To describe the rise of Miloš Karadaglić as the stuff of fairytales would be something of an understatement. Before his chart-topping 2011 debut album The Guitar, the young musician from Montenegro had dreamed about a future in which the classical guitar might be viewed as an equal to other instruments. Just two years later, and with Latino Gold about to hit the shelves worldwide, Miloš is one of the most successful international recording artists of recent years. Named Young Artist of the Year in the UK by the Classic Brits, Classic FM and the prestigious Gramophone magazine, Miloš has single-handedly spearheaded a renaissance for the classical guitar, bringing its sound to a huge worldwide audience and redefining it as a contemporary instrument with a
‘If somebody told me two years ago I would be in this position, I would not believe it,’ the 29-year-old admits modestly during a rare moment back at ‘home’ in London, his adopted city since winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music as a teenager. ‘The transition between the fight for my space under the sun, to suddenly being under the international spotlight was really fast. It doesn’t feel so long ago that I was being constantly reminded that the guitar is not an instrument of equivalent standing to piano and violin so I could never have a top career; that the repertoire is limited; that the instrument is not loud enough.’
Miloš’ rise may appear stratospheric, but in fact his success has been anything but ‘overnight’. Possessing an outstanding natural talent, he is also driven by a formidable work ethic, and in many ways, has been preparing for this moment a long time.
Despite the obstacles facing his tiny country and its warring neighbours, the fourteen- year-old Miloš was nevertheless determined to follow that dream, as he once – fatefully – confessed to guitarist David Russell at a master-class. ‘I told him I wanted to work and work, to grow to become the best guitarist I could possibly be. At that point I was winning competitions but I knew I wasn’t there yet’ he explains.’ Russell suggested that the Royal Academy of Music in London was the place to go. Miloš chuckles now as he recalls that moment. ‘This was Montenegro in the late 1990s. You couldn’t just log onto the internet and find out what this ‘Royal Academy of Music’ was. I went to the British Council, they got me a prospectus. I couldn’t go to London so I decided to record an audition tape and send it in secret. I didn’t tell my parents until afterwards. They were incredibly supportive and proud of me but they thought, quite understandably, that there must be a whole big world out there full of guitarists better than me.’
Some months later, having not heard anything from the Academy, he made an anxious phone call. In another fairytale twist, it transpired that his acceptance letter had got lost in the post: a surprised British voice at the end of the line informed him that he had, in fact, been offered a scholarship to study with Michael Lewin, the professor Miloš still describes as a ‘guide and mentor’ in every way. ‘That was the happiest and the saddest day of my life’ he remembers. ‘I think my parents just could not believe it. They did everything they possibly could so that I can follow my dream and go to London. It was impossibly hard for them to do that and it shows how completely selfless they are. “
REWIND TWENTY years and it was a different brush with fate that put a guitar into Miloš hands at all. A musical child who took after his mother’s more artistic side (his father’s background was in the military), he was often to be found singing and dancing. Aged eight, decided it would be ‘cool’ to go to the state-run music primary school three times a week, where initially he was handed, to his horror, a violin. ‘I knew nothing about ‘classical’ music’ and to me at that point the violin was a squeaky little thing; I’d never ever heard an amazing violinist, I had no idea what it could sound like.’ Instead, Miloš wanted to play the piano – ‘which I did think was cool’ – but his parents could not afford one. But then, quite by chance, he discovered an old, dusty guitar in his parents’ house. ‘It was a sad looking black guitar on the top of the cupboard, some of its strings were missing, but I picked it up and I immediately felt like a rock star,’ he recalls. ‘I thought, now this is what I want to play.’
Not long after, his father played him a 1970s Andrés Segovia LP that would change the course of his life forever. ‘When I heard Segovia play Asturias, that’s when everything fell into place. I was mesmerised and amazed by the sound,’ he explains. ‘I thought: this is one guitar? A piece of wood with six strings? And you can create all this magic with two hands? From then on I sat down, practiced and practiced and practiced and I dreamt of one day being able to play Asturias myself.’
Asturias formed the centerpiece of Miloš’ deeply personal debut album The Guitar, which spent a whopping 22 weeks at the top of the classical charts, touching listeners of all ages all over the globe. His second release, Latino, took things into a new direction. ‘It was a step into a different world,’ Miloš enthuses. ‘The Latin repertoire is so out of the box, so out of the comfort zone, that it makes it very exciting and rewarding. Every piece allows you to have a different character, it’s like a rollercoaster.’
Guitar as an instrument most comfortably sits between the worlds of classical and mainstream. Latin music inspired Milos to explore everything from the most sensational core repertoire to some of the most popular songs ever written. ‘One of my favourite pieces on the album is Milonga by Cardoso,’ he says. ‘It’s such a simple piece, but every note you play hits you right in your stomach. The rawness of the emotion is incredible. Or the Barrios tremolos,’ he adds, his excitement obvious, ‘Un Sueña en la Floresta, for example - these are the pieces where you play with everything you’ve got and that’s an incredible feeling.’
2012 was also a breakthrough year on the concert stage with sold-out debut performances and tours in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the USA, Canada, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. “Part of the reason Karadaglić has such a large following” commented the Western Australian “is his ability to straddle both hardcore classical and pop classical camps.” This was echoed by the London press following his celebrated Royal Albert Hall debut of which The Guardian commented “More extraordinary by far, however, was the way a single guitarist, playing an intimate and understated set, and equipped with a single microphone and some clever lighting, could shrink the Hall's cavernous space into something so close.” The Independent concluded: “Defying its many critics to offer a dramatic and rounded evening of classical music, the guitar itself was the breakout star here – a sleight of hand that makes Karadaglić not only a magician, but a serious and accomplished musician”.
Miloš’ passion for the guitar is matched with an intuitive sense of how to bring the instrument across to his public – whether it be for an audience of 3000 in the Royal Albert Hall or an intimate chamber music performance for 100 people. He enjoys performing in the major concert halls as much as in non traditional venues such as New York’s Le Poisson Rouge, London’s Camden Roundhouse (iTunes Festival) and Deutsche Grammophon’s Yellow Lounge club nights in London, Berlin, Amsterdam and Seoul.
From recital tours of UK, US, Germany and Japan to concerto performances with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Miloš’ schedule remains as challenging and exciting as ever; performances with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, English Chamber Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Bangkok Symphony and NHK Symphony Orchestra (Japan) feature alongside recitals from Boston to Berkeley, Taipei to Turin and other appearances such as at the esteemed Verbier International Music Festival in Switzerland.
“The year of LATINO has been the most exciting year of my life” commented Miloš . I travelled the world and shared my love for this music with people on four continents. And while re-living the music night after night I gained new perspectives. I also realised that I had some more to say.” In 2013 Deutsche Grammophon releases Latino GOLD, a special edition CD and DVD. “Whether it is the four famous Latin songs arranged so masterfully by Sergio Assad, Steve Goss' magical version of the soundtrack from The Motorcycle Diaries, legendary Aria Cantilena and the incomparable voice of Anna Prohaska, or the brand new recording of Libertango with my gorgeous friend Ksenija Sidorova, Latino GOLD aims to add new tone and colour to the repertoire that became such a big part of my musical life.”
So, having already achieved a degree of success with the guitar that once would have seemed like ‘science fiction’, where does he go from here? Miloš laughs. ‘We continue on this journey, my guitar and I. We go step by step, or two steps by two steps. It’s just the beginning, all of this...’
© Clemency Burton-Hill