A la Piano Mode

Israeli music icon Marina Maximilian discovers a newfound calm in her 30s

Marina 'Maximillian' Blumin (photo credit: ELANIT KAHN)
Marina 'Maximillian' Blumin
(photo credit: ELANIT KAHN)
Marina “Maximilian” Blumin, the charismatic performer with a larger-than-life stage presence, has reached a new phase in life.
“I celebrated turning 30 a few months ago and there’s something quite convenient and calming about getting older,” Blumin says, with a carefree tone.
Her current Israel-wide solo show, titled “Piano Mode,” strips the successful singer-songwriter of her usual theatrics, leaving behind nothing but her piano, a few complimentary instruments, and her more serene self.
Finding calm within the ill-tempered storm that is the music industry is quite a feat. 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. Forced to practice formula patterns and arpeggios against her will, she lost interest and, despite natural talent, abandoned music forever.
Blumin’s bildungsroman 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 says with a laugh. “But my want and need to succeed extended far past hers, from a very young age.”
At four, Blumin announced she was going to be a singer. At 12, she solidified her stage name (“Maximilian” was 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 owns 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.”
This same ethos encouraged the jazzy singer-songwriter to “refresh” her repertoire and take a break from the stage shows filled with instruments and embellishments, to make space for a more minimalist approach.
“My previous concerts were very successful and met my high standards,” she says. “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 and Zichron Ya’akov, 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 re-imagine her original arrangements in inventive and unconventional ways.
So what’s the 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. Her more rhythmic approach has already shone through such singles as “My Boy,” in which she takes a sort of reggae approach, 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’s allowed me to maintain an open bond with the crowd because the energy is very concentrated – it’s just mine and theirs.”
Fueled by extrinsic energy, Blumin shows no signs of weakness on stage. Believe it or not, 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 of big crowds in even bigger halls, so the subtleties of the studio are hard,” she admits.
Blumin is currently working on a third album, and has reached out to not one, not two but a handful of big-name Israeli music producers, including Tamir Muskat of APE Records and Yonatan “Johnny” Goldstein.
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. Second, it will include all-new material, separate from Piano Mode. And third, while it will pass through the free-flowing hands of multiple record producers and mix masters, you can feel “Marina” in every song.
“Beyonce and Rihanna use multiple producers and each song sounds a bit different, and that’s OK.”
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 a 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, and my manager and my manager’s office are 99.9% women – amazing, smart, successful, beautiful women with husbands and children. I feel like 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 like being a woman is [like having] a power tool.”
A brief moment of chutzpa 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 person,” Blumin concludes. “The hysteria that comes with it can be exhausting. For now, I’m happier with this new calm.”
Marina Blumin will be performing Piano Mode at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on March 3, Beersheva Performing Arts Center on March 8, Zappa Jerusalem on March 10 and Zappa Haifa on March 14.