Mandolin Virtuoso Mike Marshall

Friday / November 6, 2009 / 12:15 p.m.
Oliver Colvin Recital Hall
1140 Boylston Street
United States

Mike Marshall is one of the world's most accomplished and versatile acoustic musicians, a master of mandolin, guitar, and violin whose playing is as imaginative and adventurous as it is technically thrilling. Able to swing gracefully from jazz to classical to bluegrass to Latin styles, he puts his stamp on everything he plays with an unusually potent blend intellect and emotion—a combination of musical skill and instinct rare in the world of American vernacular instrumentalists.

Now living in Oakland, California, Marshall grew up in central Florida, where throughout his teens he played and taught bluegrass mandolin, fiddle, and guitar. In 1979, at the age of 19, he was invited to join the original David Grisman Quintet. He has since been at the forefront of the acoustic music scene, playing on hundreds of acoustic-music recordings both as lead artist and ensemble performer. His 1982 CD Gator Strut is a classic example of a new generation of bluegrass virtuoso instrumentalists forging new directions in this vital musical style.

Throughout his career, Marshall has performed and recorded with some of the top acoustic string instrumentalists in the world, including jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, fiddle virtuoso Mark O'Connor, five-string banjo phenom Béla Fleck, bassist and MacArthur Fellowship winner Edgar Meyer, and classical violinist Joshua Bell.

In 1986 Marshall founded the Modern Mandolin Quartet, which released four recordings for Windham Hill Records that redefined the mandolin in a classical-music setting. In 1995, the quartet made its Carnegie Hall debut and, in 1996, received a Meet the Composer grant from the Lila Wallace Foundation.

Meanwhile, Marshall traveled to Brazil and began his love affair with choro, an indigenous music that is to Brazil what bluegrass is to the U.S. He embarked on an in-depth study of the style that resulted in the CD Brasil (Duets). This recording showcases Marshall at the top of his form as a mandolinist in duet settings, and features top instrumentalists such as Andy Narell, Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer, bassist Michael Manring, and keyboardist and flutist Jovino Santos Neto.

Marshall has continued to push the boundaries of acoustic instrumental music. After tapping Fleck and Meyer for the Brasil (Duets) project, he collaborated with the two masters on a 1997 Sony Classical release Uncommon Ritual. The album charted on the Billboard Top Ten Classical Chart, where it remained for more than three months. The follwing year, the ensemble opened the Chamber Music Series 1998 season at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. Marshall worked with Meyer yet again on the 1999 Short Trip Home, another Sony Classical recording with Joshua Bell and fiddle-and-mandolin player Sam Bush. 

Today Marshall can be heard on the Car Talk soundtrack recording every week on NPR along with Earl Scruggs, David Grisman, and Tony Rice. In addition Mike composed and recorded the theme music for the San Francisco based radio program Forum heard daily on KQED radio.

Over the past several years, Marshall has also been collaborating Chris Thile of Nickel Creek. The two mandolinists began playing together at festivals, and their performances eventually evolved into a duo, recording their first album in 2003. The CD, Into the Cauldron, is a mandolin duet project performed entirely on mandolin and mandocello. Into the Cauldron was released on Sugar Hill records, and was listed in the top ten of's favorite recordings for 2003.

Marshall is currently working on further collaborations with Darol Anger; performs intermittently with Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile; and has just released a CD project with pianist Jovino Santos Neto entitled Serenata featuring the music of Hermeto Pascoal Brazil's most important musician/composers living today. The CD has been released on Marshall's own label, Adventure Music.