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EuroStrings Part I: Reimagining the Classical Guitar Festival

An Interview with Classical Guitarist Mak Grgic

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The music festival for the world of classical guitar is being brought into a new age. A new and innovative collaboration among European classical guitar festival organizers has emerged to showcase and educate young classical guitarists, while also aiming to increase attendance and entertainment value. This collaboration, EuroStrings, bridges together classical guitar festivals, events and communities, so they aren’t isolated and in one place, but truly interconnected. EuroStrings co-founder Mak Grgic, a young innovative guitarist and festival curator, shares his story of helping create this program in response to a need he saw within the festival community and the future he sees for international collaboration and expansion.

First of all, what is EuroStrings?

Our goal in writing down what ultimately became EuroStrings was to make sure there was a way for more people to come together and attempt to provide better awareness on a larger scale for the classical guitar. The idea was to make sure that the classical guitar has a chance of spreading out as other instruments have and to create and have a following like was the case in the past when the old masters could fill up big halls, have a decent following and make decent money.

For the last 20 years, the concept of a guitar festival has mostly become stale. Little is being used in terms of creative programming or creative curatorial effort.

By contrast, look at the LA Philharmonic, Cite de la Musique in Paris, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra or the contemporary opera project in Los Angeles called The Industry. You can see how they think about creating a season and how they fill the seats up. They continuously think about how to be contemporary, but not in terms of putting only cutting edge music on stage. Contemporary in terms of going side by side with time, using their resources in the right way, and not just spending money on the same old things that people have heard many times around.

"We can’t really change anything from one little city, but if we manage to join forces…"

After a few runs with different organizations and festivals that I have helped curate, I got a chance to assist with organizing a festival in Croatia, the Zagreb Guitar Festival. In thinking about how to make the festival better, we realized, we can’t really change anything from one little city in Croatia. If we manage to join forces with some of our friends and bring awareness on a larger scale, maybe we can make people understand that we need to do better — better in terms of education for guitarists and festival organizers.


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The idea for EuroStrings started like that, and people latched on to it pretty quickly. Now we have 17 separate festivals from different countries partnering up. We also have quite a few festivals on the waitlist to become partners from all over the world. This is only our first year of doing the work, so it’s getting pretty big pretty quick, and I’m happy about that.

How did you guys get the funds – it’s funded by the EU, right? How was the application process?

There is a EU funding source called Creative Europe. We got startup funding for the first four years of work. In that time we are supposed to find a business model that sustains the organization.

"You can’t just say, I’m going to join forces with 17 cooks and make a gigantic pancake."


Applying is a lengthy process and difficult. Our application was long — hundreds of pages. Getting chosen was a whole different beast. We were the first classical music platform to ever get it. So it’s a big deal, getting chosen. And it’s a lot of financial support, too. You don’t get that money for nothing — you really have to justify the funding. You can’t just say, I’m going to join forces with 17 cooks and make a gigantic pancake. It doesn’t work that way.

I like this idea of making a giant pancake with 17 different cooks…

You want to apply? It could be a giant pancake to wrap yourself in as a blanket and eat from within.

But a contemporary pancake, with salted caramel…

You have to walk side by side with time, you know, having only Nutella is not enough anymore.

Performance at the Zagreb Guitar Festival

Photo is provided courtesy of the Zagreb Guitar Festival

Can it expand or have partners outside of Europe? How can other geographic areas become involved with EuroStrings?

The point of it is to be Eurocentric but global. There are many options. However, I feel that with a collaboration of this magnitude, it’s important not to rush in too drastically in terms of collaborative efforts too soon, because it can easily fold onto itself.

The first year’s functional option is artist exchange. So that is the most important function, mostly young performers, but also pedagogues. It’s about learning and accepting different markets and trying to make the best out of that exchange.

"It only works if the collective brain is big enough."

In a long term sense, what we want to do is have like a G8 summit, where festival leaders and performers from all over the world meet a few times a year. They would acknowledge change, talk about the future, see what attracts good audiences, and see what media and technology is available to the classical guitar. For example, we want to be able to take advantage of the fact that there is a Guitar Hero video game out there, that there are virtual reality platforms. We want to take advantage of all of these advancements, and it only works if the collective brain is big enough.

For the first time, Europe with its rich tradition in classical music is getting together and joining forces in this particular sector. People from all over the world are excited, because if they get a chance to be in this platform, it’s an opportunity for endless and continuous networking.

 

Photos and videos in this article are provided courtesy of EuroStrings and participating festivals.

EuroStrings Part I: Reimagining the Classical Guitar Festival

Mak Grgic

Mak Grgic is a classical guitarist and one of the founders of Eurostrings, the European Guitar Festival Collaborative. The expansiveness of Mak’s repertoire winds its way through a dizzying array of approaches, from music of the baroque and renaissance (for which he received praise from Washington Post) to music of a cinematic nature, ethnic music of his native Balkan Peninsula, and extreme avant-garde and microtonal music. His first solo release on Marquis Records entitled Cinema Verismo explores adept guitar arrangements of music from the movies. His latest recordings, Balkanisms for Naxos Music and MAKrotonal for MicroFest Records, an album produced by the Grammy Award winning producer John Schneider, explore a vast repertoire spanning ethnic music, microtonal newly-composed music and early music on re-fretted instruments.

In the recent past Mak has showcased an innate affection for entrepreneurial work. This has resulted in directorship roles at EuroStrings; Zagreb Guitar Festival and Roots & Notes Interactive Music Festival in Croatia; Music@RushHour in Los Angeles; and Acoustic Caffeine Concert Series in cooperation with Arts Brookfield.


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