In Conversation: Slava Grigoryan

In Conversation: Slava Grigoryan

Celebrating the release of Bach's Cello Suites Volume II. 

Slava Grigoryan
Sydney, Australia

In Conversation: Slava Grigoryan

Celebrating the release of Bach's Cello Suites Volume II. 

Today we celebrate the launch of your brand new Bach album, which appears following widespread critical acclaim of its earlier counterpart. Can you tell me about the recording sessions for this second volume - did they feel different to working on the first? 

It was a very similar process to recording Volume 1. I was lucky to be working with the same engineer and producer (Alex Stinson and Shaun Rigney), so it really felt like we’d just had a short break and were back in the same room with the same equipment. Volume 1 was actually the first recording session that took place in UKARIA so there were a few surprises to deal with. This time around we were totally prepared!

What is it about Bach’s writing that captures you and inspired the recording project? When did you first think to play his works on your own instrument and further to that, why does his writing speak so well on the guitar?

To me, Bach’s writing is absolutely full of mysteries, excitement and incredibly sensitive beauty. As a guitarist, I grew up playing the existing repertoire that we have to draw upon - the lute suites, some of the violin partitas etc. It was only when I first held a baritone guitar in my hands that I thought of arranging the cello suites in the original keys, something that wouldn’t be possible on regular classical guitar due to it’s range. The baritone is much larger and has a very long sustain with a deeper, more resonant sound. It’s a much better instrument for delving into cello repertoire. Though I honestly think that Bach’s music works brilliantly on any instrument that can play it!

You recorded in the stunning UKARIA Cultural Centre in the Adelaide Hills this September. What inspired you about the location and how did you prepare for the four intensive days of playing? 

I was very fortunate to have performed at the UKARIA Cultural Centre a number of times before the first recording. The acoustics are astounding and to be amongst such breathtaking scenery when you’re there really makes this one of the jewels amongst concert venues anywhere in the world. Everything about it is inspiring! The preparation for this recording was very drawn out because this music had to be arranged first. Luckily for me, my wife Sharon is a wonderful cellist who knows this repertoire backwards. She helped tremendously with editing and advice.

Having won many awards throughout your career (including this year’s ARIA Award for Best Classical Album - huge congratulations from the Rehearsal team!), what are your thoughts on the influence competitions have on a musicians career, if indeed they have any? Do you think participating in competitions is an integral part of development for young musicians? 

I’ve been very fortunate to have won some awards over the years but in actual fact I was never successful in competitions. I think they’re wonderful in terms of motivation and focus for young players - the stress of preparing, dealing with nerves and being surrounded by better players can be a great inspiration. They can help a career of course but there have been countless examples of where they haven't! Being one’s own  best judge is ultimately what it’s all about. Musicians shouldn’t let unsuccessful competitions prevent them from going forward just as much as they shouldn’t get complacent after receiving any kind of honours.

You often work as a duo with your brother Leonard Grigoryan - can you tell me about the beginnings of your musical partnership and what you’ve learned about ensemble work from playing together? 

Lenny and I have played together since he was four years old. Professionally, we’ve been giving concerts as a duo for almost 20 years. We’ve spent so much time together, communicating through music and without it. It’s very hard for me to imagine a better musical partner. We don’t plan on slowing down together so I hope that the process of learning about each other and the music we share will continue teaching us about ensemble playing well into the future.

For young guitarists hoping to build solo careers, what advice do you have for standing out from the crowd? Is there anything you wish you’d known when you were getting started? 

The best advice I could give a young guitarist is to listen and absorb as much ‘non guitar’ music as possible. Listen to great pianists and string quartets, the great orchestras playing the great repertoire the great singers etc etc. As guitarists, we’re terribly unfortunate in that the truly great composers, (aside from Bach) didn’t write for our instrument. We don’t have Beethoven sonatas or Mozart concertos or Brahms symphonies (the list goes on and on) to sink our teeth into. And yet, so much of our understanding of western classical music comes from the legacy left behind by such great minds. Our understanding of phrasing, voice leading, use of colour, comes from this font of knowledge but sadly this incredible resource is usually not high on the list of priorities for young guitarists.

Slava Grigoryan's new album, Cello Suites Volume II, is out today. Listen here