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WQXR Features

Café Concert: Miloš

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Video: Miloš Karadaglić performs live in the WQXR Café

Plenty of fine guitarists have made their mark on classical music but, let's face it, a younger generation has been slower to embrace the instrument. Miloš Karadaglić, a classical guitarist recently signed to the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label, is determined to change that.

“The Seventies was the golden time of the guitar but the world has changed,” said Karadaglić, who is known in his marketing materials simply by his first name. "Classical guitar, because of its repertoire and difference from the violin or piano, started to evolve in its own little world. It became this very specialized, very niche thing. Throughout my life and throughout my studies I always believed guitar should be equal to any other instrument and get out of its niche and speak to everybody.”

Karadaglić is 28 years old and spent the first 17 of those years in the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro. While he felt an urge to be a musician, he came from a nation of 670,000 with no discernible classical guitar tradition. Primary school teachers encouraged him to choose the violin instead.

One day Karadaglić happened to notice a beat up old guitar sitting in his parents’ bedroom, which he describes as “very dusty, with missing strings." Despite its sorry condition, he picked it up and immediately decided that he must become a guitarist.

The state music school in which he was enrolled was "still very organized in a socialist way" and despite no private guitar teachers, he got a formal academic music education. He practiced intensely and played his first public concert at age nine, won his first national competition at eleven, and soon began appearing on Montenegrin television and radio as well as in Belgrade and Serbia.

“I had the most fantastic time, and my talent was taken care of by everyone around me,” he said. “But very quickly I realized that it is a very small place.” Karadaglić’s swift ascent also came as the Balkan wars were knocking on Montenegro's door, meaning closed borders and limited opportunities. Miloš took an opportunity to give a recital in Paris, however, which opened up his horizons. “This is where I wanted to make music,” he said.

An encounter with the Scottish guitarist David Russell convinced Miloš to audition for London’s Royal Academy of Music. After secretly filming an audition tape when his parents were out, the then-17-year-old was accepted to study with professor Michael Lewin and was awarded a scholarship.

Lewin became a mentor to Karadaglić and his influence translated into creative input on “Mediterraneo,” Karadaglić's debut album, which is due out in June and includes pieces by Albeniz and Granados that Lewin transcribed for guitar.

Karadaglić also counts the guitarist John Williams as among his idols, along with past greats like Julian Bream and Andres Segovia. "If you look at what they did, they worked with composers and they brought up guitar to concert level,” he said. “We have to do that today, but do it in a 21st century way. Commissioning new works from classical composers, from film composers, from all kinds of composers is the key and the future of this instrument. It’s an instrument with wide appeal and one has to be as creative as possible.”

Text: Brian Wise; Interview: Jeff Spurgeon; Video: Amy Pearl; Sound: Edward Haber