Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

My mother studied piano and has taught piano all of her adult life. Her father has also played the piano since childhood, and has a keen interest in music, so any musical inclination comes from my mother’s side. There was always a lot of music in our house. My brothers all played something, though none of them persevered past their early teens – unfortunately I missed out on the opportunity to play in any kind of family band. Past that point there were also the sounds of more modern genres coming from different parts of the house.  I was first introduced to the piano aged five but at first didn’t really take to it, even though it seems there were things I could do without needing much instruction.  About a year later, I found that some school friends had begun regular piano lessons.  I didn’t like the idea of their being better than me, so from that point I started to take it more seriously! As I moved onto more challenging works, and to those by the great composers, I really felt a strong connection to music, and it was only a few years later that I realised that I wanted to be a musician.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My mother was my first teacher. She realised quite early that I needed additional guidance and, age 9, I also began to have lessons with Hilary Coates, and then soon after with Hilary’s husband, Christopher Elton, who is professor of piano (and at the time Head of Keyboard) at the Royal Academy of Music.  Hilary helped to focus and fine tune my technical development in those early stages, and Christopher guided me musically through my teens and into adulthood.

My first inspirations among other artists were some of those whose recordings were in our collection – pianists like Horowitz, Argerich and Rubinstein. I recall at that time being particularly inspired by listening to Rubinstein playing Chopin – in particular his carrying of a cantabile melody mesmerised me. In my early teens, I became interested in the playing of other pianists born or active in the first half of the century – Cortot, Rosenthal, Friedman, Edwin Fischer, Feinberg, Schnabel amongst others – and found in their playing particular aesthetics, ideas and inspiration to inform and enrich my own approach.  I also became interested in other historical performers.  Wilhelm Furtwängler’s conducting was a particular inspiration – the wholly ‘organic’ way in which he applied often acute agogics, always maintaining fluidity, was remarkable, as was the depth of the sonority he drew from the string sections.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

After the success in the BBC Young Musician Competition when I was 11, there was some pressure to become a full-time performer, but I’m glad that my parents and I resisted this, retaining two periods of a month each year in which I’d give concerts, but with the majority of my time reserved for music lessons and my wider education.  However, the transition from this pattern to performing more or less the whole year round in my late teens was a challenge.  I’d been used to the luxury of having relatively long periods for preparation and only playing one or two concerti and one recital programme each season.  The need to have a good deal more repertoire on the go at any given time meant I needed to make changes to my preparation regime.  It was tough at the outset of having to make these adjustments, but I managed to soldier through this period and realised that this was very much part of being a concert pianist.

Which particular works do you feel you play best?

I can’t answer this directly because I don’t think about works in quite this way.  Rather, I look at repertoire to which I feel a genuine connection (above all on an emotional level).  This could be a work by Couperin from the early Baroque or, as with this coming season, the Berg Sonata.  The question of whether a particular performance is any good or not is a separate issue, but I don’t personally feel that I’m best in, say, a given composer or period.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I enjoy variety from one season to the next – while also striving to expand my musical horizons over time – and similarly within programmes. I can listen with pleasure to a recital of three Schubert sonatas, say, but I know that this kind of programming is not for me as a performer.  Perhaps I could flesh out my approach using this season’s programme as an example.  I enjoyed greatly playing Bach’s 4th Partita five years ago and wanted to play another of the suites, choosing the fifth French Suite which is one of my favourites.  I was considering programming Brahms op.119 – having performed a number of the chamber works and his 1st Piano Concerto I wanted now to explore some later works – when Brett Dean sent me his pieces Hommage à Brahms, written for Emmanuel Ax as interludes between each of the four Brahms Op.119 works. I thought it was very effective as a set, with the Dean pieces providing illuminating contrasts to the Brahms, and that it was fascinating to have this juxtaposition of old and new.

I have felt close to Berg’s music since performing some of his songs during my Royal Academy days. I also relished getting to know his violin concerto by reading it through with a friend who was preparing it. I love this rich and dense harmonic world, with its tonal ambiguity, whole-tone scales and chromaticism.   I think it is fascinating to consider that Debussy’s Prélude à l’apres midi d’un faune was written just a year after the Brahms op.119, and it is an ideal preface to the Berg sonata – Pierre Boulez called Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune the beginning of modern music.  Debussy had used whole-tone scales and also unstable tonality, evoking atmospheres in sound that had not been known in Western music until that time.  Of course, Debussy’s work is for orchestra… However, Debussy’s champion and friend George Copeland had made a transcription for piano, as had Leonard Borwick.  There is a telling quote from Copeland about his arrangement: “I spoke to [Debussy] of my desire to transcribe some of his orchestral things for the piano — music which I felt to be essentially pianistic. He was at first sceptical, but finally agreed, and was in complete accord with the result. He was particularly delighted with my piano version of L’après-midi d’un faune, agreeing with me that in the orchestral rendering, which called for different instruments, the continuity of the procession of episodes was disturbed. This has always seems to me the loveliest, the most remote and essentially Debussyan, of all his music, possessing, as it does, a terrible antiquity, translating into sound a voluptuous sense that is in no wise physical.” Everyone knows this work and the orchestral original is indelibly imprinted.  I suppose the wanton challenge of playing a piano transcription thus appealed to me all the more…  In the end, I felt that Borwick’s was more effective in many sections (Copeland could be somewhat sketchy), so what I’m playing is mostly Borwick, with some bars from Copeland and some of my own.  I’m ending the programme with Gaspard.  I’d played and recorded this in my late teens, but I love this music and felt it was time to return to it.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Although the acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall is not a friendly one for piano (it is cavernous and projection will always be an issue), I particularly enjoy the atmosphere at the Proms. The audience is so responsive, yet they are so very quiet before you start playing. It’s hard to think of another venue where one can so immediately feel the response of audience members.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It would be difficult to pick out one…but if I had to I might pick out the Proms once again! I have been lucky enough to have played both on the First and Last nights, which are both unique events. Certainly for my first Proms experience as a performer, playing Liszt 2 on the first night was very memorable indeed.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I’m sure whole books could be written on the subject of how to define success in music!  For me, having given a performance that seems to have been genuinely appreciated by colleagues brings what most feels like ‘success’.  This is one of the reasons I am increasingly drawn to chamber music.  It’s lovely if a conductor or the leader of an orchestra says something truly complimentary after a concerto, for example, but playing with a handful of colleagues and finding during the performance and afterwards that we seemed all to be firing off one another’s imagination and involvement is a wonderful feeling.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I don’t feel qualified to give any general answer, not least as I sense that each person needs to find his or her way of connecting deeply to music.  It could be that a promising young musician listens to the most magical (to me) performance of a Chopin Nocturne and is not particularly moved, but is shaken to the core by the last movement of Mahler 6.  I don’t want to sound in the least didactic but I have the feeling that seeking that deep connection – via whichever route works best – is the necessary starting point.  After that, ideas and concepts will begin much more easily to fall into place.

 

British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor is internationally recognized for his electrifying performances and insightful interpretations. His virtuosic command over the most strenuous technical complexities underpins the remarkable depth and understanding of his musicianship. Benjamin is renowned for his distinctive sound, described as ‘poetic and gently ironic, brilliant yet clear-minded, intelligent but not without humour, all translated through a beautifully clear and singing touch’ (The Independent), and making him one of the most sought-after young pianists in the world.

Benjamin first came to prominence as the outstanding winner of the Keyboard Final of the 2004 BBC Young Musician Competition at the age of eleven, and he was invited to perform with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the First Night of the 2011 BBC Proms at just nineteen. Since then, he has become an internationally regarded pianist and was announced in 2016 as the inaugural recipient of The Ronnie and Lawrence Ackman Classical Piano Prize with the New York Philharmonic. As part of this he returns to New York in April 2018, performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen as well as chamber music with members of the orchestra at the Tisch Center for the Arts at 92nd Street Y.

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(photo: Patrick Allen/Opera Omnia)

Top of the list of competitors is twenty-year-old British pianist Martin James Bartlett. Winner of BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2014, Martin now studies at the Royal College of Music.  

Martin James Bartlett

FORT WORTH, Texas, March 7, 2017—The Cliburn announces today the 30 competitors selected to participate in the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, taking place May 25–June 10, 2017, at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas, USA.

Two hundred and ninety pianists submitted applications to participate in the 2017 Cliburn Competition, and 141 auditioned live in front of a five-member screening jury in London, Hannover, Budapest, Moscow, Seoul, New York, and Fort Worth in January and February 2017. 

After an exhilarating and quite thorough process, I am extremely happy with the 30 pianists who will come to the Cliburn Competition in Fort Worth this May. They are engaging and skilled, and—most important—will inspire and move you,” said Jacques Marquis, Cliburn president and CEO.

The 2017 Cliburn competitors hail from all over the world, representing 16 nations: Russia (6), South Korea (5), the United States (4), Canada* (3), Italy (2), Algeria*, Austria, China, Croatia, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Poland, Romania, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom (*one competitor has dual Algerian/Canadian citizenship, and both nations are counted here). There are 21 men and 9 women, and the competitors range in age from 18 to 30.

2017 CLIBURN COMPETITORS

Ages are as of June 10, 2017, the final day of the Competition.

Martin James Bartlett, United Kingdom, age 20

Sergey Belyavskiy, Russia, 23
Alina Bercu, Romania, 27

Kenneth Broberg, United States, 23

Luigi Carroccia, Italy, 25

Han Chen, Taiwan, 25

Rachel Cheung, Hong Kong, 25

Yury Favorin, Russia, 30

Madoka Fukami, Japan, 28

Mehdi Ghazi, Algeria/Canada, 28

Caterina Grewe, Germany, 29

Daniel Hsu, United States, 19

Alyosha Jurinic, Croatia, 28

Nikolay Khozyainov, Russia, 24

Dasol Kim, South Korea, 28

Honggi Kim, South Korea, 25

Su Yeon Kim, South Korea, 23

Julia Kociuban, Poland, 25

Rachel Kudo, United States, 30

EunAe Lee, South Korea, 29

Ilya Maximov, Russia, 30

Sun-A Park, United States, 29

Leonardo Pierdomenico, Italy, 24

Philipp Scheucher, Austria, 24

Ilya Shmukler, Russia, 22

Yutong Sun, China, 21 

Yekwon Sunwoo, South Korea, 28

Georgy Tchaidze, Russia, 29

Tristan Teo, Canada, 20

Tony Yike Yang, Canada, 18

ABOUT THE FIFTEENTH VAN CLIBURN INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION

Established in 1962, the quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition is widely recognized as “one of the world’s highest-visibility classical-music contests” (The Dallas Morning News) and remains committed to its original ideals of supporting and launching the careers of young pianists, ages 18–30. 

[source: press release]

(Picture: BBC)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

At a very young age I was drawn to the music room where my mother would be teaching the piano some evenings. When I was six she started teaching me and a few years later took me to audition at the Royal College of Music. During my ten years at the Junior Department I studied with Emily Jeffrey, who cultivated my love of music and inspired me to pursue the career of a concert pianist.

Who or what are the most important influences on your musical life and career?

The most influential years of my musical and personal development were when I studied with Emily Jeffrey. Over the many years she always challenged me to be more disciplined and strive for greater heights. Apart from the wealth of knowledge she imparted upon me I can remember the many laughs and fun we had together. Her unerring passion and all-consuming dedication to music were a constant source of inspiration for me.

I am also immensely grateful for the constant support and guidance that my parents have given me, and their unequivocal belief in me.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

At a young age I was always a little agitated and anxious before a performance. I disliked the tense moments before walking onto the platform, however once I started to play those feelings dissipated and the enjoyment took over.

After a few successful concerts my confidence began to grow and it gradually became less challenging

Which performance are you most proud of? 

I am proud of my performances throughout BBC Young Musician, at the ‘BBC Proms in the Park’ in Belfast and also my recent debuts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Royal Albert Hall.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I greatly enjoy performing and listening to so many works from totally different periods. Personally I feel a natural affinity to the works of Bach, Mozart and Rachmaninoff, however I also love the works of Schumann and Prokofiev.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I hope to offer fresh interpretation and convey the emotions from the repertoire that I perform, so I keep this in mind when I select certain pieces.

I also spend many hours deciding on programme length, balancing the stylistic aspects and contrasts.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I wouldn’t say I have a favourite hall, because there are many different aspects from every hall that I enjoy. I love the intimate atmosphere and acoustic of halls such as Cadogan Hall and Wigmore, however I also appreciate the immense space and grandeur of halls such as Usher Hall and the Royal Albert Hall.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I greatly enjoy listening to operas such as ‘Tosca’, ‘La Traviata’ and ‘Tristan und Isolde’ and all the Tchaikovsky Symphonies. My current favourite pieces to perform are Gershwin ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, Prokofiev Sonata no. 7 and Mozart Concerto in D minor K466.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I hugely admire Leonard Bernstein, for his immense talent as a musician but also his dedication to musical education and inspiring younger generations. Maria Callas is another idol of mine, due to her unwavering, serious dedication to Opera.

Pianistically I am inspired by so many different artists, but Vladimir Horowitz and Martha Argerich are amongst my favourites.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The final of BBC Young Musician is a performance I will never forget. The BBC team were so supportive and encouraging and on stage I was totally immersed in the atmosphere and the music.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Firstly, to embark on a musical career, one must absolutely love and enjoy music. Of course there is a huge amount of dedication and work to be done to succeed, but the most important aspect is to passionately devote yourself to it. Stay true to yourself, the composer and the music.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Watching the sunset with a glass of red wine, an excellent book and a recording of Dinu Lipatti performing ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’

What is your most treasured possession?

I have a collection of complete recordings from Vladimir Horowitz, Maria Callas and Shura Cherkassky that I could not live without!

What is your present state of mind?

Introspective, a little anxious and excited for the future.

Martin James Bartlett performs Gerhswin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ in Prom 32 with Eric Whitacre and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Further details and tickets here

In May  2014, at the age of 17, Martin James Bartlett was awarded the title of BBC Young Musician. His winning performance of Rachmaninov’s ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’, with conductor Kirill Karabits and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, received overwhelming acclaim from Edinburgh’s Usher Hall audience and from those tuning into the live recording broadcast on BBC4 and BBC Radio 3.

Martin began his piano studies with Emily Jeffrey at the Royal College of Music Junior Department when he was 8 years of age, and then at the Purcell School also some 5 years later. Last autumn, he commenced his undergraduate studies with Vanessa Latarche at the Royal College of Music, notably as a coveted Foundation Scholar. Martin also previously studied the bassoon and the recorder, achieving Grade 8 Distinction on all three instruments by the age of 12.

Throughout these formative years, Martin enjoyed considerable success in numerous competitions and festivals. During his time at the Royal College of Music Junior Department, Martin won the Gordon Turner Competition, the Teresa Carreño Competition, the Angela Bull Competition and the Peter Morrison Concerto Prize. He was several years running a top prize winner also in the Jaques Samuel Junior Department Piano Festival. In 2012, Martin was granted a Tsukanov Scholarship, which generously supported his final years of study at the RCMJD. During his time at the Purcell School, Martin won the Middle School Concerto Competition, the Freddy Morgan Competition, the Wigmore Competition (both solo and chamber) and the Senior School Concerto Competition. At the end of his studies at both RCMJD and Purcell, Martin was honoured to be awarded the prestigious Leaver’s Prize for Outstanding Musical Contribution, the Esther Coleman Prize and the Rosemary Rapaport Prize.

Following his success in such competitions, Martin has given solo recital performances in the Purcell Room, Wigmore Hall, St. John’s Smith Square, Bolivar Hall and Novi Sad Town Hall, as well as the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room, Steinway Hall and Moscow’s Multi-Media Arts Hall. He has also participated in masterclasses with Lang Lang, Stephen Kovacevich, Mikhail Petukhov, Kathryn Stott, Aaron Shorr and Alberto Portugheis. In addition, Martin has organised and performed in numerous charity concerts too, to date raising over thirty thousand pounds for a wide range of deserving causes.

In September 2014, Martin made his debut at the BBC Proms, performing Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ with the Ulster Orchestra at the “Last Night” celebrations, which were broadcast live from Belfast on the internet as well as BBC Radio Ulster. Martin has also performed with the BSO in Bournemouth Pavilion as soloist in the opening concert of their 2014/15 Season.

Martin was one of 27 international artists, including Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Nicola Benedetti and Alison Balsom, to be chosen by the BBC to record a cover of the Beach Boys classic ‘God only Knows‘. The song was first aired on the 8th October 2014 on all BBC TV and Radio channels and later was released as the BBC Children in Need single with the first ever collaboration between Warner, Sony and Universal music.

www.martinjamesbartlett.com