Pianist's talents shine in many facets

September 18, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

No one can accuse Mark Markham of hiding his talents under a bushel.

The young pianist is a gifted vocal accompanist (almost every singer in town, from the Peabody Conservatory's internationally renowned soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson on down loves to work with him); he's much in demand as a chamber-music pianist; he's a persuasive exponent of new music (he and Bryn-Julson will give the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Charles Wuorinen's "A Winter's Tale" in November); he's a popular vocal coach (he teaches 30 hours a week at Peabody); and he lectures for the Metropolitan Opera Guild in New York.

And this Sunday evening at McManus Theater on the Loyola College campus, Markham, a tall, attractive man with huge hands that could belong to an NBA power forward, will show another facet of his talents. He'll give a recital of difficult solo works by Debussy, Brahms, Liszt and Shulamit Ran.

"It's the sort of program that gives a pianist a chance to demonstrate his versatility and flexibility," he says.

Not that there's ever been any question about that. At the Rosa Ponselle International Vocal Competition in New York last spring, Markham was awarded a special prize as the contest's finest accompanist.

"There were moments when I found myself having to force myself to listen to the singer because I wanted to focus on Mark," says pianist Stewart Gordon, the founder of the William Kapell International Piano Competition and one of the Ponselle's judges. "The moment Mark walked out on stage, I knew I would hear something wonderful."

Many pianists can accompany well, "but Mark collaborates with you," says Sarah Spurgeon, a young Peabody-trained soprano. "And with those monster hands he can play anything -- you feel safe because you know he'll go to the end of the world with you."

According to Bryn-Julson, Markham is so sensitive that, in effect, "He sings with the singer."

"He understands how a singer produces sounds in the throat; he knows how much time you need to get to a vowel or a consonant; and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the vocal literature -- whether French, Russian, Italian or German."

One of the reasons that Markham collaborates with singers so well is that he himself started out as a 4-year-old soprano in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla. He began accompanying singers at the age of 9 -- only one year after beginning piano lessons -- when he was asked to play for his church choir.

"At that age you have no fear," he says.

According to Markham's former teacher, Peabody's Ann Schein, still doesn't know the meaning of fear.

"Mark has great vision and courage and does things that amaze all of us," she says. "I've rarely, if ever, seen a person with so much talent that he can express in so many ways."

Why does Markham do so many different things?

"Because I can and because I expect it of myself," he says with a smile. "Besides, I enjoy it."

Piano recital

When: Sept. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: McManus Theater at Loyola College, 4501 N. Charles St.

Tickets: $3 and $5.

Call: (410) 617-2418.

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