Guitar hero raises tempo
Milos Karadaglic. Picture: Olaf Heine/Deutsche Grammophon

The Perth Concert Hall has played host to some of the greatest classical guitarists of all time, including John Williams and Julian Bream. But such an intimate, sweet-sounding instrument deserves a more intimate venue, surely.

Not necessarily. Montenegrin classical guitarist Milos Karadaglic is just about the hottest property in classical music today, his prodigious musicianship matched only by his matinee-idol good looks. If anybody can command the attention of a packed concert venue with just the aid of a nylon-string acoustic guitar, it's him.

And he's already proved it. Earlier this year, Karadaglic, 27, made his Royal Albert Hall solo debut, a rare thing indeed for a classical guitarist.

The critics were unanimous in their praise. The Independent's Alexandra Coghlan wrote: "Defying its many critics to offer a dramatic and rounded evening of classical music, the guitar itself was the breakout star here - a sleight of hand that makes Karadaglic not only a magician, but a serious and accomplished musician."

Guy Dammann of The Guardian wrote: "More extraordinary by far, however, was the way a single guitarist, playing an intimate and understated set, and equipped with a single microphone and some clever lighting, could shrink the Hall's cavernous space into something so close."

So when Karadaglic visits Perth for the first time in December, anybody lucky enough to be in the audience can expect to be delicately, magically, drawn into an intimate sound-world vibrating with the exotic musical colours of Spain, Latin America and Greece. "It sounds like a cliche but I always wanted to play at the Royal Albert Hall to a full house," says the London-based guitarist. "It happened sooner than I thought it would, and I suddenly realised I had the audience to do something like this. It was just an incredible experience."

He says the Royal Albert Hall concert was a victory for the classical guitar in general, as well as a personal victory. "It made people realise I wasn't just all smiles and cheekbones," he laughs. "Seriously though, you have to reach the last person in the hall with every note, no matter how big that hall is. I've always believed the guitar has a magical power to draw the listener in."

Part of the reason Karadaglic has such a large following, unprecedented for a serious classical musician, is his ability to straddle both hardcore classical and pop classical camps. Again, there's proof here too: not only did he win two prestigious Gramophone Awards last year (hardcore); recently he also took out the Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the 2012 Classic BRIT Awards (pop classical).

"Winning two Gramophone awards meant so much to me on an artistic level because they come from that really high-end listening public," Karadaglic says. "Winning a BRIT award means I've really broken through to the mainstream. That's what I always wanted to achieve: to reach a large, popular audience without making any artistic compromises."

This might be Karadaglic's first visit to Perth but there's already a WA connection: he plays a guitar by legendary Australian luthier and guitar-maker to stars (John Williams among them), Greg Smallman, whose studio is located near Esperance. I ask Karadaglic what first attracted him to the Smallman sound.

"I think it was subconscious," he says. "When I was growing up in Montenegro the only CDs I could listen to with the repertoire I was interested in were by John Williams. I loved the sound he was making. And he was playing a Greg Smallman. When I finally got a Smallman guitar in 2007 I was the happiest person on the planet."

Karadaglic, who left his native Montenegro at the age of 17 to study at London's Royal Academy of Music, from where he graduated with First Class Honours in 2004 before doing his Masters in Performance, puts his broad attitude to music-making down to his upbringing.

"Montenegro is a small country and the music school kids were asked from a young age to really perform - to do TV, to travel around the country, to do festivals, to actually play classical music for a wide audience," he says. "That is something I did from the very beginning. So when I came to London and found the classical music audience was so small and exclusive, I didn't like it. Even worse, the classical guitar wasn't even a part of that and had a miniscule audience."

All this combined to make Karadaglic even more determined to "just play and not feel so precious. And to show the world what a magical instrument the classical guitar really is."

Milos Karadaglic performs at the Perth Concert Hall on December 3. Book at Ticketek. Karadaglic's CDs Mediterranean and Latino are available on Deutsche Grammophon.

The West Australian

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