THE moment a classically trained musician adds a thumping beat to his music, it's a clear signal that he's ready for a new audience.
And a brief look at the track lists from the latest albums by Maksim, David Garrett and 2Cellos is all the confirmation you need that it's unabashedly pop fare. The theme from The Godfather movie rubs shoulders with Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal and Coldplay's Viva La Vida.
If only that were the whole story, it would be easy for purists to dismiss them as mere sonic wallpaper.
But Maksim, Garrett and the cello duo are all also accomplished classical musicians. You just don't get to hear that side of them much.
Take Maksim Mrvica, for example. The Croatian pianist, who goes by just his first name, performed at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Monday to promote his first album of soundtrack pieces, The Movies.
And while he did sprinkle some small classical pieces on top of the soundtrack fare, it was only a teaser of what he's capable of when he and his manager decide that a market can stomach proper stuff.
"In Japan, I've played a full Brahms sonata but that's 40 minutes and not everyone is ready for that," said Maksim, 37, in an interview here on Tuesday.
"Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, which is part of my repertoire, is something I might consider playing in Singapore some time in the future but even that's still half an hour long," he adds.
"As an entertainer I can't simply play whatever I want," says Maksim.
So even though Monday was Maksim's third public performance here, Singapore still hasn't properly experienced his truly serious side.
What the audience on Monday got was a dose of The Movies, his first soundtrack album.
And while many of choices, such as the themes from Mission Impossible and The Godfather, might seem predictable, those two examples are actually Maksim's favourite movies and reflect his personal tastes.
JS Bach's Toccata & Fugue as used in Rollerball is cheesy, and Gonna Fly Now from Rocky lacks punch, but the slower pieces are the gems. The themes from Spartacus and Gladiator have romance without too much sentimentality. And Michael Nyman's The Heart Asks Pleasure First, from The Piano, is the best track because of how it showcases Maksim's ability to make the core melodies in any piece pop.
One of Maksim's only regrets is that he didn't have space to include music from The Fifth Element, which he loved so much that he named his seven-year-old daughter, Leeloo, after its heroine.
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German violinist David Garrett, like Maksim, keeps a foot each in the worlds of pop and classical, and his taste in rock-star leather outfits also rivals Maksim's sartorial flash.
Earlier this year, he released a pure classical album that featured his impressive take on Beethoven's violin concerto, along with a liberal dash of Kreisler and a sprinkle of Rachmaninov.
But Music is a bit of a disappointment because Garrett tries to cram too much into one album in an apparent effort to flaunt his versatility. Crossover albums are hodgepodge by nature, but Music exhausts even the amount of latitude granted by this genre.
Justin Timberlake's Cry Me A River jostles for attention with Khachaturian's Saber Dance. And not one, but two movements from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony make for strange bedfellows with Queen's overdone We Will Rock You.
Garrett's liner notes actually demonstrates that he applied a great deal of intelligence to the material. The choice of the Rondo from Muzio Clementi's Sonatina No.5, Op. 36, which was used in the 60s in the pop song A Groovy Kind Of Love, represents the best sort of full-circle classical crossover. And his harmonic marriage between Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love and one of the iconic James Bond themes is an intellectual stroke of genius.
It's a pity that the result of all the deliberation doesn't live up to its promise. It lacks bite.
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Maksim isn't the only Croatian classical crossover talent around although he paved the way. Violins and pianos have typically hogged the crossover limelight, but 2Cellos - Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, who are in their mid 20s - have made the cello sexy and exciting. And they've done it without resorting to techno beats.
They've got a new album, In2ition, due to be released in January but when the duo made its Singapore debut last year, it was touring its eponymous debut release. It features the guys' arrangement of the Michael Jackson song Smooth Criminal, which won the pair YouTube stardom.
What sets 2Cellos apart from crossover crowd is their uncompromising virtuosity and their fiery energy. Classical musicians' usual attitude towards pop songs is to take them as down time, content to play the bare melodies sedately.
But 2Cellos rip into the simplest tune as if it means to turn it inside out. Part of that comes from turning songs originally played by full bands into two-cello arrangements, and the approach works.
It so happens that there's a four-song overlap between the 2Cellos debut and David Garrett's newer Music album: Welcome To The Jungle, Human Nature, Miserlou and Viva La Vida, but 2Cellos pull them off more convincingly.