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Grigoryan Brothers: Plucking at heartstrings

The Australian guitarists make relaxed, nuanced and seductive music
Slava and Leonard Grigoryan

Mathures Paul   |     |   Published 12.12.19, 01:00 PM

Versatility is immediately apparent while streaming the music of Grigoryan Brothers. Australian guitarists Slava and Leonard Grigoryan make music that’s relaxed, nuanced and seductive. You can experience this first-hand at the Calcutta International Classical Guitar Festival & Competition at the ICCR auditorium today (6.30pm), where they will present ‘Songs Without Borders’.

The Telegraph emailed the brothers before the gig and here’s what they have to say.

Both of you are continuously touring. What do you expect from an audience who know your music only from the few tunes available online? Do new venues excite you?

We have no expectations of audiences other than the wish that they enjoy the music we perform. In regard to venues, each venue brings its own challenges and joys. There are so many factors that determine this — the acoustics, aesthetics and, if it’s not an acoustic performance, the quality of the sound system. All of these variables impact how we play the music. It’s almost an organic process where we subtly adjust how we are playing to suit the venue.

What have you heard about the classical guitar scene in India?

To be honest, we actually don’t know too much about the classical guitar scene in India, so we’re very much looking forward to being at the festival and discovering something new.

You play the mainstream guitar repertoire as well as the masters. Where does your heart lie musically?

Because we enjoy playing and exploring all sorts of music, there is no specific era, genre or culture for which we have a preference. It comes down to what touches us musically and we follow that impulse.

Both of you were taught by your father. Tell us how you were taught and how he influenced the musician you have become...

Our parents were incredibly important influences on us musically. Our father did not play the guitar when he began teaching us, so he was sort of learning as he went. That he was an orchestral violinist — and our mother an orchestral viola player — meant he taught us the importance of diligence and technique. Much more importantly, he and mum introduced us to music of all sorts, which definitely led us to where we are today.

Though the number of hours one practises the guitar is important, equally significant is how you practise. What’s your take on it?

We agree wholeheartedly with your view on this. To put it simply, it’s not the old adage that ‘practice makes perfect’ rather its ‘perfect practice makes perfect’.

There are many guitarists who improvise and compose while also playing tunes that are known. Do you think composing pieces help you generally?

Without a doubt. Composition leads to a deeper understanding of music, how to craft something and how to draw emotion from the written note.

When you play, say, Bach, there are people who say it was not the way the music was played originally, giving way to discussions. How do you feel about that?

If by this you mean people who are purists and are not enamoured if a performer strays from the composers intention, while they are within their rights to voice such an opinion, music is an organic beast which evolves in time as a consequence of many variables — the instruments it is played on, cultural mores and so forth — hence we think that as long as the performance maintains its musical integrity, that is all that matters, even if it is not performed as originally intended.

So what does the word “interpretation” mean to you?

A person’s personal choice on how to perform someone’s creation and what their intention was.

Are you still nervous during a performance?

While nerves can be a distraction to performance, we are generally quite relaxed when performing. Much of this is a result of being prepared adequately. It is also a result of ‘being in the moment’ or to use the popular term used today, being ‘mindful’. If we have prepared the music to a point that we are comfortable playing it, then we just go on and enjoy ourselves — it really is about having fun. And if for some reason nerves do occasionally impact adversely on a performance, it’s much easier to accept these emotions than try to fight them.

How did it feel growing up to be a classical musician in the era of disco and pop?

Leonard: Slava was born in 1976 and I was born in 1985. We listened to all sorts of music growing up, including disco, pop, jazz, rock and music from around the world. Again it was our parents’ love of diverse musical styles that gave us our eclectic musical appreciation.

You were born in Kazakhstan and emigrated to Australia in 1981. Has your background affected your style or the pieces you play?

Slava: I was born in Kazakhstan and came to Australia when he was five or six and Leonard was born in Australia. So Australia has had far more of an impact on us than Kazakhstan but as mentioned above, our musical direction was determined more by our parents’ teaching and their own diverse musical appreciation.

What’s the hardest and the best part of being a musician?

The best part about being a musician is travelling and performing around the world. The hardest part about being a musician is travelling and performing around the world as well as it isn’t easy being away from our families.

What constitutes a good live performance?

Where we feel we have performed to the best of our abilities and have moved the audience… and they have hopefully shown their appreciation of our efforts.

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