The internationally acclaimed Slava Grigoryan is the Artistic Director of the imminent Adelaide International Guitar Festival (August 8-12). The 25 minutes allowed by Telstra for this interview was a frustratingly short time with this unassuming and clearly devoted musician.
Slava is clearly one of the World's greats when it comes to the "King of Strings", and the most popular instrument in the world, so I asked him what is the importance of a guitar festival such as this: This festival celebrates the guitar in all its shapes, forms and sounds: the universal appeal of the instrument, embracing so many genres, and this makes the Adelaide festival unusual in that it is not just of classical, or just blue grass or flamenco – it's everything about the guitar, and there are only a couple of such festivals in the world.
So how do these widely variant genres live together in one festival? Slava explained that this comes from celebrating the instrument itself: People who play guitar are aware of other genres, and even very focussed and specific professionals learn from other ways of playing it, and integrate new ideas. More than any other single instrument, the guitar provides such variety in looks, style, and musical form. This has been the case for centuries before the 20th century addition of electronics to the field, so that we can find it in every kind of music in every corner of the world.
This led me to wonder about the inclusion of the "Meet the Maker" segment in the Festival this month: We wanted to give the makers a respectful platform to showcase the various aspects of their craft,
Slava explained. Instead of having a bevy of makers all demonstrating and marketing their wares at once, this forum will give some 13 of Australia's finest exponents of guitar a 90 minute slot each to host a presentation of their own instruments and their building techniques. People can also try different instruments out. This has created a lot of interest and the sessions will run throughout the Festival.
Turning to Slava the person, I wondered what sorts of influences moulded this remarkable musician and his younger brother Leonard, who joins him in many ventures of performing and recording, and I wondered if sibling rivalry ever reared its head. It is clear that this is more than just a family association. It is a fulfilling professional partnership.
Leonard was only 9 years old when Slava left for overseas at 18. When I came back four years later, Lennie had matured as a musician and as a person and there has never been any hint of competition. It's a great partnership, and about 80% of my work is with him. But we each do separate things as well, and both have our own equilibrium, together and individually.
Both parents encouraged the musical development of the family. Edward, the boys' father, a violinist "who is inspired by many different kinds of music",
taught and encouraged them from a young age. He has now a great interest in the guitar as well.
I asked about other mentors, teachers and influences outside of the family: Dad was my main teacher, but at 13 I spent a year learning from Ron Payne, where I learned a lot about new techniques, and while in Europe, I spent an intensive six months of study with Jose Tomas, who taught with Segovia.
With his wife and two children, Slava now has his own family, and he relishes the opportunities to be with them between his travel and recording engagements. He said he actually gets to have more time with them when he is at home than a regular nine to five Dad might have.
So now, having achieved an enormous amount by the age of 36, where to from here? What is his next hurdle? I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had, and I love doing all I do with Leonard, and with the other groups I work with . This Festival is a great opportunity too. I also look forward to more playing, more arranging of works not written for the guitar by other composers (such as Tchaikovsky), composing, and mixing it all up - just keeping going and evolving. I don't see myself as having any boundaries, or any use-by date!
We are fortunate to be able to look forward to hearing much more of this fine musician, whose work and ambitions are on show in the forthcoming fourth Adelaide International Guitar Festival on August 8 – 12, 2012.