a good position to introduce young people to classical music. But here in Korea, you basically don’t need to do that because you already have so many young Koreans who love classical music.
It was a process of my experimenting with classical music and presentation. It all started when I wanted to change the presentation of classical music. I always felt that as we live in the 21st century, we need to do something different to present classical music, just to make it more interesting and more approachable for young people, especially in central Europe where I live. Their lifestyle is completely different. So I completely changed the sets and stage of my concerts to something totally new.
What can Korean fans expect from your Korean tour?
I’ll be holding five concerts around the country starting in Seoul, then Daejeon, Gwangju, Daegu and Busan.
Most of the pieces will be from the first section of my latest album. Then I’ll play a section, as usual, that is kind of my way of introducing the audience to classical music. The second part of my concert will be some of the most popular music from my previous albums.
Lastly, do you have anything to say to young pianists out there who want to follow in your footsteps?
It’s difficult to give advice. But if I had to pick one thing, it would be something I heard many times as a child: Be determined and practice very hard. No matter how often people tell you that you are talented, if you don’t develop it, it doesn’t count. Unfortunately, behind success there’s so much work.
By Yim Seung-hye [email@example.com]