You can get up close and personal with a world-renowned, Grammy-nominated guitarist in Davenport on Sept. 11.

Mak Grgić, a friendly, 35-year-old native of Slovenia, will first perform that day at 2 p.m. for the Quad City Symphony Orchestra chamber music “Up Close” series at a new (for classical music) venue, Davenport’s Redstone Room (at the RME, 2nd and Main streets). Grgic will return with the full QCSO as guest soloist on Masterworks III: Ode to Guitar, in December, at the Adler Theatre and Centennial Hall.

Mak Grgic is a 35-year-old native of Slovenia, now teaching at University of South Carolina.

The Sept. 11 show (featuring a QCSO string quartet in the second half) will be his first QC appearance; he made his Iowa debut this past March at Grinnell College.

The program begins with selections from Mak’s album Cinema Verismoa, which features originals and adaptations of beloved music featured in famous movies from the past few decades. The QCSO String Quartet joins for the second half to perform Luigi Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet No. 4, “Fandango” and Miroslav Tadic’s Balkan Suite — which was inspired by tunes from the Balkan Peninsula.

The QCSO string quartet on Sept. 11 will consist of (clockwise from upper left) Emily Nash, Sabrina Tabby, Hannah Holman and Bruno Vaz da Silva.

The Balkan pieces — from Mak’s slice of the world — are special for him, he said in a recent interview.

“First and foremost, the music is fun. People really engage with that, people really dig it,” Mak said. “There is something exotic about it, but it also grooves a lot.”

This suite of five pieces was arranged for string quartet and guitar by Leon First, a friend of Mak’s who’s a Slovenian composer, “a very talented younger composer,” he said.

From the ethnic music of his native Balkans to extreme avant-garde and microtonal music, his roles as soloist, collaborator, and recording artist are fueled by curiosity, imagination, and boundless energy, according to Mak’s bio. In 2018, he was invited by singer-songwriter k.d. lang to perform as the opening act for her North American “Ingénue Redux” tour.

Born in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 1987, Mak studied guitar in Zagreb. By the age of 14, he was balancing his world champion status in karate with his love for the guitar. Following an injury to his left thumb, he decided to focus solely on a career in music, going on to the University for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna and in the fall of 2017, he began the Artist Diploma program at USC, the first guitarist in the university’s history to be admitted to this elite program.

Mak is proud to be involved with the Bosana Foundation, an organization that raises money for Bosnian youth. He also regularly awards education-furthering scholarships to select students across South America and now holds the position of Artist Performer and Professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Music (he called it “the other USC”).

Thrill of premiering new pieces

In the interview, Mak said it’s exciting to commission and premiere new works, like he’ll do here in December, with the Dec. 3-4 Masterworks concert featuring the premiere of a Guitar Concerto by Michael Abels, which the QCSO co-commissioned. 

“It’s especially exciting if you know this person, bringing new work to the stage as you know they’re celebrating really fantastic undiscovered talent,” Mak said. Abels is not undiscovered, as he’s well known for penning scores to Jordan Peele’s films “Get Out” (2017) and “Us“ (2019). 

Mak is premiering his new Guitar Concerto first in Houston, Tex., in late September, then with the QCSO on Dec. 3-4. Abels’ works have often been done by the QCSO, as music director and conductor Mark Russell Smith is longtime friends with the composer (they both grew up in Phoenix).

QCSO music director Mark Russell Smith, left, with composer Michael Abels.

“Having this being written for me, in this occasion, is a big honor,” Mak said of Abels. “But he’s already on the map. So working with Leon is more like, oh, I’m discovering new talent.”

While the Redstone Room (on second floor of River Music Experience) has traditionally been home to many rock, pop, jazz and folk concerts, having classical music there is unusual.

Mak said he’s spent a few years in Los Angeles playing in clubs and bars, so that aspect won’t be too different, though having a string quartet and Bach on the program is different for the Redstone.

 “I kind of like these special, different types of settings,” he said.

Performing worldwide

As both soloist and collaborator, Mak averages 85 concerts a year. Recent engagements include performances and residencies at the Musikverein and the Konzerhaus in Vienna; the Konzerthuset in Stockholm several venues in Portugal; Teatro Cervantes de Bejar in Castilla-Leon/Spain; the Sarajevo Music Academy; several venues in Slovenia; the Paris Guitar Foundation; Zurich University of the Arts; Taipei National Theater; Shanghai Grand Theater; and the Hong Kong International Guitar Festival.

The versatile guitarist will perform in the QC Sept. 11 and again Dec. 3-4.

In North America, he has performed at Austin Classical Guitar; Beyond Microtonal Music Festival/Pittsburgh; the Dallas Opera for performances of Peter Maxwell Davies’s The Lighthouse; Dumbarton Concerts/Washington, D.C.; The Kennedy Center/Washington, D.C.; Mainly Mozart/San Diego; the National Gallery of Art; NAMM Show/California; Strathmore Hall/Maryland; the New York Classical Guitar Society; the Pacific Symphony; Triangle Guitar Society/North Carolina; and Walt Disney Hall/Los Angeles.

An enthusiastic recording artist, Mak’s latest recordings, “Balkanisms” for Naxos Music plus “MAKrotonal” and Grammy-nominated “Mak|Bach” for MicroFest Records, explore a vast repertoire spanning ethnic music, microtonal, new music and early music on re-fretted instruments, such as a “zig-zag fretted Bach prototype guitar” that allows him to create a “well- tempered guitar” for “Mak|Bach.”

New projects are Mak’s first recording of his own compositions (due in November); and an all-concerto recording including Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” and “Balkan Suite of Dances,” a new concerto based on music from “Balkanisms.”

For more information, visit his website. Tickets to the “Up Close” concert are $25 for adults and $10 for students, available HERE.