A la piano mode

Israeli singer Marina Maximilian discovers a newfound calm.

Marina Maximilian (photo credit: ILANIT COHEN)
Marina Maximilian
(photo credit: ILANIT COHEN)
Marina “Maximilian” Blumin, the charismatic performer with a larger-than-life stage presence to match, has reached a new phase in her adult life, one of inner peace.
“I celebrated turning 30 a few months ago, and there’s something quite convenient and calming about getting older,” Blumin says in a carefree tone.
Her current Israel-wide solo show, titled “Piano Mode,” strips the successful singer-songwriter of her usual theatrics, leaving nothing but her piano, a few complementary instruments and her more serene self.
Finding calm within the illtempered storm that is the music industry is quite a mature feat to accomplish. Luckily, Blumin was born an old soul.
The common lore might go as follows: Once upon a time, a young girl grew up with a strict Eastern European piano teacher for a mother. Having to practice formula patterns and arpeggios, she loses interest and, despite natural talent, abandons music.
Blumin’s bildungsroman (a novel concerned with the education, development and maturing of a young protagonist) goes against the grain. While her mother was indeed a piano teacher at the conservatory in Tel Aviv, and practicing diligently instead of playing outside in Bnei Brak with the other girls proved challenging at times, the budding musician never felt direct pressure to practice.
“My mother never forced me. Somehow she knew how to say things in such a way that would convince me it was all worth it,” she laughs. “But my desire and need to succeed extended far beyond hers from a very young age.”
At four, Blumin announced that she was going to be a singer. At 12, she solidified her stage name Maximilian (inspired by Russell Crowe’s role as Maximus in the film Gladiator), and at 14 she had already made her bold transition from classical to jazz, falling head over heels for “its philosophy: of improvising, teamwork, listening, reacting.”
In temporarily setting aside the classical genre, Blumin felt that she had betrayed the classical world; but biting into the strange fruit of jazz unlocked a new world of possibility, one that allowed her to develop the multi-layered sound she possesses today.
The monumental style-hop was about more than the music itself. Blumin fell in love with the process.
“I was constantly dreaming. The minute one dream came true, I immediately moved on to something newer, something different,” she says.
That same ethos encouraged the jazzy singer-songwriter to refresh her repertoire and take a break from the stage shows filled with instruments and embellishments in order to make space for a more minimalist approach.
“My previous concerts were very successful and met my high standards,” she beams with pride. “They had fulfilled themselves, so it was time to make something new.”
Tired of working with music producers, though grateful for the opportunity to gain new insight into her compositions, Blumin returned to the studio, only this time alone. After a few solo shows, an old flame was rekindled, and suddenly a neglected format felt relevant again.
Two albums deep, with a third on the way, Blumin has returned to tickling the ivories, but this time with a twist. In her traveling solo show – which has already made it to Herzliya, Givatayim, Zichron Ya’acov and will continue on to the intimate Tel Aviv Museum of Art concert hall on March 3 before finishing off with a Zappa double bill in Jerusalem and Haifa – Blumin has created a beautiful blend of classical and contemporary sounds that reimagine her original arrangements in inventive and unconventional ways.
So what is the Israeli vocal powerhouse’s overall goal?
To defy intuition.
Blumin explains that in her new show, a past song about breakup, which was once very romantic, might be given a more digital feel with the use of an SPD or looper. Her more rhythmic approach has already shone through such singles as “My Boy,” in which she takes a sort of reggae approach to her lyricism, hitting the downbeats in direct contrast to the syncopated rhythms of her jazz comfort zone.
The arrangements might be new, the vibes more futuristic, but one consistency Blumin craves is a strong relationship with her audience.
“The Piano Mode setting is very intimate. It has allowed me to maintain an open bond with the crowd because the energy is very concentrated – it’s just mine and theirs,” she says.
Fueled by extrinsic energy, Blumin shows no signs of weakness on stage. Her struggles present themselves when the audience is not present, when she enters the deep, dark depths of the recording studio.
“It’s just not natural for me. I feed off big crowds in even bigger halls, so the subtleties of the studio are hard,” she admits.
Blumin may have two decades on her 10-year-old self, but she’s still the same determined little girl who tackles difficult tasks head-on. She is currently working on a third album and has reached out to a handful of big name Israeli music producers, such as Tamir Muskat of APE Records and Yonatan “Johnny” Goldstein, to complete the deed.
The album’s release date is yet to be determined as is its name, but we do know a few things about Blumin’s newest collection. First of all, it will be in English. Secondly, it will include all new material, separate from Piano Mode. And thirdly, while it will pass through the free-flowing hands of multiple record producers and mixmasters, you can feel Marina in every song.
“Beyonce and Rihanna use multiple producers, and each song sounds a bit different, and that’s okay,” she says.
Rather than bothering with narrative, Blumin has chosen to focus on the “zoom-in moments” of relationships and day-to-day life to tie her fragmented album together into one cohesive package.
She looks up to these international female performers rocking it in the global sphere, but what about local songstresses? Many Israeli female musicians reiterate time and again how difficult it is to be a woman in this industry.
“Perhaps these are women performing mostly abroad,” Blumin says. “Here, I don’t feel that for a minute. I have the privilege to be the boss in my life. I choose the people in my band, I choose the people to work with. My manager and my manager’s office are 99.9% women – amazing, smart, successful, beautiful women with husbands and children. I feel that as a woman, I have extra power over men; I have that ability to be charming and sweet when necessary but also feminine and strong. In my environment, I feel that being a woman is a power tool.”
A brief moment of chutzpah from the Marina Maximilian we know so well, the Marina Maximilian who got heated in a Haaretz article over an IDF Personnel Directorate’s refusal to perform in a memorial ceremony if she sang due to supposed “draft evasion.”
“I am a very easily thrilled persona,” Blumin concludes. “The hysteria that comes with it can be exhausting. For now, I’m happier with this new calm.”
Marina Maximilian will perform Piano Mode on March 3 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art; March 8 at the Beersheba Performing Arts Center; March 10 at Zappa Jerusalem; and March 14 at Zappa Haifa.