Listening to the debut album by guitarist Milos 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 Karadaglic 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 Milos (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 Milos. 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". It all began when Milos 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. Milos doesn't like to dwell on this historical blackspot. "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." Fast forward, then, to 1996, when Milos, 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 Milos that he must study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. After taking masterclasses 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 Milos's playing; he was awarded a scholarship. Subsequently, Milos earned first-class honours 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." Lewin's influence has translated into creative assistance on Milos's album, which includes four pieces by Albeniz and Granados that Lewin transcribed for guitar. Milos 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." Milos'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 Milos 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 Milos, and his 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." -- Adam Sweeting: The Daily Telegraph
Lovers of the classical guitar have a new hero in the young Montenegran Milos Karadaglic, whose artistry is so compelling that it should win many new admirers. Albéniz, Granados and Tárrega form the Spanish heart of his programme, while Theodorakis's Epitáphios and the haunting Koyunbaba by the Italian Carlo Domeniconi also feature. The playing is lithe, subtle of timbre and transcendentally beautiful. -- Geoffrey Norris, Daily Telegraph, 12 May 2011
From the Artist
Milos said of his signing: "Deutsche Grammophon is a home to many of my musical idols. When I was a child, I remember listening to the great guitarist, Andrés Segovia, and dreaming that one day I, too, might have such a career. Now it is becoming a reality and my dreams are being fulfilled more quickly than I could possibly have imagined. I am honoured and excited to begin my collaboration with this fantastic label and hope, through my playing, that I will bring the guitar to a new generation of listeners."
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