To soon to say if this next big thing is the real deal
He’s been labelled classical guitar’s new hero, but while Milos Karadaglic is good, his elevation to the pantheon of greats is premature, writes MICHAEL DUNGAN
MY ATTENTION wandered briefly (justification to follow) during last week’s recital at the NCH by the next big thing in classical guitar, Milos Karadaglic. And I found myself pondering a great philosophical question. What is real?
I’m a school-teacher by day, and this is the same classic question my fifth and sixth years are chewing over at the moment. God love them – whether it’s Plato asking in his parable of the cave, or Laurence Fishburne (alias Morpheus) in the film The Matrix, “What is real?” is a question with only an indirect bearing on the appalling points-race that, by necessity, consumes them.
Indeed, God love me. I’m back in college doing a course in which I am asked the exact same question, but by terrifying critical theorists such as Jean Baudrillard (who constructed a credible challenge to the reality of the first Gulf War) and Theodor Adorno, who brought to a wide public a critique of mass culture, what he re-named the culture industry.
Adorno trained as a composer and was friends with Alban Berg. He was conscious of connections between music and our perception of reality, endorsing only the avant-garde and alienating even his closest colleagues with a vigorous condemnation of jazz. I shudder to think what he would have made of Milos Karadaglic.
He’s a very good guitarist, no question. Also young and good-looking – and tall, his long legs in black drain-pipes offering a whiff of rock’n’roll. He was articulate and charming in spoken introductions to his pieces, his flawless English tinged with exotic traces of an accent from his native Montenegro.
But the Daily Telegraph has dubbed him “classical guitar’s new hero” (based on his debut CD in 2011), and the music industry has been busily championing him with two major awards from Gramophone magazine last year and now a 2012 Classical Brit, all buttressed by the promotional heft of record label Deutsche Grammophon. Is it real or is it hype? In Dublin, the NCH has immediately placed him on a par with James Galway and Renée Fleming in the “Great Artists” strand of its current International Concert series.
Really? While he played a nice programme at the NCH with a sweet tone and notable technical assurance, you wouldn’t classify his performance as that of a “hero”, much less a “great artist”, if that expression has any meaning any more. His phrasing was quite ordinary, sometimes bordering on bland in Bach (the Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 997) and in a selection of oft-plucked etudes and other short pieces by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Even pieces by composers from South America (Jorge Morel, Jorge Cardoso, Isaiah Savio and Agustín Barrios), whose main feature was colour, were often surprisingly rather blanched.
Milos (he’s being marketed with just his first name) may eventually ascend to the guitar pantheon alongside Segovia, Bream and Williams.
Right now, however, it’s hard not to declare that his elevation is premature, propelled by an incautious newspaper headline and a classical-music industry desperate for stars. The Daily Telegraph surely knows that few things in the music business are less real than studio recordings.
Last week saw the start of this year’s island-wide auditions for the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland. The NYOI wrestles constantly with competing ideas about what is real, between providing its young players with as authentic an experience as possible of playing in a symphony orchestra, and worrying about bums on seats.
The programme for January’s New Year Gala tries to balance the two, presenting great works from the classical repertoire (the Grieg Piano Concerto and Borodin’s Symphony No 2) but alongside music from Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park.
Is such faith in the selling-power of less-than-great music justified? It wasn’t necessary, for example, in last summer’s programme, when Rimsky-Korsakov, Mozart and Shostakovich (the Symphony No 10) gave the teenagers plenty to sink their teeth into, in which they were led with great insight and expressive energy from the podium by a first-class conductor, Alan Buribayev.
Buribayev was in action with the RTÉ NSO on Friday, by which time – between school, college and concerts – I was plagued with wondering what was real. The least real thing on Friday night was the concert’s subtitle, From Poland with Love – an evocative marketing tag, but not one based in reality since only one of the three works performed was Polish (neither composer nor publisher called Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony “Polish” – it was a nickname from a conductor, August Manns).
But it didn’t matter, such was the quality of the performance. Buribayev drew out all the familiar Tchaikovsky tension, excitement and emotion from this less-familiar Tchaikovsky symphony, and provided careful and responsive partnership in soloist Hisako Kawamura’s lively, velveteen account of Chopin’s F minor Piano Concerto. So call it From Kazakhstan with Love for Buribayev, or From Japan with Love for Kawamura – but hey, what do I know about marketing?
The always-free Sunday at Noon recital at the Hugh Lane Gallery presented French cellist Marc Coppey and Irish pianist Finghin Collins in music by Bach (the Sonata in D, BWV 1028, originally for bass viol and harpsichord), Bartók (the Rhapsody No 1 in the composer’s own transcription from the original for violin) and Rachmaninov’s Sonata in G Op 19.
The feeling was that the two were always aiming for the Rachmaninov. The Bartók is lively, but they kept something in reserve. They were sometimes a little “big” in the Bach, as the impulse for romanticism strained at the leash and then was finally let go in the Rachmaninov. Here the partnership was as though of one mind, with a determination to seek out every variety and degree of feeling through musical expression.
The audience leapt to its feet. I wondered, is an audience for a free concert more real? What’s real is the consistent quality of this long-standing series, and the experience of people who sample the widest range of music, and the numbers who pour into the Hugh Lane Gallery every Sunday.
Michael Dervan is on leave