Borders? No, they don't interest the Brit Wayne Marshall. He switches from piano to organ, from interpreting to improvising – and then he conducts and composes as well.
Bach, Handel, Mozart, Bruckner, Reger: in the past, there have always been great conductors and composers of organ music. Today, Wayne Marshall is following in their footsteps; as a multi-talented musician, he takes up the tradition with his cross-genre programmes and transports it into the 21st century.
Wayne Marshall was born on 13 January 1961 in Oldham (near Manchester). His family was very musical. He began playing the music he learnt in church by ear at the age of three. Even more remarkably, he began to improvise on it and create his own compositions.
At the age of eight, he heard a work that became a revelation to him: George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue". Fascinated by the sounds, colours and rhythms of the composition, he persuaded his parents to get him the score and a recording: "I listened to it for hours and became obsessed with this world of sound. That led to me discovering the Piano Concerto in F and other works. The same goes for Leonard Bernstein. It was simply amazing to hear this music. These two composers added a very interesting foundation to my musical knowledge." The enthusiasm continues: Today, Wayne Marshall is an expert on interpretations of the works of Gershwin, Bernstein and other American composers of the 20th century.
«Just being an organist would be the worst thing. I would hate that. Music is a language and it has a huge dictionary, jazz or baroque or whatever, and it all contributes to how you play.»
Whether as a soloist on the piano or as organist at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, where he has been organist in residence since 1996, he knows no boundaries when he sits behind the keys. In addition to classical literature for piano and organ as well as American serious music, he frequently takes up current film or game soundtracks. Wayne Marshall has also earned a reputation as an imaginative improviser – and is able to fully express himself musically: "This playful, instinctive quality is important to me. There are improvisations in every programme I play. It gives me the opportunity to be myself."
The energy that Wayne Marshall radiates as an instrumentalist is also the hallmark of his hip-swinging conducting. The mixture of church music, Bach, jazz, Broadway and hip-hop can be found in the programmes he conducts. The decision not only to pursue a career as a concert and church organist but also to devote himself to conducting goes back to one of his artistic fixed stars, George Gershwin: when Wayne Marshall took on the role of Jasbo Brown in the opera "Porgy and Bess" at the 1986 opera academy in Glyndebourne under Sir Simon Rattle, his fascination with conducting was awakened.
«One of my goals is to get an orchestra to improvise a symphony, but the musicians have to forget that they could make a mistake. There are no mistakes in improvisation. What is a wrong note in improvisation? There is none.»
Wayne Marshall often conducts the orchestras à la Mozart from the piano. And his conducting is always influenced by his work as a performer: "I started out playing by ear, and in many ways I still look at music that way. Of course I read music, but the ear tells us what it's about. Many musicians today no longer have the opportunity to simply play their instrument. As a conductor, it's always a challenge to get an orchestra to look beyond what they see in front of them. I'm always shouting: 'Don't read it, feel it!' "
Innovative organ composer
It is not surprising that organists have always provided the majority of works for their instrument – and Wayne Marshall is no exception: with his "Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in C" and his "Berceuse pour une femme", he has made considerable contributions to his own repertoire. But he emphasises: "Essentially, I'm an improvisation animal, and if a piece doesn't appeal to me directly, I prefer to stick to my own invention." So we can look forward to seeing what this all-round talent has in store for us in December 2023 when he performs under Paavo Järvi.
Translated with DeepL.com