Q&A: Classical guitarist Miloš Karadagli?

Miloš Karadaglic | Photo: Lars Borges

Miloš Karadaglic | Photo: Lars Borges - Credit: Archant

Katie Jarvis speaks to Miloš Karadagli? about his forthcoming appearance at Bristol Proms

Milo Karadaglic | Photo: Lars Borges

Milo Karadaglic | Photo: Lars Borges - Credit: Archant

Miloš Karadagli?, the award-winning classical guitarist from Montenegro, is better known simply as Miloš. That combination of breath-taking ability, coupled with informality, is the perfect fit for Bristol Proms, which presents world-class artists in the intimacy of the Old Vic theatre.

“I love the idea of Bristol Proms: of trying out something different; of appealing to a wider crowd,” Miloš says. “I also approach music in this way, using the guitar as a vehicle to bridge the gap between what is classical and what is main-stream. Instead of fighting against each other, with this instrument you can unite them.”

Bristol Proms, now in its third year, runs from July 27-August 1.

Q: Miloš, you come from a family of economists, not musicians. In fact, it was almost by accident that you began playing the guitar…

I always say that I didn’t find guitar; guitar found me, in the most unusual circumstances. I grew up in Montenegro, where the traditional of classical guitar is really not that strong, in a family of the most supportive, amazing parents, with whom I am so close - wherever I am in the world, I have to speak to them once a day. But they didn’t particularly enjoy classical music. At the same time, there was an old guitar at home that no one played: it was the guitar of my father’s youth, because everyone likes to play guitar at some point in their lives! I picked it up and I absolutely loved how it made me feel. I started strumming; I wanted to sing songs; and that’s how it all began – completely out of nothing.

Q: So how did the guitar make you feel?

Milo Karadaglic | Photo: Lars Borges

Milo Karadaglic | Photo: Lars Borges - Credit: Archant

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It made me feel complete, in a way. I don’t know… it felt natural in my arms. I will never forget the time when I got it down from the cupboard; when I took it in my hands and I strummed the chords. It just was the coolest thing ever.

Q: You’ve often spoken of your grandmother as being a particular inspiration.

None of my family were musicians but they did have a very strong sense for music: they all have nice voices, which is a sign to me that I was probably the only generation who had a chance to take that further. Particularly my grandmother - maybe in her next life she will be a singer! She was so special and passed on that amazing passion and emotion that you can feel through music and through no other means.

Q: Most youngsters would rather be Jimi Hendrix than John Williams!

I did want to be Jimi Hendrix and not John Williams, until I decided to give up. That’s when my father played me a record of Segovia; that’s when I heard what classical guitar sounds like, and I never ever looked back. I just thought it was magic to do something like that with just six strings and two hands.

Milo Karadaglic | Photo: Lars Borges

Milo Karadaglic | Photo: Lars Borges - Credit: Archant

Q: You came to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music when you were only 17. Wasn’t that scary? Wasn’t it a culture shock?

I was one of the youngest in London - there were ‘wonderkids’ from around the world on other instruments but I was the youngest guitar player. And to come from Montenegro to London at that time was like wanting to jump onto the moon. It was really an impossible task. But here I was, studying in this wonderful place, suddenly surrounded by the experts and the best teachers. It was a huge change; but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Q: It must have been equally hard for your parents to let you – still really a child – study so far from home?

But my parents always treated me like an adult. They always had a huge sense of confidence in me because I was always a mature child. I was always a friend of my parents; they didn’t need to parent me as much as is maybe normal because, very early on, I found a purpose. When I decided that music was, indeed, going to be my life at the age of 14, they were very supportive. But the one thing they said was, “With music, you have to make sure that you are the best you can possibly be because, otherwise, it would not be an easy life.”

Q: You’re making your Bristol Proms debut. And you’re doing it with a programme that combines Bach, with Spanish classics, and even the Beatles. Why that eclecticism?

I love the idea of Bristol Proms: of trying something different; of appealing to a wider crowd of people. That’s a sentence which is so overused and misused these days! But I think that Bristol Proms is on the right track. From the very beginning of my ‘international career’, I approached it in such a way, also – I wanted to use the guitar as a vehicle to bridge the gap between what is classical and what is mainstream. The guitar is right in the middle of those two worlds: instead of fighting against each other, with this instrument you can unite them. And I thought that certain things which happened in my professional life so far - like my big concert at the Albert Hall - would happen at the end of my career, when I’d worked for years and years and years. And when I had collected so much audience behind me to justify something like that. Those things confirmed to me the power of guitar.

Q: You’re not afraid to embrace the popular in terms of looks, image and repertoire. That must be both a positive and a negative for you.

It’s not really a negative. Because, when I come out to play on stage, it doesn’t matter. I play with the best of my ability and without compromise. All those other things are simply part of my life, because I am a young person; I love life; I love the world I live in; and I like to embrace it with everything that I’ve got. I’m very grateful to everything and everyone around me for giving the opportunity to show myself in all of those different sides. I’m so thrilled when people come to me after a concert and say, “We have never been to a classical concert before, but we came to your concert and I think that we will continue to go - not just to your concerts, but to others as well.”

Q: Andrew Lloyd Webber said that you seem to have not two but five hands! You do bring something different to music. Can you define what that is?

You know, if I knew what that something was, I don’t think I would exist any more! It comes out of this obsession with what I do and this love for what I do. But, at the same time, I’m going to take that role as an ambassador for classical guitar very seriously, because we need that. We need it for the sake of all classical guitarists out there, and for the sake of new repertoire and for the development. I play an instrument which doesn’t have the tradition of violin or piano or cello. It’s a very young instrument and we just need to make it as exciting as we possibly can.

Q: How does your nationality affect your playing? The fact that you’re from a small place, surrounded by conflict; that you were unusual in your country for being a classical guitarist.

I always say that, if I hadn’t grow up in Montenegro and if I hadn’t had those experiences so early in my life, I would definitely not be the musician that I am today… I would quite possibly not be a musician at all because: at a time of conflict; at a time of things not being as rosy as they were everywhere else, I discovered music. It made me create a very beautiful bubble around me, with the power to invite as many people as I wanted into that bubble. Subconsciously, I learned the power of music through that. And, if I had grown up in a country where music-education was on a very high level; where it was very competitive from the start; where you became judged and criticised even before you had begun, I think my confidence would simply not be the same. It kills the love for what you do.

Q: As you have said, you’ve fulfilled dreams way before you ever expected to. What’s the next dream?

Well, it’s not really true that I didn’t expect to fulfil my dreams at this age. A lot of things that happen seem to be happening for the second time, not the first time, because I’ve already lived through them in my crazy head. But what is next? I just want to continue to enjoy what I do. I feel as if I am riding another wave in this whole process because, when it all began, I embraced it with all I’ve got; but it was quite difficult to get used to the lifestyle. To travelling and playing 100 concerts every year - and these are not concerts in local churches. They are concerts in the most important concert halls in the world, where there is pressure.

So I’ve now learned to enjoy it more than ever just by doing it all the time; and this is something that is waking up a different quality in my playing, in the music that I make, and in everything that I do. There is a wonderful sense of freedom, and that makes me so, so, so happy. I just want to continue to explore that further, and every day to grow as a person and as a musician. You can never achieve any other perfection than being able to just simply better yourself… And that’s the hardest thing to do.


• Miloš Karadagli? makes his Bristol Proms debut on Friday, July 31 with From Bach To The Beatles, an intimate insight into the world’s most charismatic classical guitarist with a programme including a Bach Chaconne, Spanish classics, cool Latin music and brand new Beatles arrangements.

• For more on Bristol Proms, including tickets from £5, log onto www.bristololdvic.org.uk/proms2015.html or call the box office on 0117 987 7877