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April 13, 2024

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British conductor and pianist dazzles Shanghai with his sublime versatility

BRITISH conductor, organist and pianist Wayne Marshall astonished local listeners with his multitasking musical ability during his Shanghai premiere this week.

He conducted, performed George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” on piano and demonstrated his organ improvisational skills.

The concert at Shanghai Oriental Art Center on Tuesday was part of the 39th Shanghai Spring International Music Festival and featured the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Written in 1924, “Rhapsody in Blue” combined classical, jazz and Native American music elements, creating a new era in the history of American music.

Marshall’s skillful and playful demonstration of Gershwin’s classic in Shanghai fascinated the listeners and often made the orchestra members on stage smile knowingly. Since his hands were busy playing, Marshall used his eye contact and head movements to communicate with the orchestra. During breaks, he would get up from his piano seat and switch back to the conducting role.

“To play and conduct Gershwin’s work at the same time is a very straightforward way to interpret his music, which I found very satisfying as a soloist because you could control the whole thing,” Marshall told Shanghai Daily.

“The idea came when I was young and saw (German-American pianist) André Previn conduct and play at the same time. As a small boy, I thought it was a normal thing to do. So when I grew older and started to conduct, I did the same.”

Born to musician parents from Barbados, Marshall began piano lessons at the age of 3. He had never studied conducting before being requested to do so in his mid-30s.

“I am a keyboardist, and I never saw myself as a conductor. But it just got started,” he remarked.

Marshall’s working technique as a jazz spirit-driven artist has been to collaborate and communicate with other orchestras, understand their potential and inspire them.

Among the orchestras Marshall has worked with, the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra stands out for its ability to perform a wide range of repertoires.

“They can play in many different styles. As a radio orchestra, their concerts are taped. So their standard is always high,” he said.

In the second half of the Shanghai concert, Marshall led the orchestra through a series of familiar scores composed by John Williams for Steven Spielberg films, as well as the theme songs of “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars.”

“I love movies; I’m an action movie fan,” Marshall claimed.

“John Williams is regarded as one of the greatest film theme composers of all time. Though I’m not a huge fan of the ‘Harry Potter’ films, the soundtrack is amazing. I also think that the theme of ‘Star Wars’ is one of the best music pieces that ever got written.”

Vienna, the world’s classical music capital, is home to a handful of world-class orchestras. Angelika Möser, head of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, believes that each orchestra faces unique challenges and tasks.

“As a radio orchestra, it’s one of our tasks to play some movie theme songs. We have strong brass and percussion groups. This time, we’re playing Gershwin’s works. This is what we want to show the audience here,” Möser said.

“Aside from movies, we play a lot of really new modern music, which is something that others don’t usually do. We also do opera music, but we don’t always play the major symphonies like other orchestras,” she explained.

“We have our specialties. We are always curious, and our musicians are quite adaptable. Every week, we have new repertoire to learn and practice, which keeps the orchestra active,” said Möser.

Her orchestra’s diverse repertoire has helped them draw audiences of all ages, both in Europe and on their world tour.

“The reactions of some audiences are quite moving, and we will continue to perform these diverse repertoires in the coming seasons,” Möser said. “We want to attract more people, and young people, to orchestra music.”

Marshall has also used social media well to bridge the gap between musicians and the general population.

“For me, social media is a great way of communication and reaching out to people,” he said. “Most people are inquisitive about what happens behind the scenes, such as during rehearsals. Because a concert is the last step, but there is a process to get there. That’s the most interesting part for me, and I’d want to create videos and share them with the public.”


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