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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Guitar wizard Milos Karadaglic takes on the music of The Beatles 

'The Beatles have been part of the classical guitar repertoire for many years, but the songs have been altered to the extent that they are unrecognisable,' he says

Karadaglic discovered his love for The Beatles while at Royal Academy of Music in London Getty
Karadaglic discovered his love for The Beatles while at Royal Academy of Music in London Getty

After wowing the local scene in his native Montenegro and winning awards in competitions across Europe, guitar virtuoso Milos Karadaglic received a scholarship to study at London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Music. It was there, a decade ago, that he truly discovered the compositions of messieurs John Lennon and Paul McCartney and a quartet called The Beatles.

Karadaglic had never really paid attention to the Fab Four, other than passively listening as they wafted through the radio in his former home city of Podgorica. So, when tasked at the conservatory with studying the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu’s solo guitar arrangement of the 1965 ballad Yesterday, he approached it with fresh ears. “It is a bit of a paradox,” he admits with a laugh.

“Because the last place you think you will discover The Beatles is at the Royal Academy of Music in London, but that was another one of those moments that made me think how incredibly universal music is. How, no matter what you play, and what you want to do, you can make it sound good on the guitar,” he says.

And so, what was his initial reaction to the song, which is considered a masterpiece of pop music? “I loved the simplicity,” he says.

“I remember I had this very ­complicated guitar repertoire at the academy, and then suddenly I had the opportunity to play something which is a beautiful melody and a beautiful harmony. Sometimes, you don’t need much more than that. I think that’s why the world of popular music has taken off so much.”

A respectful nod to the past

The lesson in the simplicity of the Fab Four working well is something that Karadaglic hasn’t forgotten. After establishing himself as a world music star courtesy of three albums of Spanish and Latin American classical guitar – most notably 2013’s spellbinding ­Cancion, which features a delightful and unexpected take of Luigi Boccherini’s Fandango – Karadaglic decided to return to The Beatles for his next project.

It wasn’t a straightforward approach: The Beatles are a band whose music has been covered in various genres many times – ­ranging from reggae to heavy metal, but the Montenegrin discovered remarkably few classical guitar treatments faithful to the original material. “The Beatles have been part of the classical guitar repertoire for many years, but the songs have been altered to the extent that they are unrecognisable,” he says. “I wanted to avoid that. Because I think the songs in themselves are simple and beautiful. The sound of the guitar is simple and beautiful. If we suddenly try to be too clever, it wouldn’t work. I think less is more.”

That’s why he fashioned a streamlined and lyrical approach for the new song collection, Blackbird The Beatles Album. Tender and respectful, the interpretations allow us to focus on the legendary British band’s varied melodic ingenuity, from the lilting nature of Yesterday to the ascending notes of Here Comes the Sun.

Ironically, this straight-laced approach is a departure for Karadaglic. Blackbird – The Beatles Album is a challenge to his fan base on a number of fronts. In addition to the popular song choices, the album lacks the explosive finger plucking moments of his previous releases. Then there is Blackbird’s accompanying strings and, perhaps, most galling of all, is the addition of guest vocalists.

He enlisted the singing talents of American jazz singer Gregory Porter for a wistful take of Let it Be and chanteuse Tori Amos for She’s Leaving Home. The latter song is a favourite of Karadaglic, and he tells us how the yearning vibes in the piece are so tangible in Amos’s voice. “Tori Amos, to me is an absolutely wonderful artist and a legend. I love her voice and she, thankfully, likes my style and when the time came, I asked her to be on my album,” he says. “The moment in the studio was special. I will never forget it because the day before we were recording the song, her daughter left home to go study in university. And I could just feel the emotion in her voice.”

Mind your intentions

What about the reception from his fans? Well, the packed crowds on his world tour of the album ­affirms that he is on the right track. After performing a solo recital as part of Abu Dhabi Festival in 2014,

Karadaglic is bringing his band to the Dubai Opera stage tomorrow. It’s not so much a show, he says, but a meeting of friends. “When you build a trust between yourself and the audience over the years, it allows you to focus on finding a project that feels genuine, which is not done for any reason other than a need to experience different artistic expression,” he says.

But I think the danger for us is when you are doing something for the wrong reasons. If you are doing something because you want to be more popular or because you want to access a new audience, then as an artist you are in danger.”

Milos Karadaglic performs at Dubai Opera on November 26 at 8pm. Tickets begin from Dh150 from www.dubaiopera.com

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