Mak Grgić’s Magnificent Big Island Debut Performance


Classical guitarist Mak Grgić performed a magnificent recital on Sunday, Dec. 15, at the Simpson Estate in Hawi. His program featured a combination of works by J.S. Bach and other classical composers along with selections from Grgić ’s new Balkanisims CD.

Grgić was introduced by U.S. Classic Guitar (USCG) President William Jenks who spoke about the inaugural Hawaii International Guitar Series 2020 concert series, and that altogether there will be five recitals featuring top classical guitarists from around the world. The series will run for the next four months and the final concert will be on Sunday, April 12, 2020.

The spacious Simpson Estate, situated on the northern tip of the Big Island, looked out at the blue Pacific Ocean with Maui’s towering Haleakalā not too far in the distance. An intimate gathering, including some guitar aficionados, enjoyed a casual afternoon of breathtaking music along with a selection of wine and cheese.

Grgić, Slovenian by birth, studied guitar at the Elly Basic Music Academy, and by 14, he was balancing his world champion status in karate with his love for the guitar. In 2009, he made his concert debut in Russia and performed with the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra. Today, he averages 85 performances a year — nearly two bookings per week — as both a soloist and collaborator. His talents have not gone unnoticed. From The New York Times to newspapers in China, Austria, and México, all have praised Grgić’s unique talent, and Sunday’s Big Island recital debut was no exception.

Grgić performed his afternoon concert on a German guitar made by Antonius Muller. The acoustics were perfect, and the guitarist played without amplification. The audience remained respectfully quiet until Grgić looked up to acknowledge he was finished. Grgić would often rest his cheek on the upper bout of the guitar’s body, starring intensely as his fingers flew up and down the fretboard.

It was easy to get lost watching his excellent technique and range of emotional expression, but I was lured away at times to the cinematic backdrop behind him. As the sun set, a reflection of Hawi’s wind turbines were silhouetted on the window above his head, practically keeping time with the music as they spun. A tugboat traveled slowly toward Maui, while waves crashed on the rocks below. A little slice of heaven indeed.

In my interview with Grgić, he mentioned that he listens to other genres besides classical, and there were a few short snippets of rock classics (“Smoke on the Water” and “Stairway to Heaven”) played while tuning up between songs. He flashed the crowd a sly smile as they acknowledged the tunes.

“It’s amazing what music can do!”

In his first set, Grgić played a piece by Joaquín Rodrigo, called “Toccata,” along with selections from Grgić’s first album Cinema Verismo. The guitarist noted that the music from this recording featured themes from many popular films like Chariots of Fire and West Side Story and it was used in a project to help rekindle memories of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Grgić said he not only toured the album’s release professionally, but he also went to many institutions and played for patients, adding, “It’s amazing what music can do!”

After intermission, the second half of the program was completely dedicated to Balkanisms, Grgić’s latest album. The guitarist said that this was his favorite part of the show since it covers the Balkan peninsula, the area where he came from. “Living in Los Angeles now,” said the musician, “It’s very meaningful to me that I pay tribute to that culture and music. This music gives people an insight into who I am and where I come from.”

The Hawaii International Guitar Series continues next month with Spanish guitarist Virginia Luque (Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020). On Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, there will be an exciting concert featuring Polish guitarist Mateusz Kowalski who recently won first prize in the prestigious EuroStrings Guitar Competition held in London. Legendary Scottish guitarist David Russell will perform Saturday, March 28, 2020, at the Kahilu Theatre in Waimea. Russell won a Grammy Award in 2004 for his CD Aire Latino in the category of Best Solo Instrumental Classical Album and was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Guitar Foundation of America in 2018. U.S. Classic Guitar President William Jenks and internationally renowned Italian guitarist Giovanni Grano will perform the final concert on Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020. To purchase tickets, please visit USCG’s website.

Set I
J.S.Bach: Violin Sonata No.1 in g minor, BMV 1001: Adagio/Fuga/Sicilano/Presto | F. Tarrega: Lágrima | J.Rodrigo: Toccata | E. Morricone: Gabriel’s Obe/ The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Theme/ I. Albeniz: Asturias |
Set II
D. Bogdanovic: Levantine Suite | M. Tadic: Chicho/Jovka/Rustemuul/Macedonian Girl/Walk Dance |
Antonio Lauro: Seis por derecho

To learn more about Mak Grgić’s music and tour schedule, please visit his website.

Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author and a Big Island filmmaker. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.

Photos: Steve Roby


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