Arts Take Their Mark

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We do have a great advantage over any recent host city of the Games," insists festival director Leo Schofield, "and that is just that building on Bennelong Point." Indeed, whatever quibbles you might have with the Opera House's acoustics or the dinginess of its orchestral pit, Utzon's poetic sails provide a charged and sacred space for musicians. As the Australian Chamber Orchestra's artistic director and lead violinist Richard Tognetti points out, "There's a certain gladiatorial aspect to it."

Taking center stage there during the Games will be 23-year-old Australian guitar virtuoso Slava Grigoryan. His recitals next month with the ACO might be up against the gymnastics finals, but Grigoryan's long fingers are just as flexible as a beam artist. The Kazakhstan-born, Melbourne-raised musician combines technical mastery with warmth and the spirit of youth. Tognetti praises his "sensuous style. He's a very organic sort of player."

So is his repertoire. Since being signed by Sony Classical at age 18, Grigoryan has segued from flamenco and Argentine tango to Brazilian bossa nova and jazz fusion, to a new transcription of Tchaikovsky's The Seasons, which he's now recording. He's played the hallowed halls of Carnegie and Wigmore, but he's also at home in Sydney's smoky Basement or a womad festival in Reading, England. "Whether he's got his guitar plugged through a sound system or he's sitting down in a string quartet, Slava has a fantastic ability to absorb the spirit of a work, and to transport the audience into a sound world," says Australian composer Nigel Westlake, whose new guitar concerto Grigoryan will premiere at the Opera House, "and that's a rare and exciting gift."

Despite this, some purists have grumbled that it's all been too much, too soon for Grigoryan. Certainly his angelic looks are a dream for Sony marketers; he even posed nude for a Sydney coffee-table magazine. But such are the ropes for a modern classical star. "There's more than one side to this business," he acknowledges, "and if you want the opportunity to play live, you have to let the public know about it. You can't just send telepathic waves to all your audience members and get them to come to your show. You have to make a bit of an announcement." His talent does the rest.