Wayne Marshall is a 49-year-old Black British organist and pianist who has enjoyed a high-level global career and has recently developed a parallel career as Conductor of the Verdi Orchestra in Milan, Italy. He is also in demand as a guest conductor. His playing can be heard on 21 CDs! He has also made a DVD. The Public Radio program Pipedreams calls him “one of today's most dynamic organ virtuosos.” John McLaughlin Williams was kind enough to put us in touch with him. We interviewed Wayne Marshall on March 30, 2010 shortly after he had returned from Milan to his home in Malta, and as he was preparing for another trip.
It's nice of you to work me into your busy schedule!
I understand you were born in Britain, is that right?
That's right, yes.
Where in Britain were you born?
In Oldham, Lancashire near Manchester. My parents came over from Barbados in the Caribbean, and we are a musical family. I have two sisters who are also practicing musicians as well, so we are all in the music business, basically.
So quite a musical background, then?
I have seen the date of birth for you as 13 January 1961; is that correct?
That's correct, yes.
You have such a marvelous website that you started in January that it almost seems that an interview is redundant!
Oh yes! My fiance did all that.
When you were growing up were you always interested in music yourself Wayne, when you saw your family playing it?
Yes, I was always actually. My mother was the pianist; she still plays. She was the one who really started me with the piano when I was three, and she taught me lessons when there was time, depending on what she was doing. I was always practicing, and it all started from there! And then the other thing was that both my parents used to take me to the parish church, which was just across the street from where we used to live. So every Sunday, twice on Sunday, we would be in church. It was a great education!
I understand from the notes on your CD Popular Pieces for Trumpet and Organ that you were educated at Chetham's School of Music in Manchester?
That's correct, yes.
How old were you when you attended there, Wayne?
I was 11 when I was there, and I left when I was 17. I then went to London to the Royal College of Music, on a scholarship. I was there for four years and that coincided with my period at Windsor Castle as an organ scholar there for 3 years.
You did both at the same time?
That's right, yes. I lived in Windsor and commuted to London 2 or 3 times a week in order to attend the Royal College. Then after that period, in 1983 I went to Vienna to the Hochschule for 6 months while I studied with Peter Planyavsky who was then organist at the Cathedral, St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. And then, I have been performing ever since!
It seems that you have branched out from piano and organ into conducting?
Yes! This all really started by chance, basically! In 1985 I was asked to start a youth orchestra and it started from there! Most of my time is spent conducting now. I find this is a great way of making music in addition to my organ playing. It's wonderful to have the two careers!
You seem to spend a lot of your time in Italy?
Quite a lot of time, yes, but you see most of my work is in Europe. I don't really travel that much to the States these days.
It seems from your website that you have at least 21 CDs and one DVD?
Yes, they're not all solo CDs of course! Some involve playing with an orchestra, an ensemble or colleagues.
That's quite a lot, actually!
Yes! You have done a premiere of a work called A Scotch Bestiary?
By James MacMillan, it's a work that was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, for the opening of the new Disney Concert Hall organ.
Oh, that was the occasion?
Yes, that was it!
That's quite the event!
It was a great event, and I gave a recital the day after. But it was great to work with Esa-Pekka Salonen and also with James as well; it was fantastic!
Had you known him before?
Yes, a few days before. He's a very good composer, and also he's asked me to record his Second Piano Concerto, which is also another great piece and it is also recorded on the same CD.
I hear from a friend in Dallas that you've performed at the weddings of some people there; Andrew Litton?
That's right, I played during his wedding. Andrew has left the Dallas Symphony, you know. He's now with the Bergen Philharmonic.
Oh, that's a major change!
I am also told that the wedding of Graeme Jenkins...
Graeme Jenkins, I played for his wedding, yes, in Glyndebourne. That was a very interesting event.
That was in Britain?
You say it was a very interesting event?
Well it was, because we had the Glyndebourne Chorus singing, and unfortunately a few minutes before the wedding started, half the organ decided not to work, which is a way of saying an electronic problem happened. But still, we had a great time!
I wonder if there is anything that you would like to add?
I think you have seen my website, WayneMarshall.com, which has a lot there. I enjoy what I am doing and I am lucky to have the opportunity to travel and make music, which is something I like very much!
When you were educated, were you made aware of the fact that there were composers of African descent, such as Samuel Coleridge-Taylor?
Yes, of course! But I have never considered my race to be an issue.
Regarding conducting and performing, what do you intend to do in the future?
Well, exactly what I am doing now! I have just been very lucky that I can have this career of conducting along with playing.
How did you become aware of Glen Inanga?
Through my fiance, Jennifer, who of course is his duo partner, when I was playing a festival back in 2004. That's where we met and that's how we got together, and how I got to know Glen.
You were recently in the Cayman Islands for a “Piano 8-Hands” event, weren't you?
That's right! That was fantastic, actually, thanks to John.
John McLaughlin Williams?
Yes. All those wonderful amazing arrangements! He is an encyclopedia of knowledge! Things I knew nothing about! He came up with all of these amazing scores, and we played quite a few of them. We are going to do a repeat performance in Malta next March or April.
Yes, I think it would be good. We'd love to try to take it further, and maybe make a recording. So we'll see what happens.
That would be pretty distinctive, I would think, a recording of “Piano 8-Hands”?
That would be great!
I would be in the market for that!
How did you become interested in American music such as Bernstein and the Gershwins?
I think it's just music I was interested in; I was 8 when I heard the Piano Concerto of George Gershwin for the first time and I sort of knew then that that was really what I wanted to play. I got the score and performed it in school, and it led from there.
So the music spoke to you, it appealed to you?
Yes, of course! I was very fortunate in 1985 to be able to play the part of Jasbo Brown in the opera Porgy and Bess, and I was working with Simon Rattle. It was a fantastic experience! That was really my first glance into the world of opera. It changed everything, and of course Porgy and Bess became a piece which I would play a lot and eventually conduct. And so I discovered other orchestral material of George Gershwin which was very fine, and over the years led me to my love of American music.
You certainly have been affiliated with it, having even combined your performance of MacMillan's music with the opening of the Disney Concert Hall organ!
That's it! It's all been very, very interesting!
How do you like living in Malta?
Oh, Malta's great! It's lovely weather here as well, and the people are very nice and it suits me very much. The weather in the U.K. as we speak is really horrendous! It's summertime now. So we're very fortunate here where it's nice and warm.
I want to thank you very much!
No problem at all!