Milos Karadaglic, known to fans simply as Milos, sat alone on the bare stage at Joe’s Pub, a concert venue in Manhattan, last week, just himself and his guitar. Playing from his newest album, ‘Pasión,' he took command, not by demanding attention, but by drawing the audience in, sensuously, hauntingly, and with a clarity of purpose and technique. At moments it seemed impossible that this was just one man with one guitar (though he was joined in his final set by a string quartet), given the multitude of sounds and textured chords that he called forth.
The 29 year old from Montenegro has found international acclaim, yet is still relatively new to the American classical music scene. For Karadaglic, Andrés Segovia, who transformed classical guitar into a serious musical form in the early 20th century remains a deep influence and inspiration, along with the generation of guitarists who followed -- Christopher Parkening, Julian Bream, John Williams and Oscar Ghiglia.
He's also the one expected to spark a rebirth of the genre popularized by these men. When Deutsche Gramophone signed Karadaglic last year, reporters were quick to note his status as the first classical guitarist added onto the label in years, a sign of the instrument's waning popularity (Karadaglic blamed pop music for the trend). His first album Mediterráneo garnered glowing reviews, affirming Deutsche's press release promise that Karaedaglic might "re-establish the classical guitar in the world of music."
When I met Karadaglic for lunch a few days after his concert to talk about his music, he was no different than he was onstage -- poised and articulate. Of course he didn’t play (nor bring) his guitar, but the same commanding stage presence was there. The long manicured nails of his right hand offered a visual reminder of the demands of his craft: "fingerstyle guitar," the classical method of playing, involves plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or picks attached to the fingers. Karadaglic told me even the shape of an individual nail influences the sound of a chord in a meaningful way.
The guitar has been Karadaglic’s focus since he was an eight year old growing up in the country of Montenegro, a small piece of the former Yugoslavia that sits astride the Adriatic Sea. As a child he attended music school. Despite pressure to play the violin, Karadaglic found an old guitar in his childhood home and began to study the instrument.
“I almost gave up and did not want to continue because I was very bored the first couple of months. It was because I wanted to strum chords--I didn’t want to do the proper training,” he said. That all changed after his father first played him the world famous Segovia. “I was so impressed, from then on I never questioned the fact. I saw why it is essential to train, because when I first heard Segovia I felt like there were 5 people playing at the same time.”
A precocious child, his talents with the guitar carried him through a childhood where reverberations of the Balkan Wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia were an ongoing presence. “In Montenegro we were lucky because the war wasn’t in our country. But we were in the war. We were surrounded by war, we were isolated from the rest of the world. This whole world of music was something which embraced me in the nicest possible way. I learned that if I go play my guitar for people who are going through horrible things, that you actually make them forget for that one hour.” At 17, he left to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music where he found recognition and support from his professors. His debut album Mediteraneo, which he recorded ten years later, took inspiration from his Montenegran identity of Eastern and Western influences, in terms of his musical choices. Pasión is more geographically focused. “After 'Mediterráneo' it was very natural to get into the music of Latin America because that’s where for classical music, some of the most spectacular 20th century writing comes. I just kind of allowed my internal compass to direct me around the areas of the repertoire and pieces that I was excited about and liked.”
'Pasión' has a delicious depth to it. Opening the album is the chilling ‘Libertango,’ by Argentine tango composer Piazzolla. The piece is accompanied by a string quartet and is a nice change to the primarily solo-driven pieces featured in the album.
Piazzolla's 'Libertango,' from Milos' second album 'Pasión'
He also plays the sensual, 'Danza Brasilera,' by Argentine classical guitarist and composer Jorge Morel, as well as two gorgeous pieces composed by Heitor Villa-Lobos, the Brazilian composer considered one of the most significant musicians of 20th century Brazil. Our lunch fell on the last day of Karadaglic’s United States tour. That night he was returning to London before heading to Greece and Montenegro for a much-needed holiday, after recording two albums back-to-back and heading out on his second world tour. As far as lifestyle changes go, this is an upheaval for someone who was signed to a label only a year ago. But, he told me, he is doing exactly what he wants to do. Check out a Milos Spotify playlist below and go here to listen to Karadaglic's newest album, 'Pasión.'