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WHETHER it’s mucking around with Jimi Hendrix riffs as a kid or playing on concert platforms with older brother Slava, one thing is certain, Leonard Grigoryan sees the guitar as the most inclusive instrument of all.
“That’s the beauty of the instrument,” he says, “it’s impossible to restrict yourself to one particular style and not be influenced by other musicians’ possibilities, it’s the only real instrument that can fit into any genre. It’s portable; cheap, too.”
He and Slava – the Grigoryan Brothers – will appear at the Southern Cross Club soon in a “strictly guitar” concert headed by the famous flamenco guitarist Paco Peña and also featuring blues guitarist Phil Manning and jazz guitarist Jim Pennell. They’ll play individual sets, then together for a group finale.
When talking to Leonard, there is no evidence of sibling rivalry, even though Slava, nine years his senior, has been feted internationally as a classical guitarist since he was a teenager.
“Slava and me grew up listening to classical guitar, electric guitar – everything,” he says as he talks of his parents Edward and Irina, both brought up in the musical traditions of the USSR.
“Dad is a violinist and mum is a viola player and neither had any connection to the guitar, except that they both loved it,” he says.
In Russian tradition – they emigrated to Australia from the USSR – the guitar is a folk instrument, but Edward had an idea that it could be more than that and was interested in jazz, too. Once in Australia, he bought a guitar so that he could teach the young Slava to play.
“That was dad’s first ever guitar and it was a learning experience for both of them, but since my parents had such great musical knowledge, they applied what they knew about other stringed instruments.”
Although Edward had learnt the guitar specifically to teach Slava and later Leonard, nowadays he teaches many guitarists.
The coming concert is eagerly anticipated by the brothers, although it turns out that Slava has already met Paco Peña when he was brought in at short notice to replace Pepe Romero during a 1994 tour and elsewhere.
“Flamenco has always fascinated me and Slava so it’ll be quite a thrill to be up close and personal with one of the masters,” Leonard says.
He’s noticed that flamenco guitar playing is like mother’s milk to people with a Spanish background.
“I think it’s to do with the fact that you have to start very young and in many families it was so completely normal that the instrument became an extension of themselves – it’s technically demanding but they make it seem effortless,” he says.
And although the Grigoryan brothers are known for the eclectic choice of repertoire, ranging through classical, baroque, contemporary and Latin, they tend to draw the line at flamenco.
“I tried to dabble in some flamenco, but the more you get into it the more you realise it’s easier to learn almost any other instrument than the flamenco guitar,” Leonard confesses.
As for that absence of sibling rivalry, he says, “Slava and I had different paths, but when I was growing up, my ambition was to get good enough so that I could play with Slava… it was something we both thought might happen, but then Slava was always so much better.”
Leonard does sometimes play in other groups, focusing on improvised music, and has released his own solo album, but he is adamant that being part of the Grigoryan Brothers is a conscious decision for both him and Slava, who has of late been concentrating on their duo work.
As for the coming concert, it’s very simple for Leonard, who says: “I’m very excited to be getting on the road”.
“Guitarra”, Canberra Southern Cross Club, Woden, Wednesday, August 23. Bookings to ticketek.com