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Venue is cool, the guitarist a blazing new star when classical meets pop at the City Winery

Submitted by on Nov 10, 2013 – 11:46 am

Preview: Montenegrin guitarist Miloš Karadaglić, touring with an elegant new CD that mixes classical and pop, headlines Chicago debut of international Yellow Lounge series of club gigs Nov. 11.

By Lawrence B. Johnson

When the Montenegrin virtuoso guitarist Miloš Karadaglić performs Nov. 11 at the City Winery of Chicago, he’ll be there under the aegis of a bold, off-beat international project to present major classical artists in club settings. 

Dubbed Yellow Lounge, the worldwide series is the creation of Universal Music Classics – parent of the celebrated recording labels Decca and Deutsche Grammophon — and named for DG’s distinctive yellow label. Although the Yellow Lounge venture dates back a decade in clubs across Europe and Asia, it’s only now being introduced in the U.S. with November dates in New York (at the ultra-hip Poisson Rouge), Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago.

“It was essential that we include Chicago, such an unbelievably important city culturally,” says Elizabeth Sobol, president of Universal Music Classics. “This is a vital kind of event for classical music. In smaller performance spaces there’s always this tremendous energy and concentration.”

Not to mention tasty snacks and wine to nibble and sip while you listen.

“Our servers and staff are really well-trained in how to move about the room in a non-obtrusive fashion,” says Libby Brickson, programming director at City Winery of Chicago, a West Loop bistro-with-concert hall that has presented a wide range of artists from folk-rock and country to jazz and classical music since opening its doors a little more than a year ago. “I enjoy all different types of genres and I don’t see dividing lines between them. We think City Winery has created a whole new conversation about classical music.”

And guitarist Karadaglić, well-traveled on the worldwide Yellow Lounge circuit, adds an enthusiastic voice to that dialogue.

“It’s really a constant communication between the performer and the audience in these venues, and I’ve played some of the funkiest you can imagine,” says Karadaglić, who has performed Yellow Lounge gigs from Amsterdam and London to Berlin, Madrid and Seoul.  “This is what I’ve always wanted – more people to enjoy the classical guitar. There has always been a small group of aficionados, but some like the Yellow Lounge embraces everybody. It’s great.”

This is a man to be taken seriously. Karadaglić, 30, who studied classical guitar at the Royal Academy of Music in London, is himself a serious guy (albeit with a ready sense of humor). He’s also a monster guitarist, if one is to judge from a new CD that he will sample in his City Winery appearance. Titled “Canción,” the album (from Deutsche Grammophon) display’s the span of Karadaglić’s artistic temperament from the cool clime of “Bésame Mucho” and the mellow-swing zone of “The Girl From Ipanema” to classical etudes by Villa-Lobos.

The playing is invariably buoyant, precise and stylistically apt. In a pulsing groove like Jorge Ben’s “Más que nada,” the guitarist reveals the touch of a jazz musician. In the lovely little “Spanish Romance,” which surely has been played by every soul who ever studied classical guitar, Karadaglić shows that technical wizardry can express itself in the gentlest of terms. And his seemingly effortless, thoroughly musical playing of the Villa-Lobos etudes leaves no doubt of real mastery.

He promises some of everything at City Winery. “The Yellow Lounge experience allows me to embrace the inner rock musician,” Karadaglić says with a laugh, “but I don’t think of it as cross-over. The Yellow Lounge audiences are usually young, and they give me this amazing new energy. Sometimes in the middle of a piece they applaud or cheer, and that’s an adrenaline rush you can only get in a venue like this. It’s a natural environment, with all the colors of the rainbow.”

The City Winery event, co-presented by Chicago classical radio station WFMT-FM, also will feature the Spektral Quartet, an ensemble in residence at the University of Chicago known for its cutting-edge repertoire.

“We’re thrilled Spektral could be part of this,” says Elizabeth Sobol at Universal Music Classics. “We didn’t need to bring in anyone from outside Chicago. Spektral was at the top of our list.”

More Yellow Lounge concerts are planned for City Winery, says Sokol, who sees the future of classical music in such ventures.

“We want to do three to four events a year in each of our primary markets and add other cities as well,” she says. “I’m inspired by the energy of the younger generation. They are ravenous, passionate. The world of classical music has many challenges, and it’s evolving like everything else. But I’m very reassured when I spend time around music students. I’m in no way cowed about the future.”

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