In classical circles and the wider Australian music scene alike, the Grigoryan Brothers’ name is shorthand for a mastery of the guitar while also finding adventurous ways ways to expand the instrument’s horizons.
But one level at least, Leonard and Slava Grigoryan’s new record Songs Without Words does pretty much what it says on the spine. “Many of the amazing classical composers also wrote ‘songs’,” Leonard explains. “And I guess they weren’t pop songs of the time but close to that, and it’s music that we’ve enjoyed for a long time and thought it would be interesting to try and get that across on two guitars – to try and “sing” on our instruments rather than voices.”
Speaking to Leonard, I can’t quite shake the feeling that it also speaks to a deeper, wordless world of non-verbal intuition that exists after decades of playing together (and quite a few common genes to boot).
“There’s definitely something that happens onstage that we don’t really ever talk about,” he says. “The way we perform music comes very naturally and we have this… it’s hard to explain, we have this uncanny ability to talk to each other through the guitars. Every performance we try to make a little bit different, even the traditional classical music we’ll always try and play around with something, and Slav always seems to be right there with me whenever I try something new, and vice versa. We’re always trying to push each other like that, and talking, in a way.”
While continuing to work with other projects, it’s clear that the partnership offers a unique environment for both to push their playing ever further – after all, who better to chart the unknown with than the one person familiar with almost all the territory you’ve covered before?
“Working with other musicians of course, I think that’s the quickest way of being able to discover something new – when you’re sitting next to somebody whose doing something you’re not familiar with. But having said that, the thing I have with Slav, there’s such a comfort to the duo thing that it feels like we can attack any piece of music, together. We’re more willing to take a risk and try something unusual.”
That intense familiarity flows through to the arrangements on Songs Without Words, which once again come from the pair’s father Edward. “We’ve worked with dad for a long time – he taught both of us, we’ve had a collaboration going since we were both kids.
“Dad, he knows us so well, sometimes better than we know each other. I think in terms of our playing he will tailor the parts to the individual player, to myself or Slav. Often times he writes things that are, at first look, all very tricky. We often have these little, not arguments, but I’m always getting him to try and simplify things slightly – but he never has a word of it,” he laughs.
“But in the end that’s where he knows us better than we know us, everything just takes a bit of time to get it under the fingers.”
I imagine there’s a fascinating memoir to be written somewhere in this triangular relationship, but the success and longevity of their collaboration speaks to the deep understanding they have for one another that can’t be replicated elsewhere.
“There’s a big difference, straightaway there’s a deeper connection to the music,” Leonard says of his father’s work. “Some of these songs I wasn’t really aware of beforehand, maybe Slav and Dad had decided on things beforehand as well, but when Dad puts his touch on it, it always seems familiar. At first, quite difficult, but then as you get to know the piece it all comes together in a very different way to when we’re picking up other music.
“You feel a personal touch.”
Grigoryan Brothers: Songs Without Words
Saturday, July 15, 7pm
Trinity Sessions, Goodwood Road