A Word With Classical Guitarist Mak Grgic

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Classical Guitarist Mak Grgic (pronounced Mahk Ger-gitch) has been called a “gifted young guitarist” by The New York Times, and “a guitarist to keep an eye on” by the Washington Post. His extraordinary talents and tastes as a soloist, collaborator, and recording artist are fueled by his curiosity, imagination, and boundless energy.

The 32-year-old musician will be performing a recital on Sunday, Dec. 15 as part of the 2019-2020 Hawaii International Guitar Series. The event will take place at the Simpson Estate in Hawi, and you can find ticket info below.

The guitarist was on tour in Victoria, Canada, when I caught up with him by phone.

Will this be your first time performing on the Big Island?
Yes. I’ve never been to Hawaii before, so I’m very much looking forward to coming, and I booked two additional days to look around a little bit after the performance.

How is your current tour going?
Good. I’m stationed in Los Angeles, but I do around 90 concerts per year. It tends to get quite busy. Before coming to Canada, I was in Paris and then Columbia. I had a few things on the East Coast, in the States, so, they are rather big distances traveled in a short period of time.

Who influenced you the most as a musician?
That’s a tough call for me because I never pushed myself to do music. It just sort of happened because as I was starting out, I was more interested in sports and in science, math in particular. Music happened as an extracurricular activity for me because in Europe we have public education after-school programs. [Playing] the guitar was suggested to me by my father. There was a moment, however, when I was about 14 or so, and I was listening to Evgeny Igorevich Kissin performing Rachmaninoff’s “Second Piano Concerto” where the piano takes over the theme that was previously played by the orchestra. That was the first time where goosebumps came about because of music. I was like, wow! This must be something special!

Do you listen to other genres besides classical?
Yes, I mostly listen to other genres. I love classical and it will always be a big part of me, but I really love getting my ears immersed in specifically ‘70s and ‘80s, rock, good metal bands. Even some good disco finds its way around. I’m not foreign to EDM, even though for the most part, I find it to be more simply constructed music. But there’s something nice about the simplicity of it.

Tell us about your new recording Balkanisms.
Balkanisms is an attempt to give tribute to the place where I come from, and the image of who I am as an artist because I’ve morphed into so many different states of mind, playing all these different kinds of music that… being far away from home, feeling still a deep attachment to that area, with this kind of like war-torn background, from all the chaos that was happening there in the ‘90s, this all brought about the realization that it’s the music that I really love and that it is beautiful enough to work with. Balkanisms is the first solo recording that came from a gathering of different styles of music… all done for classical guitar. There’s one piece that’s a compositional medley of former Yugoslavian rock tunes, the popular rock tunes from the area.

Can you talk about the presentation of the new world premiere concerto Balkan Dances for Guitar and Ensemble by Leon First?
This particular concerto is a bit of an extension of the solo guitar repertoire that’s found on the Balkanisms album. The attempt here has been to create another concerto that could draw people in due to its simplistic background, simple melodies and very cool rhythms. If we look at the one and only super popular Guitar Concerto, which is Rodrigo’s concerto de Aranjuez, that concerto is like the quasi-pinnacle of the Spanish music written for guitar and orchestra. It has beauty and a dancelike character, and that’s why it’s become so popular. In this case, my desire was to use those same beautiful melodies, haunting melodies, and very interesting dance moves from the Balkan region… to take that, and put it into this shape and form, so that it could be presented on large stages to a bigger mass of people… My desire has been to achieve just that. It’s my hope that this could serve a similar purpose, bringing a classical guitar with some kind of a populistic approach accompanied by a symphony orchestra throughout. This is always a good addition to an overall existing classical guitar repertoire.

What can music fans look forward to at your upcoming Big Island debut?
It will be a recital program, meaning a little bit of a collage of things. I tend to prefer to do thematic programs, a story that supports the selection of pieces. In this case, however, because it’s such a general audience. I decided to draw the program from a few different projects of mine. I’m opening up with a sonata by Johann Sebastian Bach, the “First Violins Sonata.” And that is a part of one of my recent projects where I’m recording Bach music on a funky, well-tempered guitar, a guitar with movable frets. It’s called the micro-tonal guitar. Then I’m presenting a piece by Rodrigo, not a very often played piece called “Terracotta.” Then there will be a selection of pieces from my first album, which is called Cinema Verismo. The second part of the program will be completely dedicated to Balkanisms, and I’ll play selections of that newest album so that people can get a taste of it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we go?
I would love for this to be a call-out to all the guitar connoisseurs and aficionados to attend, but even more so if there are any people from the Balkan region in Hawaii. It would be lovely if those people could attend.


If You Go… Have A Good Show!

Event: Classical Guitarist Mak Grgic’s Recitel
When: Dec. 15 at 4 p.m.
Where: The Simpson Estate in Hawi – (Address Will be Provided Upon Ticket Purchase)
Cost: $30-$65 per concert with season tickets also available.
Info: Tickets are available online at: https://www.usclassicguitar.org/collections/hawaii-international-guitar-series-tickets


Mak Grgic’s albums are available on Spotify, Naxos Music Online, Amazon and many other places. You can find more about Mak Grgic on his website.

Photo credit: Melani Topalovic and Harun Mehmedinovic.

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