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Man With A Mission: Miloš Seeks The Next Great Classical Guitar Showpiece

On his new CD, classical guitarist Miloš Karadaglic plays two works composed especially for him.
Esther Haase
Verve Label Group
On his new CD, classical guitarist Miloš Karadaglic plays two works composed especially for him.

Miloš Karadaglić was eight when he noticed the dusty guitar sitting on a shelf in his house in Montenegro.

"I think my father had this guitar when he was young, and when he tried to seduce my mother — and once he got her, I don't think he played it ever again," Miloš says, laughing. "Typical sort of behavior. I got this guitar and, seriously, the moment I held it in my hands, I felt I found my best friend."

Pretty quickly he discovered he could be a classical guitar player, and that journey took him out of the Balkans to the Royal Academy of Music in London. "My parents, instead of objecting to it, said something to me which remained with me: 'If you choose to be a musician, you have to understand that it's only worth it if you become the best musician you can be.'"

And he did. Before long, Miloš — who just goes by his first name — was signed to a prestigious record label and playing major concerts from the Royal Albert Hall to the Hollywood Bowl. He was typically booked to play the most famous concerto for guitar and orchestra: the Concierto de Aranjuez, by Joaquín Rodrigo, which Miloš recorded in 2014.

The only problem: there are no other famous guitar concertos. It's a relatively young instrument, Miloš explains: "Classical guitar, unfortunately, doesn't have as long of a tradition, in terms of repertoire, as a violin, cello or piano. I would meet with conductors and promoters [and] say, 'Okay, what are we doing next?' And there wouldn't be so many things that they would be excited about."

Miloš, 38, made it his mission to fix that, and he started talking to composers whose mainstream reputation might do the trick. He told Joby Talbot — the British composer for film and TV, as well as operas and the ballet Alice's Adventures in Wonderland — that he wanted something grand.

"I always felt like it's such a disappointment every time you go into a situation to play with an amazing symphony orchestra that when it's your turn to play, half of the orchestra goes away on a coffee break — because a conductor is always concerned that it's going to overpower the guitar," Miloš says. "When I talked to Joby, I told him, 'I want you to write me a piece that is going to make me feel like when Yuja Wang has just finished her Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto."

Talbot responded with Ink Dark Moon, which Miloš premiered in London in 2018.

The other composer Miloš set his sights on was the man who brought Middle Earth to life. He felt composer Howard Shore could bring some of that Lord of the Rings magic into the concert hall. "Please make it signature Howard Shore," the guitarist recalls telling the composer. "Please give me all those wonderful ideas and colors and textures, and please make the imagination of the people that are listening to it go wild."

Shore named his concerto The Forest because he wrote it in a forest near his home in New York. He wrote each of the three movements during a different season, and orchestrated it during the fourth.

The inspiration, Shore says, "was Miloš' virtuosity, the world of classical guitar recordings that I love, and nature. Milos and I talked about his home country as well." The composer even included a brief quote of the famous Rodrigo concerto. "By the time I got to the third movement," he says, "and I'd been working on it for almost about nine months, I realized I wanted to pay a little debt of gratitude to the works that I've heard and that I love."

"It's like his hat off to the great master who gave the greatest guitar concerto of the 20th century," says Miloš, who just released an album — The Moon and the Forest — featuring both of these new works. "But like, now, let's hope that we discover and premiere the Aranjuez for the 21st century. If there is one great wish in my whole career, it will be to do exactly that."

The musician's career was actually in jeopardy while these commissions were going on. Around 2016, when he was playing 120 concerts a year and recording albums in between, he developed a serious hand injury. It was diagnosed as a muscle disorder — although Miloš emerged from his year of canceled concerts, treatment and reflection believing it was simply physical, and psychological, burnout.

"No doctor in this world understands how you make music," he says, "how you make something so godly with your ten fingers, and your six strings, or your piano or your violin. And it's impossible to understand that, and to control that and to miraculously fix that with an injection or with this or with that or the other."

The whole experience gave Miloš a new mission to go along with finding the next great guitar concerto: erasing the taboo of injury for classical musicians.

"Very often there's this blame culture that if you get injured, that maybe are doing something wrong, or that your technique is not right. But actually, no, I wanted to talk about it — because I feel that too many of my colleagues suffered the same thing, and were not able to find the support that they need, and were not able to go on to the right path with treatment and with help."

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