december 2011

Miloš Karadaglic: ‘The guitar needs a renaissance’

Classical Perspectives

‘The Guitar Needs a Renaissance’

Miloš Karadaglic Wants To Reach A New Generation Of Listeners

Listening to Mediterraneo, the debut album by guitarist Miloš Karadaglic, you find yourself wondering where on earth the classical guitar has been lately. As he moves from haunting compositions by Tarrega, Albeniz and Granados to the more abstract shapes of Carlo Domeniconi's Koyunbaba suite, it's as if Karadagli? is shining a brilliant light on the entire heritage of his instrument.

"The Seventies was the golden time of the guitar, but the situation was different because there was so much support from the media, the BBC and everybody," says Miloš (he's known by just his first name). "Because of Julian Bream and John Williams, the classical guitar really was a household name, but then the world changed, and the kind of music people wanted to listen to changed. I want to wake the guitar up from this hibernation, and show what I can do and what my instrument can do."

"Can do" are two words that sit comfortably with Miloš. Born 28 years ago in the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro, he felt driven from an early age to be an artist and performer. Since Montenegro has a population of only 600,000 and no discernable classical guitar tradition, making a career on the instrument was what might be called "a big ask.”

‘Because of Julian Bream and John Williams, the classical guitar really was a household name, but then the world changed, and the kind of music people wanted to listen to changed. I want to wake the guitar up from this hibernation…’

It all began when Miloš discovered an ancient and dusty guitar with broken strings on top of a cupboard in his parents' bedroom. Inexplicably, this sorry wreck of an instrument convinced him that he must become a guitarist. Since, as he puts it, "it was still kind of communist then" and there were no private music teachers, he enrolled in the state music school. His progress was blindingly swift. By the age of nine, he was giving public performances, and at 11 he won his first national competition. He was also a talented singer, and his astounding precocity made him a star of Montenegrin TV and radio. It provided a welcome distraction from the chaos tearing the former Yugoslavia apart. Montenegro was never engulfed by the horrors that overtook Bosnia or Croatia, but the population suffered food shortages and travel restrictions, while being in the awkward position of sharing borders with all the combatants.

Miloš doesn't like to dwell on this historical black spot. "I don't want to sound as though I experienced the war myself, because I didn't. I didn't have bombs falling on my head, and I didn't lose anybody like other people did. It would be disrespectful of me to talk about it."

Miloš, ‘Asturias’ (Albeniz)

Fast forward, then, to 1996, when Miloš, barely into his teens, had his first opportunity to travel outside Montenegro to play a concert. It was in Paris, and he was dazzled by its western European prosperity and air of pre-Christmas gaiety. While there, he bought his first proper guitar, a José Ramirez model paid for from his parents' savings. A subsequent meeting with Glasgow-born classical guitarist David Russell convinced Miloš that he must study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. After taking master classes in Belgrade and slaving hard to improve his technique, he took the plunge and sent a homemade tape of his performances to the Royal Academy, where Prof Michael Lewin perceived something special in Miloš's playing; he was awarded a scholarship. Subsequently, Miloš earned first-class honors and a master's degree, as well as being made a junior fellow of the college. Lewin became his mentor.

"I came to the academy as a naïve child, and I had these ideas about music and how I wanted to sound, but I needed somebody to steer it. Michael was incredible because he never stopped me from expressing myself the way I wanted to, but he always helped me express myself better."

Miloš discusses the backstory of Mediterraneo

Lewin's influence has translated into creative assistance on Miloš's album, which includes four pieces by Albeniz and Granados that Lewin transcribed for guitar. Miloš is especially smitten with Lewin's treatment of Granados's piece, Oriental. "Sometimes, guitar arrangements of piano pieces make too many compromises," he says, "but Michael found a way to keep the artistic quality, but adjusted for the guitar so it always lies naturally under the hand. Oriental is the most exposed piece I have ever played, and you have to really dig inside yourself to express it. I listened to my recording again last night, after not hearing it for a while, and it's really magical."

Miloš's thematic idea for the album was that it should comprise music from the Mediterranean region. "I was inspired by wonderful records of Segovia playing Granados, Albeniz and Tarrega. There's a huge Arabic influence there because the guitar was brought to Spain by the Moors. Then from the eastern Mediterreanean we have two pieces from Epitaphios, by [Greek composer] Mikis Theodorakis." At the core of the disc is the four-part Koyunbaba suite by the contemporary Italian composer Domeniconi, which Miloš holds in almost mystical regard. "I first heard it when I arrived in London 11 years ago. It gripped my imagination because it took me back to my childhood and places in Montenegro where I would go and sit for hours, thinking about the future. It uses very difficult techniques that make the instrument almost not sound like a guitar any more. When I performed it for the first time, people in the audience were crying. I always feel like I'm in a trance when I play it."

This is just the beginning for Miloš, whose horizons seem limitless. He has been mulling over a variety of plans for broadening the guitar's reach and repertoire. "Julian Bream and John Williams worked with contemporary composers and raised the level of the guitar to establish it as an equal instrument on the concert platform," he says. "I'd love to work with film composers, because film is such an influential medium. To do a soundtrack or a new solo piece would be wonderful.

"The guitar needs a renaissance. There isn't a more accessible or beautiful instrument, and I want to bring it to a new generation of listeners."

--by Adam Sweeting, The Telegraph


Review: ‘Solo Pieces With a Mediterranean Influence’

There was a time when names like Andrés Segovia, Julian Bream, Paco Peña and the Romero brothers were never far from a television screen. The Australian John Williams outshone the lot by appearing on film soundtracks, arranging Beatles songs, and playing electric guitar in a classical-rock fusion band. Classical guitar set the tone for movies like The Deer Hunter and A Fish Called Wanda. It was cool to strum classical. And then, this subtle musical voice grew quieter and quieter.

Williams turned 70 in April, with no heir in sight. Enter Miloš Karadaglic. A 28-year-old guitarist from Montenegro, he speaks not a word of Spanish yet is the first classical guitarist signed to Deutsche Grammophon in many years. Mediterraneo, his collection of solo pieces with a Mediterranean influence, is his debut album.


We first came to know the music of Miloš, when he was a guest on our Café Concert series in March. He described an upbringing in the war-torn Balkans in which he found escape through music, learning on a beat-up old guitar he found tucked away in his parents’ bedroom. After giving his first public concert at age nine and appearing on state radio and television as a teenager, he won a scholarship at 17 to London’s Royal Academy of Music, where he studied with professor Michael Lewin.

Lewin helped select and arrange some of the pieces for Mediterraneo. It opens with a crisp, vivid account of Albeniz's popular Asturias before proceeding with unhurried takes on numbers like Tarrega’s Adelita, Albeniz's Granada and Granados’s Andaluza. At the center of the album is the Koyunbaba suite by the contemporary Italian composer Domeniconi, which draws liberally on unorthodox modal scales as well as traditional techniques like rapid arpeggiation. But the most spine-tingling moments come in quiet selections like Francisco Tarrega’s Lagrima, seen below.

Cafe Concert: Miloš Karadagli? Plays Francisco Tarrega: Lagrima


Miloš’s Mediterraneo is available at

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