An Interview with MILOŠ KARADAGLIĆ

Tra Nguyen & Vantage Music| October 2022 | Hong Kong

Even through the grainy images of a Zoom interview, Miloš Karadaglić exudes a sense of confidence and charisma that leaves one in no wonder why he has taken the world by storm. In this interview, the classical guitarist from Montenegro shares with us the childhood encounters that led him to play the instrument for a living, his excruciating but inspirational journey to recover from a hand injury, and finally what music means to him, as a person and as a musician.

Learning to Play

As a child, Miloš was always very musical, albeit not on the classical side. “I was always singing and always interested in music. When I was around eight, I picked up father’s old guitar and went to a music school, expecting to sing songs and strum chords, because I thought that’s what the guitar was.”

Miloš quickly discovered that guitar was more than what he envisioned, for the school was a specialist music school with a serious classical guitar programme. “A few weeks in, I discovered that I had to grow nails and learn to play scales, and I wanted to quit because I thought it was boring.”

The teachers at the school saw potential in Miloš, so they reached out to his father. “Upon hearing that I was very talented, my father didn’t want me to lose an opportunity.” Knowing his son’s stubbornness, Miloš’s father discreetly played to him an old record by the classical guitarist Andres Segovia.

Miloš fell right into it. “It was the first time I was able to hear what classical guitar sounds like, and that sound stayed with me. After that, I became very committed to the guitar and to learning to play it, because I wanted to be able to create that sort of sound on the guitar myself.”

Music as a Hobby

At this stage, Miloš’s guitar aspirations were still amateurish. “Montenegro was not a country where the focus on classical music is very strong, so I still saw music as something of an extra activity, even though playing guitar was coming very naturally to me a few years in. Academic was always more important.”

It was the harsh realities of war that shifted Miloš’s perceptions of music. “In the early nineties, the Balkans was experiencing a war, and there were a lot of electricity cuts and blackouts. As a child, I didn’t really register how dangerous that was because my parents were protecting me, but what I learnt in this period was that when we were together with our friends, going through eight hours of no electricity in the winter, that if I played a guitar for them, then I was actually doing something very special. My playing was actually changing something for them.”

“This realisation created the idea for me that playing music is not just a hobby. It is slowly becoming my mission, because my music allowed me to create a beautiful world. No matter how the outside world was, every time you play for people, you are allowing them into this space.” Miloš believes that this is what defines him as a musician. “It’s something that I think of every time I perform, even today. I don’t think I would have achieved what I had now if I didn’t have that early experience in Montenegro, if I was born somewhere else where everything was flourishing and easy.”

The City of Light

Another experience that influenced Miloš’s decision to go professional was his visit to Paris in 1996. After the end of the Yugoslav War, the Cultural Institute in Paris invited talented children from the affected areas to go to Paris for a cultural exchange, with Miloš amongst one of the chosen. “They held a variety concert in Paris, with guitar, clarinet, piano and singing. I had to play a couple of pieces, my best pieces, and I went there with my mother. It was my first public performance outside of Montenegro.”

The concert was a nice exposure, but it was the City of Light itself that profoundly impacted the guitarist. “I was a child from such a small country that has experienced so much tragedy at that time, and I was suddenly in this dazzling city lit up with Christmas lights. I felt that I was looking at the world for the first time in full colour, and the world I had known before then was in black and white. It was such a powerful moment.”

The trip to Paris reaffirmed Miloš’s relationship with the guitar. “I understood then that it was my luck of being a young musician, of discovering guitar at the right moment, that gave me the privilege to have this experience to see Paris. Looking back, that was where I decided that I wanted to have a life in music – because music gave me wings to fly. Paris showed me what life could look like, and after that I worked very, very hard to make it possible.”

Music as a Profession

Unfortunately for Miloš, life as a professional musician was not a path much travelled, if at all. “In Montenegro, being a musician was not something that many people did, especially at that time, because people had bigger worries. You needed to have a proper profession. Montenegro was one of those systems that valued academic results more than artistic ones, so, even though I wanted to play music as a profession, I still felt pressured to go to a grammar school.”

It was in this circumstance that Miloš met the Scottish guitar virtuoso David Russell. “I went to a big international festival in Italy, and it was the first time I met someone who was such an extraordinary guitarist and artist.” Miloš played for Russell in his masterclass, and he finally convinced Miloš to jump out of his comfort zone. “Russell said that I was very talented, but that if I wanted to become the best artist that I can be, then I should go to study in London.”

Russell’s advice proved to be Miloš’s final impetus. “It was an era before the Internet; when you live in a very isolated place and someone you think is a god tells you to study in London, you don’t look left and right. You just heed his advice.”

Through the local British Council, Miloš found out that it was possible to audition for the Academy via video recordings. “I recorded myself playing some pieces on my father’s small camcorder, then I sent it off to London. I did it while my parents were at work and didn’t tell them at the time, because I knew that they would never be able to afford my life in London.”

Miloš’s parents did find out in due course, and they were very supportive. “They were very sweet and understanding, but they were also comforting me, saying that there are so many kids around the world who are applying for the same place, so don’t be disappointed if I don’t get it.” Interestingly, this scenario had not crossed Miloš’s mind at all. “I didn’t know what that meant. I thought, no, I got this. I played very well; I played my best pieces. There is no way I am not going to London.” Looking back, Miloš thought that this youthful naïveté worked in his favour. “If I wasn’t that foolishly confident, I would never have pushed through.”

Learning to Play, Again

The stars shone upon Miloš, and a few months later, despite his parents’ worries, Miloš was accepted into the Academy with a full scholarship.

Moving to London was easier said than done. “Being 16 years old at that time, I had no context of the world at all. Without the aid of the Internet, I had to discover everything in real time, in the real place. My parents were also scared because they had to find some money for me to live in London and to not be in any danger.” Eventually, Miloš settled down, and was greeted with the realisation of his lifelong dream. “I was suddenly in the centre of learning. I had an amazing teacher, and around me were talented guitar players, so it was the first time I could actually measure myself against someone who was as good, if not better.”

Miloš immediately recognised the gap between him and his peers. “All the students that I worked with came out of the British system, where they went to very specialised and very high-class schools before coming to the Academy. They had such a wide knowledge of music, not just guitar but of music, while my knowledge was very limited; I was relying on my guitar instincts up to that point. I was playing on instinct, and now I had to learn how to really do it. I had to completely forget everything I knew, to listen, be a sponge, and really take in all the know-how and knowledge that I was being presented with.”

It was a daunting task, but Miloš was helped by his teacher’s patience and guidance. “After my first lesson with Professor Michael Lewin, he found me in tears in the in the common room, and he said, ‘if I hadn’t believed in you, you wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t do that to you and to the faculty.’ He gave me so much self-belief from the very beginning, and for this I am very grateful.”

Musician First

In the Academy, Miloš also got to meet the iconic guitarist Julian Bream. “When I first went to the Academy, I had already met Julian in his masterclass. A few years in, I even managed to win the prize under his name. But what I remembered most about Julian Bream is his wonderful advice that music is not about what you play; music is about how you play. To him, playing the guitar is not about playing the guitar. It’s about being a musician first, and the guitar is just a tool to make wonderful music.”

Miloš mused that this was very different from how most of the guitarists think today. “The guitar is such a difficult and complicated instrument to master that a lot of effort commonly goes into how to play perfectly, how to not make mistakes and whatnot, which puts into the background the very essence of why we are musicians.”

Bream’s advice set Miloš onto an unconventional path. “Generally, classical musicians like to enter into instrument-specific competitions. But I felt that guitar competitions were too limited; they would not give you opportunities beyond the guitar world, which was very isolated, but I wanted to be part of the bigger world.”

In this aspect, Miloš was geographically empowered to succeed. “In London, there were so many competitions or auditions where you could enter with other instruments, where you can compete with a pianist or a cellist or a violinist, and then they would select you on the strength of your musicianship rather than on the strength of the instrument that you play. I felt that I was very lucky to be in London, because in London you see the world as this one big place. Everywhere else, you are limited to that country or to that city, but if you make it in London, you really have the whole world at heart.”


In 2011, Miloš’s first album, Mediterráneo, was an immediate success, and the young guitarist was quickly catapulted to fame. “I was doing things that most young musicians could only dream of. I was playing absolutely everywhere.”

Then the whole world collapsed upon Miloš. “In 2016, I had a very intense period of concertising to promote my new album, Blackbird, and at the end of it my forearm was very tight and my fingers were cramped. I couldn’t hold the guitar anymore.” What Miloš originally thought to be a minor case of tiredness turned out to be a debilitating injury, and he was forced to go into hiatus as he struggled to make sense of what happened. “My playing got even worse after a few weeks of treatment and rest, and the more specialists I consulted, the worse it got. Soon, I struggled to even open my shirt or brush my teeth. Eventually, it got to the point that I couldn’t continue anymore. I was sitting there, and I just couldn’t play.” Miloš still remembered the moment when he had to cancel over 200 concerts. “It was so scary, having to cancel what you had been building for so many years.”

Miloš sought high and low for the cause of his illness, but all scans turned out negative. “The doctors could find nothing wrong with my hand, and eventually they decided that I might have dystonia, that I could never play again.”

This didn’t sit well with Miloš. “Since youth, I had always had a strong instinct; I knew when something was right and when something wasn’t. So, when people were telling me I will not be able to play, I knew they were not right because I didn’t feel like it. I researched dystonia beyond what I already knew and talked to many people, but everything I heard made no sense to me. That’s when I knew I had to sort out something else, not the hand.”

After much introspection and with help from fellow guitarist and psychobiologist Dr Victor Candia, Miloš eventually figured out the crux of the problem. “I realised that I was working myself up to meeting the expectations of the people more than being myself. That used to work, bringing me huge successes and so many wonderful experiences, but it was not good for your development and health. In life, whatever you do, you must only ever do it because it is the right thing for you, and you have to do it on your own terms.”

“I pushed too hard, and I think my condition came about as a way for my psyche to stop me from pushing myself even more, because there was nowhere more to push. I had to recalibrate my thinking in order to continue; I had to realise that I was no longer the little boy from Montenegro who played guitar, who came to London and wanted to impress everybody. I had to realise that I am an adult now; I had to stand for myself. I had to reach for the music inside, to understand that the music is not something you can push and have on a deadline. Music is a part of the organic process within your own body and your own soul, and it will only ever come out if you allow enough space and time, if you give it enough love and nurture, so that it then gives you back something in return.”

It took 18 months for Miloš to come to this conclusion, and at that point his hands had already been completely destroyed from the treatments and lack of practice. But Miloš persisted with newfound determination. “At first, I couldn’t even completely play a piece, but I pushed myself, and said, now, I play no matter what. Now, I play because I want to play.” From this moment, everything went slowly upwards. “I rebuilt my muscles, I rebuilt my stamina, and I rebuilt myself with it.”

Miloš announced his comeback in late 2017, and he has been going strong since then. “People still ask me about my hand injury, but I speak about it because I feel it’s an important lesson for musicians. It was something that nobody could have prepared me for, but it is something that can happen, and it very often happens to musicians because priorities are not set right. And priorities are very important.”

Sharing is Caring

Miloš’s willingness to share his own struggles made him an ideal teacher for masterclasses. “I don’t think I would be a good teacher if I had to teach someone how to play guitar from scratch, because the guitar had always been an instinctive instrument for me. However, when I am doing masterclasses, I don’t feel like I am teaching at all. What I do is I share my experiences as a musician with other good musicians.”

“Very often, I saw students who were very good players, but who were too limited within their world. They were struggling within that frame so much; they were trying to explode somehow out of those limitations.” This is where Miloš steps in. “If you know the right thing to say, then within just one sentence you can transform their life forever. You can transform how they feel about music making in such a profound way, probably in the same way that my world changed when I met David Russell in his masterclass. It was just so important for me to continue to do that.”

Music Education

Miloš believes music is not only for the young classical guitarist. “It’s not an excuse that you only play music if you end up playing it on a high level. In fact, there is nothing better in life than having music in your life and it’s not your profession, because there is so much more pleasure in music making and music consumption when it is not your bread and butter. It creates much more open-mindedness in people. That’s why what I tried to do in my spare time is to focus on music education, to educate the public that music should not be perceived as something that only the very few can do. Music should be for everybody.”

“Classical music and concerts, especially after the pandemic, are accused of being elitist and too exclusive, but at the same time we live in a capitalist society that is teaching everybody that it is fine to spend money on material luxuries. Why are they okay but going to a classical music concert is elitist? It’s actually very unfair. But the way to deal with that is not by shouting about it. The way to deal with it is to actually focus on education in schools, exposing children to music, and allowing them to take it in whichever way they want, to educate them that there is no shame in liking the classical guitar or piano. This is a big difference in Europe and America compared to Asia, where it is so unbelievably wonderful that young kids look up to classical music and look at it as being something very special, because it really is.”

Live Music

The onset of the pandemic introduced many musicians to the concept of online streaming, but Miloš was never convinced with the format. “Music only becomes alive in the moment you go on stage and play for an audience. The whole point of music is to create a connection and to communicate with the people by speaking the language of music, the language that everyone speaks. Everything else is in vain. That’s why I had only had one concert that was streamed, but it still had an audience inside the hall.”

Miloš’s resistance to online streaming stemmed from something more fundamental. “So much work goes into every performance of every piece of art. It took us years of hardest work to be able to play something. By throwing all these contents online, it made people feel that they can consume music at home, on TV, but it’s just not the same.”

“Online streaming made music consumable in a way that is not how it should be. It cheapened us as a musician and put us on a much lower level of need. In the beginning of the pandemic, it was of course important to keep the connection with the audience, but now we are suffering the bad effects from it. People are finding it hard to get out of their houses and go to concerts, because they are used to it being for free, or for $10 on TV where the whole family can watch it, and the incentive for going out is zero. The experience of live music is so important and so profound that we should never take it for granted. But I worry that we are taking it for granted.”


Since his debut in 2011, Miloš has produced seven albums, exploring not only the traditional classical guitar repertoire but also pushing the boundary by featuring newly commissioned concertos and even classical arrangements of pop songs. “The albums are all like my children, because I work so hard and I do my best with each one. Some are sour grapes, some are happy memories, but I’m proud of all of them equally, because they all have their own energy and character.” Miloš highlights Blackbird, the 2016 album of Beatles hits. “It challenged me in a very different way, and I loved the sound on that album and the arrangements so much. I think they are so complete and good.”

Miloš teases us with a sneak peek into his next album. “After 12 years of working with Universal Music, I have moved my exclusive contract now with Sony Classical, and my first album for them will come later next year. At the moment I’m working on this repertoire, which is a very, very important moment for me artistically, because it is completely different from what I played in my earlier albums. I’m going into earlier repertoire, exploring pieces that were not normally played with guitar, and it will be a new chapter for me. Think of it like a Miloš 2.0.” 

Interviewed by Vantage Music and written by Chester Leung.