Paul Griffiths

Paul Griffiths are both head of one of the world's largest airports and a top-level church organist. For him commerce and cathedral are not mutually exclusive, but rather two sides of the same thing. 

NB! Konsertstart er kl. 18.30, ikke kl. 19 som først annonsert!

Øyeblikket da Paul Griffiths oppdaget orgelet i den lokale kirka som tiåring, sammenligner han med scenen i Trollmannen fra Oz, where the film changes from black and white to colour.  

– Until then I had not had very strong perceptions about music, and no outlet for the musicality within me. Suddenly my life was transformed, it acquired another dimension. I had to learn how to master this instrument, says Griffiths.

During Olav's Festival, Paul Griffith will give a solo concert on the Steinmeyer organ in Nidaros Cathedral on Friday 2. August, and will also participate in the closing concert with Utopia & Reality Chamber Choir the following day.  

Griffiths will also give a breakfast lecture on Saturday, 3. August where he will talk about how business and art have more in common than most people realize. 

The biggest airport in the world 

In 2015, Dubai International Airport was proclaimed the world's largest airport for international air traffic, and at the very top of the control tower is CEO Paul Griffiths. The 61-year-old from London has a business background from Virgin, where the founder, Sir Richard Branson, discovered the young entrepreneur in the late 80's. Griffiths made a career at Virgin Rail before switching to aviation. He led Gatwick Airport near London for two years before joining Dubai in 2007, where he lives when he is not in England, with his wife Joanna Marsh (herself a musician and composer) and the couple's three children. 

Practices as relaxation 

He describes four key elements that must be in place for his life to be satisfying: his professional career, music, his family and his hobbies (for example, he has also had time to restore a Harrier Jump Jet). 

– When I manage to balance them, I think my life is perfect. Of course, the job of the airport is totally demanding, and I am very focused on it during the day and often some of the evening. But I usually use the silence late at night or early in the morning to practice, and if I get 90 minutes, that gives me what I need to maintain the necessary musical flow, Griffiths explains. He says his family has become accustomed to the sound of the organ at the strangest times of the day, for he has installed a digital organ in their home of Dubai, as well as an Aubertin church organ with three dumbbells in the family residence in East Sussex in England. For Griffiths, practice and preparations for concerts are a way of relaxing. 

– There is nothing better than coming home after a tiring day, sitting down at the organ and letting my head, hands and feet work with a challenging repertoire. After just a few pages of the music I am in another world, he says. 

Griffiths is far from being an amateur musician, if anyone should think so. He has a long list of accomplishments as an organist since starting to play as a teenager and won his first competition at the age of 13. He has played in Notre-Dame in Paris, St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey in London, in New York, Washington, Sydney and Melbourne. He performed for the Pope on his first visit to the Arabian Peninsula in front of an audience of 130,000. 

Compelled to live a double life 

During Olav's Festival, Griffiths will also give a lecture on Saturday, 3. August, where he will talk about how business and art have more in common than most people are aware of. There has been an artificial division between the two disciplines for too long, he believes.  

– When I was going to choose what to study, the curriculum was designed to lead students in two different and separate directions. It was expected that I would choose between art and science. I rebelled against this and chose music, physics and computer science. At that time, this was seen as very strange, and in practice there was no possibility of studying these disciplines in parallel. Today, technology is woven into every aspect of modern life to a much greater extent, says Griffiths, who also faced opposition at home when at a young age he wanted to pursue a career as a musician. 

- My father pleaded with me not to become a professional musician when I was young. When I wanted to be a church organist in my teens, he constantly reminded me that even the most perfect performances of Bach's toccatas would not pay the electricity bill! Reluctantly, I had to admit that he was right, but never let that diminish my passion for music. At the same time, it has always made me set myself high goals in all areas of life, Griffiths maintains.  

Griffiths says that being forced to choose between one or the other has given him the experience of living a kind of double life. Only in recent years have people started to see the connections between art and business, and he names Dubai as a good example. Here the strategy has been to create a connection with the rest of the world, through both leisure and business travel. 

– In order to attract and retain talented people, to attract the brains needed to develop Dubai, improved education, culture and leisure facilities have been central to the city's growth. Now we have a world-class education system, some of the world's most sophisticated and diverse leisure facilities and thriving art and culture venues with museums and an opera house. 

Employs open people 

Likewise, he believes that the creativity he needs as a musician is also essential in his management job – not to mention in the vast majority of professions. Especially if you work with something that has to do with people. When you are responsible for an airport, for ensuring that the 28,000 people who pass through each day can do so in the most efficient, stress-free and hassle-free way, human touch extra important.  

– I believe an understanding of art adds a dimension. I often hire people because of their approach to life, and I care less about qualifications or work experience. If you can build a team of people with open minds, they will work better together and achieve far better results, says Griffiths, and says he recently stayed in a hotel where the management had determined that air conditioning in all rooms should be centrally controlled. Certainly cheaper, but the customer lost control. People could not sleep because the room was too hot or too cold, and there was a storm of complaints. 

– Had they had more empathy with the customers, they could have anticipated this. A purely logical approach often fails to capture important but more subtle nuances, according to Griffiths. 

Transformation in the organ repertoire 

In Trondheim he will perform a programme which he has called Masters of the French Romantic Era, which features composers such as Duruflé, Saint-Saëns and Debussy. This is not fortuitous, the programme has been selected specifically with the festival theme transformation in mind, Griffiths explains:  

– The evolution of the organ as an instrument reached a critical stage in the 19th century. Especially in Northern Europe, where organ builders began to move away from traditional methods in which organs were purely mechanical in function. Builders like Henry Willis in England and Aristide Cavaile-Coll in France began using compressed air and electrical processes to make the pipes sound. This made it possible to build larger instruments, and the new possibilities led to many more pipes and automatic aids for the organist. In addition, pipes were designed to imitate orchestral instruments. Together, this resulted in enrichment of the church organ, and an increase in the number of larger organs which were built during this period, he says. 

As a result of this transformation, organs were able to cope with a new, much larger and more varied repertoire. Composers and organists began writing music that was much more symphonic in style. A new school of organ composition arose and continued to develop the legacy of the Baroque and of composers such as Bach and Buxtehude. The programme includes compositions written by French organists and composers during the 100-year period when this transformation of the organ repertoire took place.


  • Maurice Duruflé – Fugue sur le thème du Carillon des Heures de la Cathédrale de Soissons, opus 12 
  • Henri Mulet – Esquisses Byzantines 
  • Cesar Frank – Fantaisie in A 
  • Claude Debussy – Andantino – doucement expressif 
  • Camille Saint-Saëns – Fantaisie in Eb major 
  • Maurice Duruflé – Suite, opus 5 

A liberating flight 

Although the greatest transformation in Griffith's own life occurred in the local church when he was ten, there are several moments that have helped to plot out his courase through life. He did not fly until he was 19, and the feeling of hovering over the clouds for the first time was extremely liberating. Since then, he has always had jobs which involve a lot of traveling around the world, something which has also helped to broaden his outlook. Griffiths also remembers what happened when a pianist friend lent him the book Play it Again by Alan Rusbridger. The author describes how he challenged himself to learn one of Chopin's most difficult piano pieces, while he was the editor of one of the country's largest newspapers.  

– If he manged it, then I can too, I thought. So I decided to learn Maurice Duruflé's demanding three movement suite – in time for a recital in Westminster Abbey in 2017. It gave me the incentive to really pressure myself. So, it is an extra pleasure to include this particular work in the Olav's Festival concert, he says. 

First time in Scandinavia 

With a job which from a young age has involved travelling all over the world, you would think that Griffiths must have been here before. He has not, the visit to Trondheim is actually his very first time in Scandinavia.  

– It is almost embarrassing to admit that! But Trondheim seems to be an excellent place to start, and I am really looking forward to coming. The Norwegian musical tradition is well known and respected in the UK, and many British organists have had good careers in Norway. Nidaros Cathedral is especially famous for its magnificent organ, and I think many organists around the world will be envious of the wonderful opportunity I am offered!