Mark Markham's concert on Sunday in the sophisticated atmosphere provided by the Sheldon Museum on the UNL campus was a delightful event and an excellent way to spend a cold and blustery afternoon. The Sheldon provides an intimate setting for a piano recital, and Markham was able to speak to the audience and even invited them to ask questions.
The program had a Haydn Sonata listed as the opener, but Markham had changed his mind upon arrival and hearing the piano. Thus, when took the stage, he opened with something completely un-Haydn, that is to say, music of Francis Poulenc. It was a warm and soothing piece as Markham performed it. His pianissimos made the audience catch their breath to listen. It was clear, as Markham stated, that he doesn't perform a piece if he doesn't enjoy it or connect with it. "If I don't enjoy a piece, how am I going to get you to enjoy it?" Markham questioned the audience.
In premiering a piece by UNL composer, Damon Thomas Lee, Markham had to find new ways to get into the music. In fact, he shared with the audience, he learned the piece and finally found a way to enjoy it while on a plane--far from the actual piano. The new piece was inspired by food at a fancy restaurant in Germany, and each movement was strictly based on certain intervals. Part of getting to understand the piece resulted in one of the most marked-up scores most people have ever seen. Markham, who performed the piece with the music, completed it and then turned to the audience in order to help them understand and connect with the piece as well. After answering their questions about the piece, he then offered to play it again so that the audience could better absorb it as well.
At first glance, the program had a disjointed appearance switching between Debussy, Poulenc, Gerswhin, and Duke Ellington, but upon listening, Markham had programmed a collection of pieces that shared a mood or a color. In fact, he was so wrapped up in the mood that he didn't even pause for applause between pieces in the second half but flowed from one piece to another with only a slight pause to indicate the shift. The Gershwin and Ellington selections were improvised upon by Markham with wonderful harmonies.
The supporters of Lincoln's Symphony Orchestra enjoyed hors-d'oeuvres and a cash bar following the performance before their cold walk back to their cars--filled with the warmth of Markham's music.