WHEN CROATIAN pianist Maksim Mrvica watches Roman Polanski's Oscar-winning film The Pianist, memories of his childhood come flooding back. Some scenes in the movie, which is about Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman's life during World War II, are similar to scenes from his hometown when it was under siege during the Croatian war. Maksim, 28, who spent his teenage years in war-torn Croatia during the late 1980s and early 90s, recently finished his first Asia tour. When talking about his experience of war, he says: 'It's so horrible, like the scenes in the movie.' There were bombings almost every day, houses were destroyed, schools were suspended and people had to hide in basements, Maksim recalls. 'It was a long war which lasted for five years. At one point, we didn't have a music school and normal school for two years. 'During the first bombings, we just hid in the basement and we didn't see any sunshine for eight days. But after a while, we got used to it.' Born in Sibenik, a town on the Adriatic coast, the winner of the Nicolai Rubinstein International Competition of Pianists in Paris in 1999 and the International Pianist Competition Pontoise in Paris in 2001 had his first piano lesson at age nine. He gave his debut public performance the same year. During the war, despite the closing of schools and peoples' fear, Maksim and his music professor, Marija Sekso, were determined to continue his musical education. 'You can't stop living, you must go on. You can't just hide in the basement for two years,' he says, adding he practised seven hours a day during that time which was a good preparation for winning his first major competition in Zagreb in 1993. 'I was really focused and it helped me not to think about life and what was happening around me,' Maksim says. Dressed in a funky black outfit and wearing a mass of leather and metal bracelets on his wrists, the classical pianist looks more like a rock star. 'I always try to find a different approach to present classical music - to put on laser shows and video walls that are unlike classical concerts. As a result, 70 per cent of the people who come to my concerts are really young and many of them have never been to a classical concert before. That's a fantastic feeling,' he says. His debut album, Gestures, released in 2001, was named the Best Classical Album at the Porin Music Award. Then he was spotted by musician and author Tonci Huljic - who composed several tracks for string quartet Bond - and was invited to record The Piano Player which he regards as a crossover project. 'The track, The Flight Of The Bumble-Bee, is not pure techno, it's close to techno. Techno music is sometimes too fast. We try to combine this element with classical music but for some pieces you can't. This is probably the fastest we could do,' he says. For his next recording, he would like to experience a variety of styles. 'I like to explore different types of music, such as Mongolian folk music. Maybe next will be Chinese. It will be more edgy and some arrangements would be even faster,' he says. 'There are lots of classical pieces that I would like to play, and I just can't wait to start making another album.'