This is Us: A Musical Reflection of Australia was created by the Grigoryan Brothers to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the opening of the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. This is Us premiered at the Museum in 2021 and is touring nationally in 2022.
We hope you enjoy the performance.
Dr Mathew Trinca AM, Director, National Museum of Australia:
The National Museum seeks to embrace all perspectives as it tells the country’s story, from all sides. In many ways, we feel that the work we have done over these two decades has played a critical role in helping Australians understand their history. No other national cultural institution in the country is more committed to enabling a conversation around Australia’s shared history.
David Jones, Chair of Council, National Museum of Australia, March 2021:
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to This is Us: A Musical Reflection of Australia, at the National Museum of Australia, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our opening. For such a young institution we have achieved great things. This has been demonstrated over the past 12 months, when the strong foundations set up over the past 20 years have helped us navigate challenging times. The Museum had to rethink how it reached out to the community, welcoming a growing number of visitors online – record numbers engaged with objects and exhibitions, staff and one another. Our donors continued to support the broad work we undertake, and we are here this evening because of their generosity.
There has been much to celebrate over the past two decades. Highlights include the landmark Indigenous exhibition Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters, which won best national exhibition in 2018 and has just begun its international tour (it opens in Plymouth, in the United Kingdom before travelling to Berlin). Significant partnerships with key international cultural institutions are another highlight; the British Museum, the National Museum of China, the Western Australian Museum, the Humboldt Forum and the Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac are just a few of the institutions we work closely with, sharing exhibitions, knowledge and culture.
I would like to thank Museum Director Dr Mathew Trinca AM for his continued leadership and vision. He is of course supported by a stellar executive team, led by Deputy Director Stephanie Bull. I would also like to acknowledge the staff of the Museum, whose commitment and dedication have led to the groundbreaking work achieved by the institution.
I have no doubt the next 20 years will see the National Museum continue to have a significant impact, both nationally and internationally, as we share the stories of our great nation. It is a great privilege to serve as Chair of the National Museum Council, and I would like to thank my fellow Council members for their constant passion and advocacy.
David Jones AM was chair of the Museum's Council for six years. The Hon Warwick Smith AO was appointed Council chair in October 2021.
Dr Mathew Trinca AM, Director, National Museum of Australia, March 2021:
It is 20 years since the National Museum of Australia opened its doors on Acton Peninsula in Canberra. How remarkable and inspiring to think where the institution has come from, and how much it has mirrored changes in Australian life, over this time.
The National Museum has a key role to play in the 21st century. It shows modern audiences what is possible; it educates, entertains and engages; it tells all the stories of this nation – good, bad or indifferent – because each adds weight to our collective history. We have always sought to make sense of what was happening, and to collect and document what was important, to help us remember all that has gone before.
This is Us: A Musical Reflection of Australia is a suite of 18 compositions by Slava and Leonard Grigoryan, commissioned to celebrate our two decades at Acton. It shares the range of our interests and the conviction we have about the power of objects to inspire and move us.
To Slava and Leonard, thank you for your enthusiasm for this project. It is a privilege to work with you, to see you engage with the collection and understand instinctively that behind each object are stories of people and place that add to the history of this country.
To the staff at ABC Classic, and in particular Toby Chadd, thank you for your support of this project and for helping us to share it with a national and international audience.
I would also like to take this opportunity to give special thanks to Ulrike Klein AO, Founder and Director of UKARIA Cultural Centre in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia, for her significant support of This is Us: A Musical Reflection of Australia.
I wish to thank our donors and supporters for helping us to bring to all Australians this wonderful music which takes us on the very personal journey by these inspirational artists through Australia’s history.
This is Us
Slava and Leonard Grigoryan, March 2021:
We are thrilled to welcome you to this performance of This is Us: A Musical Reflection of Australia. It is a departure from our earlier work, and it’s the first recording that consists entirely of our original compositions. Over the years we have occasionally included pieces of our own in concert programs and on recordings, but this is the first time we have collaborated as a duo to create a composition.
In 2019 we were commissioned by the National Museum in Canberra to compose a suite of music to celebrate its 20th anniversary. We were given ‘free rein’ as to what the composition was to be about. After spending a few exploratory days at the National Museum and its warehouse in Mitchell, we were completely in awe of the objects and the stories that they represent, as well as of the scale and the vastness of the facilities and collection. Along the way, we were gently guided by the curatorial staff, who we found just as inspiring as the objects themselves. We were stunned by the passion they have for their workplace and for the objects they know so much about.
After much deliberation, we settled on 18 objects. These objects, in our eyes, are a wonderful representation of what it means to be Australian. We chose artefacts that represent our First Nations’ history as well as colonisation, migration and innovation, along with stories of love and loss.
We were deeply moved by all of them. In the end, this project turned into our main focus throughout the pandemic. Being cut off from each other for the first time ever – Slava in Adelaide and Leonard in Sydney – we had to create a new approach that would work without us actually being together. Having split the list in half, we individually developed a concept for each piece and then shared our ideas remotely. After going back and forth like this, the pieces took shape. The recording finally took place on 11 December 2020 at the ABC studios in Adelaide.
We hope you enjoy tonight’s concert. Its aim is to provide a musical narrative, a soundtrack to the stories behind these powerful objects. We are excited to be performing our compositions for you tonight, and we look forward to sharing our love for these objects with listeners for many years to come.
This project couldn’t have happened without the incredible staff of the National Museum, led by its Director, Dr Mathew Trinca AM. A very big thank you also to our friends Ulrike Klein AO and Alison Beare at the UKARIA Cultural Centre for their support of this project. Our deepest thanks also to Toby Chadd, Hugh Robertson, Jakub Gaudasinski and Tom Henry at ABC Classic, as well as our manager, Reuben Zylberszpic. A big thank you also to Douglas Gautier for introducing us to Mathew Trinca in the first place. Finally, to our families, a very heartfelt thanks for all of their continued love and support.
Guitarists Slava and Leonard Grigoryan are counted among the finest musicians of their generation, having developed a reputation for enthralling audiences with the energy of their performances and the breadth of their repertoire. They embrace a range of genres, drawing on classical, jazz and contemporary music from around the world.
Between them, the brothers have received four ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) awards and an incredible 25 ARIA Award nominations. As a duo they have recorded 12 albums.
They have been touring internationally since 2003, regularly appearing throughout Europe, Asia, Australia and the United States, as well as giving concerts in Brazil, South Africa, India and the Middle East. Their diverse repertoire continues to present new opportunities for performances in traditional and unconventional settings, from projects with orchestras to duo performances in iconic classical venues such as London’s Wigmore Hall and Vienna’s Konzerthaus. Their ability to perform in disparate genres has resulted in invitations from arts festivals, jazz festivals, folk festivals and the WOMAD Festival, as well as performing in more intimate spaces such as clubs and salons.
Their recent tours and releases are a testament to their broad appeal and incredible skills: in August 2017 they performed as support for Canadian singer/songwriter k.d. lang on her Ingénue Redux 25th Anniversary Australian Tour. This was immediately followed by another national tour on which they shared the stage and billing with the great Flamenco guitarist Paco Peña. All of this occurred while their classical release Songs Without Words was at the top of the classical music charts for three months. In February 2018 k.d. lang invited them to join her for a five-week US tour, followed by a UK tour in 2019.
In November 2018 ABC Classic released two Grigoryan Brothers albums: a disc of Bach Concertos, recorded with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and arranged for Slava and Leonard by their father, Edward, and a Latin-themed soundtrack they created for the award-winning movie A Boy Called Sailboat. To celebrate the movie’s success at international film festivals, the Grigoryan Brothers completed an Australian national tour of special screenings performing the soundtrack to the movie live.
Slava and Leonard are blessed with an uncanny ability to perform so seamlessly as a duo that they seem to play and ‘breathe’ as one. Growing up and performing together has helped instil the mutual respect and admiration the brothers have for each other. Perhaps this is the intangible quality that explains their ability to connect with listeners across such a broad spectrum of musical styles.
Objects and compositions
Download the concert program
The National Museum of Australia would like to acknowledge and thank Ulrike Klein AO for her significant support of This is Us: A Musical Reflection of Australia. We would also like to thank the late Marjorie Lindenmayer, who generously donated to this appeal and supported the broad work of the National Museum for many years. We would also like to acknowledge all donors to The Australia Suite Appeal. This is Us has been made possible through your generosity.