Player Spotlight: Sharon Grigoryan, Associate Principal Cello

1 May 2024
  • Meet the Artists
  • Musician Spotlight
by Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
Player Spotlight: Sharon Grigoryan, Associate Principal Cello

In 2023 the ASO welcomed Sharon Grigoryan as Associate Principal Cello. We spoke with Sharon about the complexities of her role in the orchestra and what she gets up to off stage.

You have an extensive background in chamber music and small ensembles. How do you play or think differently when you’re with a symphony orchestra?

I’ve been heavily involved in chamber music since my time in the Australian String Quartet, and chamber music is still a huge part of my musical life. However I actually come from an orchestral background (symphonic and chamber) if we’re talking work; I was freelancing with various orchestras in Victoria since I was 19 and then got my first job with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra when I was 25. I don’t really think differently at all from when I’m playing in an orchestra or when I’m playing in a chamber group – to me the concept is exactly the same. There is such joy to be found in listening to your colleagues and playing with them, reacting to their playing, and feeling like you’re constantly being flexible and riding this wave together as a group. It doesn’t matter if it’s just one other colleague, or 65 other colleagues! The rehearsal process is the thing that is vastly different: in chamber music, all musicians have an equal part in shaping the music. In an orchestra, it’s the conductor.

What does your role as Associate Principal Cello entail?

It’s quite a complex role, more complex than being a Principal, I think. When the Principal isn’t there, I step up and lead the section. Apart from the obvious roles of playing some solos, marking in bowings and “leading” the section if necessary (most of the time it’s not – they know what they’re doing!), most of the leading responsibilities fall within the rehearsal period. Diplomacy, making sure your colleagues in the section feel respected and heard, and interacting with other principals and the conductor in a respectful and positive manner. Above all, setting a good example for everyone. No one wants to look at their principal only to see them rolling their eyes, looking frustrated, or bored – it can bring the whole morale down. As Associate Principal, I see my role as a much more subtle, “in the background” duty. Supporting the Principal (whether it be in a playing, musical, or more personal sense), so they feel like the pressure of leading the section isn’t a burden for solely them to bear. This can mean quietly suggesting something to them if you don’t think they’ve noticed, being a messenger between them and the section, and generally trying to achieve that elusive balance between diplomacy and leading, without “over leading” and stepping on the Principal’s toes. Luckily for me, Simon, the ASO Principal Cellist, and I have a wonderful relationship. We liken it to a brother and sister that can get on each other’s nerves, but at the end of the day, there’s a real love there.

What’s your favourite piece of music for your instrument?

I can’t answer that question – it changes from day to day. At the moment, any work by Robert Schumann for cello and piano I adore.

How important do you think a musical education is?

It is essential for the development of any human being. Whether it be Classical or any other genre, giving a young child the opportunity to express themselves in an artistic, non-verbal sense, is a real gift. It remains one of the few crafts where the internet can’t be used to cut corners! If you haven’t practiced your instrument in the right way, for long enough, it’s just not good enough. A valuable experience for children growing up these days where you can find any information you want at the click of a button, from the phone in your pocket. I’ve noticed children who learn an instrument also learn patience and perseverance which transfers to all other corners of their education and lives.

Where can we find you when you’re not on stage?

In the back garden, tending to the veggie patch and fruit trees. A lot of the time I’m hanging out with our ten heritage breed chickens. I lose all sense of time when I’m staring at those chickens! My husband often has to call me inside because my student is waiting patiently at the front door. I love then sharing a drink with my husband at the end of the day and enjoying the amazing dinner that he’s cooked, nearly always with something in it from the garden. We’re pretty lucky.

Sharon Grigoryan is generously supported by John Turnidge AO and Patricia Rayner through the Musical Chairs Program.

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