'New Hero' Of Classical Guitar Shares His Passion Milos Karadaglich grew up during wartime, but no conflict on the Balkans could stop him from playing the guitar. He earned a coveted spot at London's Royal Academy of Music, and his debut album made a splash on the U.K. charts. Host Michel Martin speaks with the Eastern European artist about his life, music and goals.
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'New Hero' Of Classical Guitar Shares His Passion

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'New Hero' Of Classical Guitar Shares His Passion

'New Hero' Of Classical Guitar Shares His Passion

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

In the era of overproduction, Auto-Tune and overdub, in an era when electric guitar has ruled popular music, one young artist wants to remind us of the power of classical guitar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ASTURIAS")

MARTIN: That is Milos Karadaglic, known simply as Milos from his debut album�"Mediterraneo." Milos started playing guitar when he was eight years old. He grew up in Montenegro, which was then part of what was Yugoslavia, which he says often meant sacrifice and learning to do more with less. His talent, though, landed him a spot at London's Royal Academy of Music where Milos learned from some of the most influential guitarists in classical music.

Fast forward to today and a debut album, which has already topped the classical album charts in England. He's here with us in our performance studio, 4A, the man some are calling the new hero of classical guitar. I see the big S on your chest. Milos, thank you so much for joining us.

MILOS KARADAGLIC: It's a great pleasure. Thank you so much for the wonderful introduction.

MARTIN: Well, thank you. Now, of course, the joke is Guitar Hero, which is this popular video game. Do you know about this - Guitar Hero?

KARADAGLIC: Yes, of course.

MARTIN: Does it make you crazy?

KARADAGLIC: To be honest, I have not tried doing it myself.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KARADAGLIC: But I have seen a lot of young kids in England who are crazy about it.

MARTIN: But the idea that people think that that's playing guitar, does that just make you just nuts?

KARADAGLIC: I think one has to embrace it all. And just deal with it, I think.

MARTIN: How did you fall in love with the guitar?

KARADAGLIC: It was an accident. When I was very young I was very musical and I loved to sing around the house, loved to sing for the guests, loved to perform. And when I was about eight years old, it was about time for me to go to the primary music school. And I said to my father, please take me to the music school. And this was very unusual in Montenegro.

And I went there. I had very good hearing so they suggested I play the violin or the piano. Now, piano is too expensive, violin was hard for my parents to listen to. Because, you know, when a child is learning violin, it's quite painful on the ears, isn't it?

So - and they are not musical. They have no musical background at all. So they were thinking, my god, what do we do? I then I remembered that in the bedroom of my parents, on the top of the cupboard, there was this old guitar. And it was really, really neglected, dusty. It was colored in black lacquer, it even had steel strings, two of which - or three - were missing. It was just really in a horrific state.

But to me that was good enough. And I asked my father, I said, could I have a look at the guitar? Can you please bring it down for me? And as soon as I held it, to me, it was beautiful and I felt that, yes, this is what I want to play. This is cool. I want to be a rock star. I want to have lots of girlfriends. I want to have fun, you know. It's what a little boy thinks of the guitar.

But my world changed very quickly because I was introduced to the magic of Segovia, also by the accident, because my father played me an old LP. And it was "Asturias," which we just heard. And

MARTIN: Which is lovely. You know, I'm fascinated, though, you say neither of your parents is musical.

KARADAGLIC: No.

MARTIN: So your gift is a gift, truly. You were born with it.

KARADAGLIC: Well...

MARTIN: I mean, you honed it, but...

KARADAGLIC: Absolutely. I think I'm the first generation of children from Montenegro, I think, that could really have the opportunity to express through music, because they probably couldn't. So maybe if they had the opportunity, maybe there would have been some musicians in my family. I don't know.

MARTIN: Do you still sing?

KARADAGLIC: Oh, yes.

MARTIN: Really?

KARADAGLIC: Yeah. I sing when I...

MARTIN: Can I put you on the spot?

KARADAGLIC: No, you can't.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KARADAGLIC: I sing in the shower.

MARTIN: Well, we're certainly not going to do that.

KARADAGLIC: No.

MARTIN: But...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Just a little bit? Come on.

KARADAGLIC: Better not. Better stick with the guitar.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Now, shall we play - will you play a little bit something for us?

KARADAGLIC: Yes.

MARTIN: Were you going to play something? How about "Lagrima?"

KARADAGLIC: I will play this wonderful little piece...

MARTIN: Okay.

KARADAGLIC: ...called "Lagrima." Lagrima means teardrop.

MARTIN: Teardrop. Yeah.

KARADAGLIC: And it was written by Francisco Tarrega when he visited London and he was very homesick.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAGRIMA")

MARTIN: Thank you. That was just lovely. If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with classical guitarist Milos Karadaglic. We're talking about his new album "Mediterraneo," and whatever else is on his mind. That was just exquisite.

KARADAGLIC: Thank you.

MARTIN: And it's so different from what we think of a, you know, guitar. When people think guitar these days it's a very loud...

KARADAGLIC: Yes.

MARTIN: ...intense, masculine, overbearing. I don't mean that in a mean way, but just overpowering sound. And I was wondering when you were starting on your journey, this career, did you worry that there would not be an opening for you, that people wouldn't want to sit still and listen?

KARADAGLIC: I just loved guitar so much that I just wanted to always share the passion that I felt for this instrument with people. And if I worried about whether people will want to listen to it, probably not, because I believed in it so much. I believed that it is the most beautiful thing in the world and I believe that everyone else will feel the same.

So later in my journey, after I came to London and so on, when I wanted to become a professional classical guitarist and I wanted to be a guitarist in the general music world, that was quite hard.

MARTIN: When you say it was quite hard what do you mean?

KARADAGLIC: The classical music industry feels sometimes that classical guitar is a different kind of thing, that it is not really an equal part of the whole world of classical music that is guitar. And I really never wanted to listen to that. I always tried more and more and more and I had to try very hard to break that barrier and now I have kind of broken it.

MARTIN: On the other side of the coin, of course, the pop music side...

KARADAGLIC: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: ...the guitar is very prominent but...

KARADAGLIC: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...it's a different guitar. So you don't ever feel like you want to smash it like the rock stars do?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KARADAGLIC: No, no. absolutely not. It would be such a shame of a beautiful instrument.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, I think it's a shame in general. But that just seems to be like the thing, you know. When you look at that do you think, what are you doing?

KARADAGLIC: Yes. I always freak out when I see that. But I just think at one point classical guitar went out of fashion because people wanted louder and bigger and more exciting and to fill up stadiums and be rock stars, and I think that's fantastic. But I also believe that there is space for the intimate and delicate instrument that is classical guitar because there is a lot of retro movement, in the furniture, in the architecture, and in a lot of different areas of art in the music, in pop music also.

MARTIN: Will you play something else?

KARADAGLIC: Yes.

MARTIN: What do you want to play now?

KARADAGLIC: I will play you a piece by Enrique Granados, "Danza No. 5 Andaluza."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANZA NO. 5 ANDALUZA'")

MARTIN: Thank you. That was just exquisite. Thank you so much.

KARADAGLIC: Thank you.

MARTIN: You were born in Montenegro. And many people will remember this but many people won't. It was being part of the former Yugoslavia, as we said before, Montenegro became autonomous in 2006. You were a teenager during the wars in the Balkans in Bosnia and Kosovo. And I'm wondering how you think that might have affected your art - or you.

KARADAGLIC: Well, I think life experiences make us who we are. And when you are born in Montenegro and Montenegro really is, it's not because it's my country, but it's really one of the most beautiful countries in the world. And all the troubles that were happening around the time when I was living there were a part of that environment and I didn't know for anything else. I didn't know for better so I kind of just had to go with it.

And my parents were the kind of parents that just always made sure that my brother and I are safe and that we are not missing anything. And I can only imagine now from this perspective how hard it must have been for them. But their support and love is something which kept us going and they believed that we can one day become adults and we can become great people and they did everything in their power to make sure that happened.

I think the experience of the unsettled environment that I grew up in made me stronger, made me very determined, made me single-minded, made me believe in what I want to do and made me believe that nothing is impossible, and to not accept problems but to see them as challenges. And this is something which accompanies me in my life, in my everyday life but it's also something which accompanies me in the way I perform.

MARTIN: How are your parents now? Are they still...

KARADAGLIC: They are in Montenegro.

MARTIN: They are in Montenegro?

KARADAGLIC: Montenegro is now a very different place. It's a...

MARTIN: Yes. But I'm just wondering what do they think of your success.

KARADAGLIC: Oh, they are so...

MARTIN: Do they know? Do they even know that you're a big star now?

KARADAGLIC: Of course they do. They know everything that is happening and they are so proud. But they always have asked me are you happy? And I think that is such an important question.

MARTIN: Are you?

KARADAGLIC: Yes I am. I absolutely am. But I'm so glad that I have somebody who is going to keep asking that question as this goes on.

MARTIN: That's true. You're very fortunate. That's wonderful. So what is next?

KARADAGLIC: So many things. Going to so many different countries. Playing for people all around the globe and that excites me so much. It's something that I dreamed about since I was a little kid, and to have the opportunity to do that I feel so blessed, as you Americans often say.

And I'm thrilled to be able to play for people, to play them pieces on the classical guitar, to bring the classical guitar to the audience that maybe wouldn't come to the Carnegie Hall. So if it means that I will go to perform in an unusual club or in an unusual space and bring the music to them, I'm so excited about the possibilities that this can bring to the world of classical guitar. So from here we can go to so many different places and I'm so excited.

MARTIN: Well, we're very excited that you came to see us.

KARADAGLIC: Oh, it's a great pleasure, and any time.

MARTIN: Milos Karadaglic, his new album is called "Mediterraneo." And he was kind enough to join us for a special performance and conversation in our studios in Washington. Milos, thank you so much for joining us.

KARADAGLIC: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: You can watch Milos play a Tiny Desk Concert right here in our offices. Just go to our website npr.music.org.

I just have one more really silly question. I notice you keep your nails along on your right hand.

KARADAGLIC: Yes. That's right.

MARTIN: So do you freak out when you break a nail?

KARADAGLIC: I never break a nail, thank you very much.

MARTIN: You never break a nail?

KARADAGLIC: No. If I broke a nail...

MARTIN: That's because you never take the garbage out, right? Mm-hmm.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KARADAGLIC: Well, sometimes garbage needs to be taken out.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KARADAGLIC: But I'm careful. And for a guitarist, if you break a nail it's a disaster. It's like if a violinist would break a bow. That's how it feels because you can't play if you don't have, if you don't have all your nails on your hands so you have to be careful.

MARTIN: Okay. I'll be careful.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So what are we going to hear? "Granada?"

KARADAGLIC: "Granada."

MARTIN: "Granada."

KARADAGLIC: By Albeniz.

MARTIN: Thank you so much.

KARADAGLIC: Thank you once again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRANADA")

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. A special thanks once again to Tony Cox for sitting in this week. And remember, to tell us more, you can always go to npr.org and find us under the Programs tab. You can also friend me on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Just look for TELL ME MORE/NPR. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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