Talking Heads: Miloš

When Arcana sits down to talk with classical guitarist Miloš Karadaglić, we find him at the end of a busy day’s interviewing. For some artists this would be a real chore, but the sense here is very much a positive one. Having returned from a career-threatening injury, this is the sort of day Miloš dreamed of having to deal with.

The reasons for our chat are many, but are headed by his striking new album Sound of Silence. On first glance this appears to be a relatively standard crossover piece, equal parts classical and pop. Closer inspection, however, reveals a carefully studied and assembled set of original pieces and arrangements with the 12 Ensemble that hang together beautifully, each of them carrying personal significance for Miloš himself.

As is customary for Arcana interviews, however, we approach the new album from the very beginning, and his first encounter with classical music. “I believe my first proper encounter with classical guitar was when my father played me an old LP of Andrés Segovia”, he recalls, “and it was at a time when I had started to play the guitar. I was completely discouraged by how particular and tricky it was, with using the nails and reading music, and knowing where each note is. I imagined that playing a guitar meant to strum a chord really loud and sing a song! It was a time when I really didn’t want to go back to the score, and when my father played me that Segovia record – Asturias was the title of the track, by Albéniz – I really was mesmerised by the sound world of it, and because of that experience I think I am a classical musician today. I think I would not have continued had that not happened, so it was a defining moment very early on.”

“I remember thinking, how is it possible one person and six strings, with their bare hands, can create so much magic? That prompted me to really practice and one day to be able to do that myself. When I recorded my very first album for Deutsche Grammophon in 2010 I knew that had to be the very first track, because that is where it all began.”

Segovia was one of several guitarists to leave their mark. “Because of that he will always be very important to me, but my absolute hero in my teenage years was John Williams, and his incredibly peerless sound projection and the quality of musicianship. He is still very inspirational to me. David Russell is an incredible musician, Julian Bream too – it is very hard to just think of one.”

Sound of Silence is a poignant album, and an important point for Miloš to reach, given the recovery he has made. “I hope that my journey will inspire others”, he proclaims, “because I think no matter what you do we all face these sorts of problems. The only way out of it is to accept it as part of life, to re-evaluate and re-think, and then start again.”

With this in mind, he used his time away from the guitar productively. “Even though at the time I thought I wasn’t, I did use that time to really open myself up to a wider world. I was always flirting with the mainstream, and I took pride that as a guitarist you can so comfortably sit between those two worlds. After going through something like that you just do what feels right, and for me it felt right to apply all those influences and bring them into my world.”

His cover of the Portishead song Sour Times is an embodiment of the dark periods he navigated while removed from practise and performance, and was a natural choice for the album. “I just guided myself with what felt like the right piece, because most of them have such an important personal meaning”, he explains. “Some of them are surprises but they just felt right, and I thought why not? You only live once, and now is the time to explore the world. Maybe there will be surprises along the way!”

One such surprise is a sensitive and moving arrangement of the Dido song Life For Rent, transformed from daytime radio to a deeper utterance. “I remember hearing that song a lot when I was a student at the Royal Academy of Music”, says Miloš, “and I remember walking down Oxford Street to hear that song blasting everywhere. I think everyone could relate to the emotion of that song, but it’s so blatantly pop that I wondered if it could work, because I love the song. I think it does work because it doesn’t matter about the genre, whether it’s Bach or The Beatles, Schubert or Paul Simon, or Dido. It’s all music, and it’s all there to be felt and enjoyed and explored. It is such a gift to be a musician and to really bring it inside your world. It is the essence of what we do.”

This inclusive approach has opened up collaborations with the likes of Manu Delago, who plays the hang as part of an arrangement of Nights In White Satin. “After this period of not playing, I realise that collaborating with artists that I like as musicians and love as people is more and more important”, he says, “making music together with someone is so wonderful and it brings so much quality and variety to your own artistry.

With The Beatles album I was also very collaborative, and that’s where the whole direction started. On that album I had Gregory Porter, Tori Amos, Steven Isserlis and a wide range of artists. On this album as well I had Manu, Jess Gillam, the 12 Ensemble. It has been really fun to create music, not just any music but music that hasn’t been played 100 times already, giving it a unique sound.”

One of the defining moments on Sound of Silence is Cancion de cuna (Berceuse), by celebrated Cuban guitarist and composer Leo Brouwer, which feels like a light in the darkness of Miloš’s injury. “I put it strategically in that place on the album, because I think it needs it to bring you to the core. It is such an iconic piece of part writing, and Leo Brouwer and his sound world are so unique. With something as simple as that, I had to have it there because it just felt right.”

It is the culmination of Miloš’s album construction, on which he elaborates. “You start off with a huge variety of things and along the way you build, take and remove until it feels right and is ready to be printed, if you like. It’s a long process; it’s not like going into the studio with pre-prepared recital repertoire. It’s actually all new. You don’t know what it’s going to happen or how it’s going to sound until you go in to the studio, and even then you think of new things you can do or things you need to take out. It’s an endless process almost, until it feels right.”

Alongside the album Miloš attaches great importance to his work with contemporary composers. In the last year he has given two world premieres – a Guitar Concerto by Howard Shore and Ink Dark Moon, a concerto by Joby Talbot given for the first time at the 2018 BBC Proms. “It’s some of the most important work I do”, he says. “I really believe that classical guitar needs new repertoire, and in order to open it up even further we need to encourage and inspire important composers to write for the guitar. I’m in a unique position as an artist, because through my work and travels I get to meet really amazing composers.”

“Whenever I get the chance I try to get them to write something important for me, but with Joby and Howard it was very natural. They heard me play, we talked and that was it. Both premieres had to be rescheduled because of my injury, and as soon as I felt better I was ready to do it and the moment of me returning onto the stage at the Royal Albert Hall, for Joby’s piece, was exactly a year ago today! The premiere at the Proms was like a rebirth. Howard’s was a couple of months ago. He wrote me a very beautiful piece and we premiered it in Ottawa, and the reception was amazing. He is such a legend in his world, and it’s a privilege to play a piece by a composer of that stature, to have a chance to play his work, I am excited to take those pieces on tour and make them live beyond their premiere. This is almost for me my most important work. The pieces are already recorded, so you should expect them in the not too distant future!”

Miloš’ reassurance is important here, for too many new commissions and pieces get one or two performances before fading from the spotlight, with little chance to appraise them over time “It is very important to keep them alive, and that they become my whole library of commissioned pieces. I want to premiere the Concierto de Aranjuez of the 21st century, and that’s very important to me.”

To that end, further projects are afoot. “I’m working on a new piece with David Bruce, who is a fantastic composer based here in the UK. He is writing me a piece to give with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in February 2021, and I am working for some other composers because I think it is very important to keep that going, to give things new life.”

He recognises the opportunity to give more repertoire to an instrument still in its relative infancy, when compared to its string ‘rivals’ the violin and the cello. “Absolutely. When you are lucky enough to be the artist that people perceive to be a flag carrier for that instrument, that’s a role you have to take really seriously because it’s up to you to commission new repertoire for future generations, and that’s a privilege. It’s a very important part of what you do.”

With this approach, is he looking to continue the work begun by two of his heroes, John Williams and Julian Bream? “Exactly, especially Bream who did so much collaboratively, and who did so much to create what is now the core repertoire of the instrument.” Miloš’ position, balanced between pop and classical, would seem ideal for future developments. “I hope so. For me that’s very important because I feel the guitar is one of the world’s most loved instruments, and it speaks to everyone. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point strummed a chord on the guitar and tried to play a song. It’s an instrument of people, and in the times when we are struggling with new audiences in the classical world, it’s the perfect instrument to invite new audiences into the concert hall.”

It also works on social media – a fact not lost on Miloš. “It works so well on playlists too. The whole world is changing, and when I see the world of recorded music today and compare it to a couple of years ago when I had my last album, it’s a completely different ball game. That also creates opportunities, and I’m very excited about that! There really is an audience out there, and we’ve just changed the ways we are thinking about reaching them. The guitar is loved, and I think it’s loved because it doesn’t scare anyone. You don’t need to be a connoisseur or a classical musician to understand it. I love that in my concerts I get teenagers, young professionals, people from all walks of life.”

Given his recovery from injury, I confess to being worried for Miloš when looking at his intensive tour schedule. Presumably he is fully in control of the demands made on him physically? “Absolutely, although I do enjoy the intensity of touring. When you are touring and going from one place to another you are really finding a different way of performing, and everything flows. I never had an issue with the number of concerts I played, that’s not why I injured myself. I had to develop a steel core in order to be able to take the experience of performing in a very secure and connected way. This stability is what I’ve been looking for, and the reason why I had to stop and regroup. I’m excited by my tour, there are a lot of concerts in the UK – 20 in all – which is a lot in two months, and I can’t wait! There are some very famous and important venues in the bigger cities and then some smaller ones, which just feels right.”

Miloš is refreshingly open when talking about his experiences of injury, and the effect that have had on others. “In the musician’s world it is a taboo, and that’s not right. In the world of sport or ballet, if you injure your leg or your arm everyone is so supportive and understands that it is part of the job. In the world of classical music it almost means that you have done something wrong, and that you hurt yourself because you are not good enough or haven’t practiced enough! There are all these prejudices about a musician’s injury, and I would really like to change that by opening it up. That’s why I talk about it, because to me it is very important to show we are not some sort of fantasy creatures that are able to create the music of the angels – we are real people that suffer real things, have real emotions and can also suffer injuries. Openly talking about it I think can create a much more inclusive environment.”

He recounts meetings with artists who have not been so fortunate. “It broke my heart so many times when I was on this recovering journey how many people I have met who never recovered, just because the way it’s all set up is in my opinion completely wrong. A musician’s injury is not a black and white thing, it is not one diagnosis. It is a number of very complicated relationships which are physical and psychological at the same time. To untie that knot takes so much understanding, and that’s why it is very hard to recover. I was really lucky I think, because I had it in me to not give up, but that should not be the case.”

Sound of Silence, Miloš’ fourth studio album, will be released on Decca on Friday 13 September. You can pre-order the album by clicking here

The guitarist also heads out on an eleven-date UK tour ‘The Voice of the Guitar’ the following week, beginning at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall on Saturday 21 September and ending in The Lighthouse, Poole, on Friday 11 October. There will be a further chance to catch him when performing Rodrigo at a further nine days around the country. All tour details can be found on his website

Finally, you can listen to MILOŠ – The Complete Playlist on Spotify below:

On record – BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo: Sibelius: Lemminkäinen Suite (Chandos)

BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo

Sibelius
Lemminkäinen Suite Op.22 (1893-6, rev. 1897/1900/1939)
Spring Song Op.16 (1894, rev. 1895)
Belshazzar’s Feast: Suite Op.51 (1906-07)

Chandos CHAN20136 [71’34”]

Producer Ann McKay
Engineers Neil Pemberton and Rob Winter

Recorded 22-23 May 2018 at the Colosseum, Watford

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Sakari Oramo extends his discography with this recording of Sibelius’s Lemminkäinen Suite in partnership with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (whose chief conductor he has been these past five seasons), coupled with two rarities among the composer’s shorter orchestral pieces.

What’s the music like?

Emerging from an abandoned opera, the Lemminkäinen Suite followed Kullervo as Sibelius’s second major symphonic work before his actual First Symphony. It only reached its definitive guise over a decade after the composer’s last notable piece, was unpublished until three years before his death and remains on the edge of the repertoire. Opting for the order of movements at its 1896 premiere, Oramo draws a vibrant response in Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island with its heady alternation between energy and ecstasy – underlining its emotional rhetoric without undue histrionics. Sibelius’s masterpiece from this period, Lemminkäinen in Tuonela is more focussed in form and expression – Oramo pointing up the contrast between its stark depiction of the underworld with the premonitions of the hero’s mother at its centre.

Closing with the two shorter movements risks selling short this suite’s overall trajectory, but Oramo ensures their continuity through his searching take on The Swan of Tuonela (soulful cor anglais playing from Alison Teale) such as forms a potent contrast with Lemminkäinen’s Homeward Journey in which the hero marks his being restored to life with a hectic return to the human world. Others have favoured a more headlong approach, but Oramo’s building of cumulative anticipation makes for tangible excitement on the way to a resolute conclusion.

As to the other pieces here, Spring Song was once among Sibelius’s most performed pieces but long ago fell from grace. As Oramo hears it, what can feel a rather half-hearted re-run of Grieg or Svendsen assumes darker and more equivocal shades prior to its hymnic apotheosis – even if the coda still sounds perfunctory. A suite drawn from incidental music for Hjalmar Procopé’s Belshazzar’s Feast has had advocates (such as the late Gennady Rozhdestvensky) and deserves more frequent revivals. Oramo brings out the ominous undertow of Oriental Procession, as also the musing pathos of Solitude (with its wistful interplay of viola and cello) then the evocative arabesques of Nocturne, before rounding off this sequence with the ingratiating poise of Khadra’s Dance – evidently a direct descendant of that by Anitra.

Does it all work?

Yes. Oramo established himself in the UK through his probing cycle of Sibelius symphonies when music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and this account of the Lemminkäinen Suite completes his traversal of the larger symphonic works (his 2015 Proms reading of Kullervo can be found as a covermount disc on BBC Music Magazine, Volume 25 no.12) in fine style. The recorded sound has all the requisite depth and perspective necessary for this music, and there are typically informative booklet notes courtesy of Anthony Burton.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The discography for each of these pieces is now considerable but, for its interpretive insight, committed playing and impressive sound, this release gets a strong recommendation. Hopefully Oramo and the BBCSO will soon follow it up with a disc of Sibelius’s tone poems.

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You can buy this release directly from the Chandos website

Switched On – Balance presents Sunstrip mixed by Hernán Cattáneo

Various Artists: Balance presents Sunstrip mixed by Hernán Cattáneo (Balance)

What’s the story?

Argentine DJ Hernán Cattáneo links up with the Australian label Balance once again, returning to the double-set format for the first time in two years. His two mixes clock in at over two and half hours, focusing mostly on the deeper side of house music but with plenty of room for development.

What’s the music like?

In a word, consistent. The first three minutes of Cattáneo’s first mix set out a dreamy picture before the appearance of a reassuringly strong kick drum to get things going. Mariana Mellino & Interaxxis’ ‘Andromeda’ offers a sign of the steady tightening of intensity the Argentinian does so well, and we move smoothly through nice squiggles from Juan Hansen’s ‘Hiding Sun’, which hits a peak with some Depeche Mode-like vocals.

The mix presses on with the warm and fuzzy combination of the Kevin Di Serna tracks ‘4 Meditation’, which has a lovely sweep through space in its breakdown, and ‘System Era’ works well. Fellow countrymen Soundexile offer two tracks together, ‘Glide’ seguing effortlessly into the classy ‘Stimulation’, a lovely easy groove, before Cattáneo finishes part one with a curveball, Mercurio’s cover of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ sung by Anita Alvarez de Toledo.

The second mix is immediately more urgent, and gets off to a great start with Mike Griego feat. Paula Os and ‘Headspace’. The tempo is quicker and the percussion up a gear, as though the sun has set and we are heading into the night. The powerful sweep of ‘Dissolved In You’ by Brian Cid carries all before it, the producer reappearing later with the brooding ‘Rebirth’. Cid Inc – no relation – impresses with the shimmering textures of ‘Forgotten’, while there is an unexpected but welcome cover of The Cure’s ‘A Forest’ from COLLE. Finally Soundexile return with Wind Down (Outro Mix), the lights going up as the mix fades into the distance.

Does it all work?

Effortlessly so, thanks to Cattáneo’s experienced head. The pacing of each mix is spot on, the peaks and breakdowns expertly managed, while the beats and harmonic structure are spot on. The cover of ‘White Rabbit’ might split opinion but this is an extremely solid selection.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Cattáneo has built up great judgement on how to pace a commercial mix, and his instincts are sound here. Consistency is the key throughout!

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You can get this album from Beatport here

The Peterloo Massacre: Sir Malcolm Arnold’s response

On the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, this vivid musical interpretation of events on that day comes from Sir Malcolm Arnold.

Arnold completed the overture in 1968, when it was published as his Op.97. In his description of the piece for Faber Music, he described the events and his response in some detail:

Peterloo is the derisive name given to an incident that happened on August 16th, 1819 in St Peter’s Fields Manchester, when an orderly crowd of some 80,000 people met to hear a speech on political reform. On the orders of the magistrates they were interrupted by the yeomanry attempting to seize the banners they carried, and to arrest their speaker, Henry Hunt. Cavalry were sent in, and eleven people were killed and four hundred injured in the ensuing panic.

This overture attempts to portray these happenings musically, but after a lament for the killed and injured, it ends in triumph, in the firm belief that all those who have suffered and died in the cause of unity amongst mankind, will not have died so in vain.”

The extraordinary piece – which really should be better known – can be heard below, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer:

It may start with a regal theme but soon the cavalry approach, and the music is thrown into disarray and discord. Ominous brass and squealing woodwind signal the onset of violence, before a description of the outright chaos on what has become a battlefield gets ever louder, like the climax of a Shostakovich symphony.

Then suddenly all is emptiness, the horrors fully revealed…but from the depths comes a beautiful lament from oboe and a repeat of the main theme from the strings, now held higher – before a salute from full orchestra ends the overture in triumph. The piece is a powerful and moving response to the tragedy, a musical portrayal of courage in the face of terror – and it proves every bit as relevant to today’s political climate as it would to the victims of the massacre.

If you want to hear more Arnold, the album from which this piece is taken includes three fine examples of his nine symphonies (nos.1, 2 & 5), and two more entertaining overtures, Tam O’Shanter and Beckus the Dandipratt:

As you will gather from those titles alone, the composer was not without a sense of humour!

The picture is a coloured print of the Peterloo Massacre, published by Richard Carlile.

Arcana at the Proms – Prom 35: Martyn Brabbins – Enigma Variations

Idunnu Münch (mezzo-soprano), William Morgan (tenor), Nadine Benjamin (soprano), David Ireland (bass-baritone), English National Opera Chorus, BBC Singers, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Martyn Brabbins (above)

Various composers Pictured Within: Birthday Variations for M. C. B. (2019, BBC commission: world premiere)
Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music (1938)
Brahms Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny) Op.54 (1871)
Elgar Enigma Variations Op.36 (1899)

Royal Albert Hall, Tuesday 13 August 2019

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
Photo credits Chris Christodoulou

You can listen to this Prom on BBC Sounds here

It was clearly a great idea that the BBC commission a piece to mark Martyn Brabbins’s 60th birthday, this concert also being his 36th appearance at these concerts, as well as featuring 14 composers with whom this most stylistically wide-ranging of conductors has been associated.

The result was Pictured Within: Birthday Variations for M.C.B, each composer contributing a variation on an anonymous theme in what is an inverse take on Elgar’s procedure in his own Variations on an Original Theme – whose ground-plan also furnished the formal framework. Space precludes more detailed discussion, though it is worth noting the degree to which these composers (the full list is here) were inhibited or liberated by their placing in the overall scheme. And as this theme yielded its potential more from a harmonic then melodic or rhythmic angle, the most successful made a virtue of such constraints – not least Judith Weir in her engaging 10th variation and John Pickard in a finale, The Art of Beginning, whose deft mingling of portentousness with humour might yet become the springboard for an entirely new venture.

Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music (premiered in this venue – but not at these concerts – 81 years ago) was conceived for 16 solo singers and the choral alternative inevitably loses some of the original’s intimacy, though not the distinctiveness in its setting of lines drawn from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Joining the BBC Singers and members of the ENO Chorus were participants on the Harwood Young Artists programme, of whom Nadine Benjamin brought a wide-eyed wonder to the soprano solos which motivate the latter stages.

Less often heard in the UK, Brahms’s Song of Destiny is among his most ruminative choral works. Its setting of the eponymous poem by Friedrich Hölderlin might be seen as continuing from A German Requiem in its subdued fatalism, albeit with a more animated central section as hints at that starker resignation which overcame the composer in his later years. Brabbins presided over an unforced yet insightful account of a piece that, for its relative unfamiliarity, has garnered numerous distinguished admirers – among them the composer William Walton.

Closing this concert with Elgar’s Enigma Variations made for an effective symmetry as well as bringing the programme full circle. Brabbins is no stranger to the work and duly galvanized the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a performance which gave full rein to these widely contrasted portraits (never caricatures!) of the composer’s friends while also ensuring an overall unity to the greater design – with the only lengthy pause coming after a luminous account of the ninth Nimrod variation – that carried through to a finale whose elation was shorn of any bombast. There were various delights on the way, not least a winsome take on the fifth variation, with the numerous instrumental solos eloquently taken. Hard to believe Elgar extended that final variation only at the urging of others, so inevitably does this build to its resplendent ending.

Some might have wondered whether building a full Prom around the birthday of its conductor was excessive but, given the regard in which Brabbins is held and the conviction he invested into each of these pieces, that decision was manifestly justified. Many Happy Returns M.C.B!

Martyn Brabbins has recorded Elgar’s Enigma Variations with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for Hyperion. More details can be found on their website, or on the YouTube clip below: