The past year (2014) has been one of incredible growth and success for Montenegro-born, London-trained classical guitar phenomenon Miloš Karadaglić. The 31-year-old globe-trotter released what has become his most popular recording to date, Aranjuez (Deutsche Grammophon/Mercury Classics), which is highlighted by his masterful takes on a pair of Joaquin Rodrigo’s best-known pieces for guitar-and-orchestra: The oft-covered (but always exciting and haunting) “Concierto de Aranjuez,” and “Fantasia para un gentilhombre,” accompanied by the London Philharmonic Orchestra with Yannick Nézet Séguin. Additionally, there are three evocative and splendidly executed solo pieces—two by Manuel de Falla and one by Rodrigo which is an explicit homage to Falla.
For the December 2014 issue Classical Guitar, writer Guy Traviss sat down with Miloš to talk about his life as a world-renowned touring musician and a much-heralded interpreter of key components of the classical guitar canon.
Some publications have described you as an ambassador of the instrument. How do you feel about that particular label?
What I always say is that I do what I do because I love it more than anything I can think of, and when I play guitar I am very happy. I want to play and share that happiness with people all around the world. Reading all of those publications, of course it’s very flattering, sometimes it’s not, but it is very hard not to allow yourself to be affected by them. So what I try to do is just allow myself to be, and protect myself from all the noise. I find that it helps me a lot to just focus on the music; I want to grow every day and I’m still not a finished artist. When I look at the things I did when I just started, between this whole process and now, I sound a world of difference apart. I just want to focus on what is important and for me that focus is always music rather than the noise that surrounds it.
When I originally spoke to you, around six years ago, you said then that it was always your ambition to take the guitar into a new realm and advocate it there. That goal has now been very well achieved. So has the aim changed as a result?
I had very big dreams, but I was very often shocked myself how quickly some of those dreams realized themselves. Have my dreams changed? No, not really. I still want the same thing. Everything I have done in the last three years was really just preparation for me to then do what I wanted to do, and that is to take the repertoire further, take audiences further, then really start to build on that foundation. Because all of this is the foundation: my three recordings have followed standard repertoire, they have all explored different angles, but all of that was with the aim to excite the audience for what we have. And while you and I know so well what Asturias or Seville is, or what Barrios pieces are, what Aranjuez is, etcetera, many people will vaguely know what they are, but most people will not really know them. So it is great to collect those audiences together. It’s great to excite those listeners and take them on board, take them on a ride with you, and then you can take them where you want. So now I want to start going to that other place.
How do you feel when people suggest to you that you fit in this lineage where we have had Segovia, Bream, John Williams and now Miloš Karadaglic?
It’s very flattering, and of course it is a dream come true. But I wouldn’t ever dare think of myself like that because I’m just at the very beginning of my career. Yes, I have done a lot, but I still haven’t done even a little bit of what I ultimately want to do. So it’s inspiring and it’s encouraging and it’s a great thing, it really is. But only time will show.
You’ve already collaborated with some iconic musicians, Andrew Lloyd Webber among others. What has it been like working with these people?
It’s very different working with people who are not in our field, and classical guitar is such a niche thing. It’s very much out of the comfort zone when you say, “Okay I want to collaborate with someone who writes musicals or someone who is a pop singer.” But when you embrace that difference, then you can create something great. Working with Andrew was incredible because he was able to connect with me on a musical level rather than on a guitar level. We created this track together [“Theme from Stephen Ward”], it was great fun to do, so it works. I remember I once collaborated with a well-known pop singer—I won’t give names—but it was hard for that person to understand that I am not a session guitarist. Or when I have recorded soundtracks, it was very hard for me to figure out that I am not supposed to give my own personal stamp to the interpretation of the music because I have to [work to] the click track. With everything that happens and all the things that I do, I always say this is not for everyone, because more often than not it puts you in a position where you have to find a balance and really take it in your stride. But that’s what gives me the energy to go forward.
Your touring schedule is incredibly busy—how does that affect your choices and the time you get to sit down and do the things that you really want to do?
I sometimes feel so jealous of my colleagues, because finding the time to practice is a great challenge, because you travel, you play, you travel, you play. You are constantly jetlagged and you have to use every single hour of the day to focus on what your craft is, because without that craft nothing else exists. It has affected my repertoire choices, of course, because if I was not playing so much, if I had all the time in the world to work on endless repertoire, I might be doing other things. But then, if I weren’t doing what I am doing, there would be no fun for me, because what I am doing is what I always wanted to do. I am saying that it is right for me and not necessarily right for you. When you experience those moments, like today is Chicago, tomorrow is LA, then Tokyo, and you are constantly feeling tired, you know the moment you go on stage—the moment you sense the electricity in the air—is the moment you forget all the difficulty and once again confirm to yourself why you love what you do so much. Adrenalin is the fuel to persist.
You have this very traditional education from the Royal Academy, and you’re used to performing in these classical spaces. All of a sudden there arrives this point where you are playing in the most prestigious concert halls, and then after that playing to the general public somewhere entirely different; a huge variety of places. How does it feel changing so often for so many groups of people?
I love it! With every performance, with every concert hall, with every different audience or situation, you almost become a different player. You see, the most important thing for a soloist is to take each situation to your own advantage, and to forget about that precious understanding that what we do is so difficult. Playing guitar is a difficult thing. So often we want to control how much projection we make, how much sound we make, and then we blame everyone else if it doesn’t work. The trick here is that if you are playing in Carnegie Hall, or Wigmore Hall, the acoustics are perfect so you can showcase your craft on the highest level. But in the life of a traveling musician, it is not always ideal. Sometimes I have to play a solo recital in front of 2,000 people without amplification, so just think that with every note I have to reach the last person in the last balcony, so your projection changes and your whole approach to how you play changes. Or in a night club, where there are trains running over your head and there are a thousand 20-something-year-olds present, it’s a very different energy, so you amp it up, and you just do it. Each time you experience a different thing yourself. It’s like shaping a diamond—you are constantly shaping different sides and facets of it.
You mentioned at the start of this conversation that career-wise it is still the early days for you. So what’s next?
I’ve only had three recordings/concert seasons, and in those three you have to introduce yourself. You have to say, “This is what I do,” and I’m not introducing myself to people who already know about the guitar necessarily. I’m introducing myself to people that we all need [to have as fans], because what I am doing is not for me, it is for everybody out there. I think that young guitarists, and guitarists everywhere, are all seeing a big change in the perception of the instrument. Yes, I might be the focus of the international concert circuit when it comes to the classical guitar, but I cannot play every single concert that the promoter wants, so it works for everyone, and that’s the great thing.
You are very much known for you stage presence when you perform. How important is stage demeanor, and is it something more players should being trying to focus on?
I will tell you something—it’s not something you can force onto people, and it’s not something you can tell people they should do. They need to want to do it. Because you either have it in you, or you don’t. We are all different characters. You need to love who you are, know who you, are, and be who you are. Then you will find your way. But if you are an introverted person who enjoys practicing and enjoys being focused on that music, then find your audience like that. If you are the kind of player who wants to open the guitar case and sit on the street and play for people, then do that. You just have to find your own voice. I was lucky with that, because I always knew what that was. But I don’t think you should risk doing what doesn’t come naturally to you.
The perpetually touring Miloš Karadaglić will be appearing in concert during January and February in Switzerland; France, Luxembourg and Spain, and in March in the southern U.S. states of Florida and Georgia. For more specific info about dates, venues and tickets, click here.
And you can purchase his acclaimed Aranjuez album here.