When pianist Mark Markham (BM ’84, MM ’86, DMA ’91, Piano) takes the stage at Carnegie Hall with soprano Jessye Norman on February 14, he’ll be celebrating his 20th year of artistic collaboration with the Grammy Award–winning singer.
The duo’s partnership began serendipitously enough. In 1995, Peabody pianist Ann Schein (who had been Markham’s teacher) realized she wouldn’t be able to accompany Norman during an upcoming European tour, so Schein suggested Markham—then a Peabody faculty member—for the role. He stepped in seamlessly, earning rave reviews wherever the duo performed. “His playing could not have been more intense, more inspired, or more joyful,” noted Paris’ Le Figaro. “A true servant to the music, he is a brilliant pianist as well.”
Over the ensuing decades, Markham’s varied teaching career has taken him to points around the U.S. and the world—as a faculty member at Peabody (1990-2000), Morgan State University, the Britten-Pears School in England, and the Norfolk Chamber Festival of Yale University.
But one constant in Markham’s musical life has been his ongoing performances with Norman, the opera legend who is equally at home singing American spirituals, jazz, French chansons, or German lieder.
“When this extraordinary opportunity arrived in my life, I was ready and Jessye recognized that and thanked me after our first tour for my thorough preparation,” says Markham. “It has been an incredible journey filled with amazing music-making and the possibility to see this world of ours. A real trip, like no other!”
Over the past 20 years, Markham and Norman have shared the stage in nearly 300 performances in more than 25 countries—including at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, La Palau de la Musica in Barcelona, London’s Royal Festival Hall, the Salzburg Festival, Bunka Kaikan in Tokyo, Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv, and at the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize presentation to President Jimmy Carter in Oslo. In addition to the Carnegie recital, they will perform in Paris and Amsterdam, and in Cameroon at the reopening of the National Museum—their first performance together on the African continent.
In the February 14 concert, “American Masters: Hooray for Love!,” Norman and Markham will be performing a special program of classics from musical theater and the Great American Songbook, including works by Bernstein, Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, and others.
“This program is special as it is music that we both have in our bones and also in our souls—it is our music, not something we learned at school,” says Markham. “It’s an evening of improvisation of great American songs—our cultural history. This is probably the most exciting part of the experience.”
— Sue De Pasquale