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EuroStrings Part II: Motivating the Next Classical Guitar Hero

An Interview with Classical Guitarist Mak Grgic

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Bringing the guitar festival into the new age is one thing, bringing up the next generation of classical guitarist is another. EuroStrings goes beyond the festival programming to offer educational and professional opportunities to the next generation of classical guitarists. The festival, in EuroStrings co-founder Mak Grgic’s eyes, can go even beyond the classical style to popularize classical guitar and bring in wider audiences. In this second part of the EuroStrings series, Mak Grgic shares his perspectives on maximizing exposure for the festivals and its young competitors and how the EuroStrings program motivates and educates young classical guitarists.

Do you see EuroStrings as restricted to only classical guitar music?

It’s definitely not restrictive — it is educational. You can educate classical guitarists in other styles of music. It can open doors in terms of festival programming. For example, you can invite someone like Jeff Beck to the festival and program an opener for him that is a classical guitarist. You would immediately become aware of the polarity of two different styles of music on the same instrument, and also raise awareness for classical guitar.

"The core will be classical, but will open doors to other styles of music."


This is also a technique for bringing a wider audience into the performance halls and using the overall power of popularity for the instrument in the classical guitar’s favor. So without a doubt, the academic core will be classical, but the means to go about popularizing the instrument and festivals will open doors to other styles of music.

For these festivals, the only restriction would be that the performer would have to physically be playing the guitar — you wouldn’t include air guitar or digital guitar?

Right, well that is an idea that hasn’t really fully formed yet. Not virtual reality necessarily, but maybe classical guitar gaming. Sort of like how Guitar Hero was formed and shone light on some bands that lay deeply forgotten. So yes, that is definitely an idea, but all in due time. We can’t oversaturate our partners with too many ideas.


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What are you thinking in terms of popularizing classical guitar? Like where you have classical covers of pop songs, or bring classical more into the mainstream?

In the case of EuroStrings, definitely not the pop song cover route. I have to be very careful in terms of what I can press upon with other festival organizers. The decisions of popularization have to come from a collective consensus after realizing and agreeing to what the smart next step forward would be.

Outdoor Performance at Zagreb Guitar Festival 2018.


We all understand that popularizing classical guitar can happen in many different forms. We could popularize by marketing better. This could be by using media very well, by appealing to a certain age bracket in a certain way, by reaching audiences not by snail mail but through apps, games, certain targeted ads, through whatever. It depends on what the core audience is. It doesn’t necessarily need to mix and match styles.

"There are scholarship opportunities for students from everywhere in the world."

How do you see EuroStrings motivating young guitarists in general?

There are many things available through the program to motivate young guitarists. For example, there are scholarship opportunities for students from everywhere in the world to travel to Europe to attend the affiliated festivals — and compete if they want, too.

There’s an incentive for anyone who does well and is nominated for the EuroStrings Artist program. This program is for young professionals to get exposure. They get networking and performing opportunities. They are invited to multiple festivals and have the opportunity to tour within festivals throughout the year.

On top of these benefits, we offer professional lectures and workshops. We structure our curriculum so that, throughout the year, they touch upon topics that are not taught at schools. How to dress well, how to promote yourself well, how to talk during business meetings, how to talk to people over drinks, how to present themselves at concerts, how to use modern media in your favor, etc.

There’s a lot of benefits, and they will just keep growing and growing as we come up with new ideas.

Does it communicate to them that there is an opportunity to have a successful career as a guitarist?

It does, of course. But the idea is also to provide a wake up call to those who think that just playing good is enough nowadays. For a long time, playing good hasn’t been enough.

Sofia Guitar Festival 2018. Image courtesy of EuroStrings.

Just look at, for example, Steve Vai. If you watch a documentary about his life, even from the very beginning, he was business savvy. And then he built his empire. He wasn’t just a great player. And he is from an older generation.

"It’s not enough to just sit on stage and shred it."

For the new generation, you have to be everything. I mean, it’s not even remotely enough to just sit on stage and shred it. There’s about five thousand people who can do the same thing. So it means much less now than a few decades ago.

So hopefully it’s a wake up call. Through EuroStrings, we want to bring awareness of classical guitar to audiences throughout the world, so that we fill those halls and get exposure for the instrument and young guitarists. We want for all these great guitarists to have a chance.

 

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

EuroStrings Part II: Motivating the Next Classical Guitar Hero

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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