Slava Grigoryan, Sydney Symphony Orchestra

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Appearing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Manning Entertainment Centre on Wednesday 22nd May is ARIA Award Winning Guitarist Slava Grigoryan, of the Grigoryan Brothers.
We spoke with Slava while he was on tour in Hobart, to find out more about his music, and what we can expect when he appears in the Manning with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Hello Slava. Can you tell our readers about your musical journey? When did you first pick up a guitar, and when did it turn into a career?

Well, music is very much a family affair. My parents are both professional musicians. They grew up and met each other in the Soviet Union and played together, studied together and then worked together in Kazakhstan, where I was born. 

When I was about four years old, the family immigrated to Australia, and I was about six when they gave me my first instrument. They are both violinists. Well actually, Mum’s a violist, but dad always loved the guitar and thought that it might be a good instrument to start me off on – and I loved it. I always loved playing and practising, and Dad was my only real teacher until I was much older. 

When I was nine years old, my brother came along, and four years later he started playing as well. So, music was very much the language spoken at home.  

That’s an amazing start to your music career. What was the catalyst that had you turn it into a career? Was it really organic for you?

To be honest, I didn’t really think about it so much. Mum and Dad were the opposite of pushy parents when it came to music. They were very strong willed in terms of getting me to do my homework and achieve at school, academically speaking, whereas music for them were just something that was part of our lives, and it was never forced upon us. If we wanted to keep on playing, we had to do it properly. We had to practice enough and keep on progressing. 

I did really well when I was about 10 or 12 years old and through some of those opportunities, a few little gigs came my way, and I realised that I liked performing in front of people and one thing kind of led to another. When I was about 16, I ended up in a recording studio in Sydney after meeting someone at a competition up there and a few years later, what I recorded in that studio ended up being released in my first record. 

When did your brother, Leonard start performing with you?

I finished high school; took a gap year … I’m still on that gap year 30 years later. I went to Europe when I was 18 and studied with a great teacher in Spain. Things started really taking off around that time. 

My brother is nine years younger than me, and back then, my brother was only nine, so he had a childhood without me at home, which was, in many ways, great. It’s the reason why we are such best friends and work together 95% of the time to this day. 

So, those first few years of career building was just me on my own, and when Leonard was about 14 or 15, we started touring together. 

You play different genres of music – classical, jazz, contemporary – but is there any particular genre you love the most?

Not really. I guess that’s the reason why we sort of float between worlds so much. As a musician, I studied classical music – it’s what I learnt and what my brother learnt. Having said that, however, guitar is an extremely versatile instrument and has a very important role to play in every genre of music.  

My parents loved jazz, blues and rock. So, growing up we had Bach in one ear and Jimmy Hendrix in the other, and lots of jazz in between – everything was encouraged. 

Guitar is the perfect instrument for traversing different genres, and we incorporate that into our every day gigs. So, there are lots of pieces that are very straight and authentic in terms of their classicism, but then there are pieces where we are able to improvise. We love all sorts of music from around the world, and it’s been great that our audiences are open to going on that journey with us in the concerts.   

You’ve toured all over the world – what’s been the most amazing experience/ location you’ve had when it comes to touring?

I once played a concert in Nicosia, Cyprus, in an old palace which was actually the United Nations barracks – this is actually the border between Greece and Turkey. When it was time for the concert, the Greek audience came in through one door, and the Turkish audience came in through another door, and they locked the doors and I played the concert. There was a big dinner afterwards. Within the audience were people who were great friends from 20 or 30 years ago and only get to see each other maybe once every six or seven years at an occasion like this.  

So for me, being a part of something like that was pretty amazing. To think that music has the power to bring people together like that is really wonderful. 

You’re currently touring with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (which must be amazing in itself), but can you give us a bit of an insight into what we can expect when we come to see you?

I get to play with orchestras a few times every year. With orchestras like the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, it’s fantastic; the musicians are so great, and it’s so easy to make great music together. On this occasion my role is actually very simple; I’m just there as a soloist to join them for a wonderful piece of music – Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, which is the most significant piece for guitar in an orchestra. It’s something that most people have heard at one time or another, and it really is an amazing piece of music and I really love every opportunity I get to play this piece … most especially for new audiences. 

For me, regional touring is the most important thing that I do … it’s about taking music to people who don’t have a huge concert hall, and about having the opportunity to introduce music to people – sometimes for the first time – and getting some of those creative juices flowing. It’s a really a great experience for us. It is probably the one aspect of my life that I don’t ever want to stop doing. 

Thanks Slava.

Interview: Ingrid Bayer.

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