Guitarist plucked from obscurity

Updated: 2012-03-30 11:10

By Chen Jie (China Daily)

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Guitarist plucked from obscurity
When 12-year-old Milos Karadaglic played his guitar to sing the classic Montenegro song Ej Jadan Aj at a children's music festival in 1994, the lyrics happened to describe his life story:

I received a guitar as a gift.

Only if I get the guitar, I wanted nothing else.

Mother says: 'Don't be a fool. Take the bag, and go to school.'

But I don't care about anything else and just want to become a star.

From the moment Milos found a dusty old guitar missing strings in his parents' room, he became obsessed.

The 28-year-old has established himself among the most gifted young classical guitarists.

In 2010, he signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon (DG). He's the only classical guitarist the prestigious label has signed in the last 20 years.

DG loves him so much that they send him all over the world to promote his debut album, Mediterraneo, which was released in China in February. He will stage his China premiere in Hong Kong on May 7.

Montenegro, a small country of 600,000 and once part of Yugoslavia, is exotic to most Chinese and might only remind us of the wars.

"When the war in Yugoslavia happened, it was very hard," Milos tells China Daily in Beijing.

"We did not have shooting on our streets in Montenegro, but we were still affected because it was all around us. I became aware when there was a shortage of goods."

Milos recalls that one evening his mother packed a green bag for his father and he realized it contained a uniform.

He had recently heard his father's good friend was killed in the war.

The boy found happiness in music. He had displayed a natural aptitude for singing before he first wrapped his fingers around his father's old guitar.

He dreamed of being a rock star onstage while other boys ran around the playground.

"I was so rubbish at playing football, so they put me in as the goalkeeper," he says.

"But everybody was angry with me because as soon as the ball was in front of me, I just didn't care. In goal, I was always thinking about playing on different stages and for lots of people."

At age 8, he passed the audition to enroll in a music school. He initially wanted to learn piano, but it was too expensive for the family. The teacher suggested he try violin, but he didn't like it.

Milos then found the dusty guitar. He fell in love with the instrument when his father played him a recording of Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia making magic with Isaac Albreniz's Astruias. Milos plays the song on his debut album.

"The guitar can be so many things," he says.

"It's like you are conductor of your own little orchestra. There's no other instrument in the world that is so accessible. There is almost no household without a guitar, and it speaks to everybody."

Milos' playing was developed at a stunning pace. He learned all his teachers had to impart within six months. Such quick progress prompted the school to put him in a senior class that used Fernando Sor's rigorous method.

He gave his first public performance at age 9. Two years later, he won his first national competition. He also won a singing contest on the same day.

Milos became a star TV and radio performer overnight.

He took guitar master classes in Belgrade.

A documentary entitled A Journey distributed in his debut album features part of his performance of Ej Jadan Aj at the 1994 children's music festival.

Music provided Milos and his family reassurance and escape in the war years.

"I remember there was a power outage, and we were trying to keep warm," he recalls.

"My mom said: 'Why don't you bring your guitar and play something for us?' It was like the music kept us going."

An invitation came from Paris when he was 13.

"That was a big deal," Milos says.

In the early 1990s, the Montenegrins felt isolated from the outside world and weren't able to travel abroad.

"I just played a small concert in Paris. But it was my first chance to get out of my country, and I did not have a suit," Milos recalls.

"My parents put everything together - their whole savings - so I could have a proper suit."

The next year, Milos took a master class taught by the guitarist David Russell who was amazed by his talent and strongly recommended him to London's Royal Academy of Music.

When Milos called the academy, he was told that applications for the following academic year were closing.

So while his parents were at work, he arranged the living room himself and recorded his favorite pieces, one at a time over straight five days and then sent it to the academy.

He was accepted on a scholarship.

The video he recorded to apply is also in A Journey.

Milos learned under the British guitarist Michael Lewin, head of guitar studies of the academy, for four years. He graduated with first class honors in 2004. He went on to complete a master's degree in performance and became the first guitarist the Royal Academy of Music has named a Meaker Junior Fellow.

He devised a theme for his debut album on DG, which reflects his own experiences.

"The guitar was brought to Spain by the Moors and has a huge Arabic influence," he explains.

"My part of the world and the eastern Mediterranean were heavily under the influence of the Ottoman empire for 500 years. So there is a clear connection between the eastern and western Mediterranean. I am exactly in the middle of them, and I want to present that on this recording."