Martin James Bartlett in conversation with Melanie Spanswick

The thirty fourth interview guest in my Classical Conversations Series is BBC Young Musician 2014, Martin James Bartlett. Martin is a student at the Royal College of Music Junior Department and is about to start an undergraduate degree at the RCM Senior Department in September, where he will study with Professor Vanessa Latarche. We met up for a chat at Jaques Samuel Pianos earlier this month, where he talked about his life and career.

Martin James Bartlett began learning the piano at the age of 6. From the age of 8, Martin has been studying at the Royal College of Music Junior Department with Emily Jeffrey, with whom he has been learning at the Purcell School since becoming a student there in 2010. Martin has also been studying the recorder and the bassoon and, indeed, by the time Martin was 12, he had achieved Grade 8 Distinction on all three instruments.

Martin has performed in many competitions and festivals, where he has enjoyed considerable success. For several years running he has been a prize-winner in the Jaques Samuel Intercollegiate Piano Competition, which has resulted in a series of Wigmore Hall solo performances. At the age of thirteen, Martin won the Purcell School’s Middle School Concerto Competition, performing Mozart’s D Minor Concerto K.466 with the Purcell Sinfonia. More recently he has performed Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto K.491 with the Vanbrugh Ensemble.

At the Royal College of Music Junior Department, he has won The Teresa Carreno Competition, The Gordon Turner Competition and the Peter Morrison Concerto Competition. He has also won the Freddy Morgan Competition and the Wigmore Hall Competition at the Purcell School. From his success in these competitions he has performed solo recitals in The Purcell Room, Wigmore Hall, Royal Albert Hall (Elgar Room), Steinway Hall, Bolivar Hall,  John’s Smith Square, The Beaumaris Festival, Moscow Multi-Media Arts Hall, Calbourne Isle of Wight, Novi Sad Town Hall and Fazioli Concert Hall in Italy.

Notably, in March 2012 Martin was one of only five pianists chosen nationally to perform in the Keyboard Final of BBC Young Musician of the Year 2012, which was held in the Dora Stoutker Hall in Cardiff, the live performance of which was broadcast on BBC4 in April 2012.

Martin has performed in fundraising and charity concerts raising over thirty thousand pounds. He has received master classes from Lang Lang, Stephen Kovacevich, Kathryn Stott, Mikhail Petukhov and Alberto Portugheis.

His great love and involvement with chamber music playing extended with the forming of a duo partnership with the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2012 winner, ‘cellist Laura van der Heijden.  Having returned from an International Chamber Music Course in Montepulciano, Italy, in 2012, they have since given numerous recitals together at such venues as the Elgar Room, The Britten Theatre [Royal College of Music], and a Live Broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s “In Tune”.

Future engagements in 2014 include performances of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on the Theme of Paginini with the RCM Symphony Orchestra and Windsor and Maidenhead and Symphony Orchestra, Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto K491 with The Watford Symphony Orchestra, and Beethoven’s 2nd Piano Concerto with The Welsh Chamber Orchestra.

He is again one of five pianists to reach the Keyboard Finals of BBC Young Musician of the Year 2014. In March 2014 he performed in the Dora Stoutker Hall, in Cardiff. The live performance was broadcast on BBC 4.

Since 2012, Martin has been awarded a Tsukanov Scholarship, which supports all his studies at The Royal College of Music. More recently Martin has been awarded three full scholarships to study at three London Conservatoires.

Martin in action…….


And the transcript for those who prefer to read interviews…..

Melanie Spanswick: Young British concert pianist, Martin James Bartlett, has just been crowned BBC Young Musician 2014. He’s currently a student at the Royal College of Music Junior Department and the Purcell School and so, I’m so pleased he’s joining me today here at Jacques Samuel Pianos in London for a Classical Conversation. Welcome.

Martin James Bartlett: Thank you very much.

MS: I want to start by congratulating you. It’s fantastic that you’ve won the Young Musician.

MJB: Thank you so much.

MS: Brilliant, and I want to start by asking you all about your musical education, how old you are when you started, why you started, whether you’ve come from a musical family.

MJB: Well, my mum taught me first and I started at the age of six, and then at the age of eight, she decided that I should go somewhere else to carry on my studies. So, I went to the Royal College and I’ve been there for the last ten years now, and I suppose I started the piano because my mum was always teaching people in the house and we always had the radio on and CDs all the time and I just grew so accustomed to hearing it, that I really kind of wanted to follow in what she was doing and everything I could hear.

MS: And so, what teachers then do you think were crucial in your development. I think I know the answer to this.

MJB: No, definitely my mum first started me off really well and then when I went to Emily Jeffrey, she really just, I’ve been with her for the last ten years and she just, was just such an inspiration to come to, and she has so much patience with me and even sometimes I didn’t use to practice that I kind of wasn’t feeling it so much as other times I used to come in and she just used to, you know, carry on going, come back next week and we just have such a great relationship. It’s amazing.

MS: We should talk a little bit about Emily because she’s quite phenomenal, she’s not only had yourself, but she’s also had Lara Melda as Young Musician of the Year as well. So, she’s a phenomenal teacher.

MJB: Yes, she is fantastic and I think one of the reasons we set her apart from other teachers is because she doesn’t play so regularly to me and she just tries to describe how I should feel some of it with different adjectives and things. It makes me find my own sound and my own way of playing, so I don’t copy the way she plays. I have my own kind of voice when I’m playing.

MS: So, how did you develop your technique? I’m always asking this question. It’s fascinating how people start when you play, studies, scales, whether you learn the difficulties within a piece.

MJB: I suppose when I was younger, I used to occasionally do some Czerny Etudes, things like these, but I never really concentrated on a technique because it was always something that we thought, you know, the more we push ourselves with different repertoire it will come anyway.

MS: Right.

MJB: And I never wanted to become mechanical in any way, with the way I practiced, so when I did practice scales, which of course, I did when I was younger, we would, you know, we used to phrase them and do different dynamics and try to get as many kind of techniques in as possible.

MS: Yeah, that’s interesting. So, you know, you’ve won Young Musician. It’s gonna have a huge impact on your career, no doubt, but how do you feel about competitions, in general, because this isn’t the first time you’ve entered, you actually entered in 2012 and did very well as well.

MJB: I think competitions, I think you have to have the right attitude when you go in, and I think, you really can’t be going in to win. I think you’ve really got to go in just to develop yourself more as a pianist and musician, and I think they really push you, in terms of, there’s lots of pressure and you gotta learn new repertoire and of course, lots of international competitions have the set repertoire to go through, the Bach Preludes and Fugues in the first round and things like this, which I think is really good, ‘cause it kind of develops you more, as long as you go with the mindset of I’m just gonna go and give an amazing concert and not worry about the actual prizes or winning.

MS: So, do you feel that you might enter international competitions in the future or do you feel that the Young Musician is enough?

MJB: I suppose, I have no idea what I would do, you know, when it comes to things but I would love to because all those are my idols and things, you know, won the Chopin, and the Tchaikovsky and things. So, I would like to enter some in the future, yes.

MS: That’s a yes. I think it’s good experience isn’t it?

MJB: Yeah, exactly and you just, I mean, I’ve lost so many competitions and I really have, I think everybody loses lots and you just gotta, you carry on going and take it the right way.

MS: Which composers do you love to play?

MJB: I suppose, there are so many that I could mention but I think I quite have a special affinity with Bach. I love Bach but also Beethoven, I absolutely adore, and Schumann as well, but I also love Prokofiev and Romantic composers as well.

MS: And how many concertos do you have in your repertoire? How many do you play with orchestra involved?

MJB: I have around six or seven. When I was younger, I used to play quite a few Mozart concertos and a few Beethoven and also Rachmaninov as well. So, I play, I think, three or four with orchestra but I think concertos are so great because it’s all that chamber music aspect. You don’t really, with solo recitals it’s quite daunting, you know, it’s just you on you’re own, and the good thing about chamber music is if you’re with a fantastic orchestra, you just push each other further, you know, and you get even more out the music than many solo recitals you would do, I think.

MS: Do you have particular practice regime?

MJB: I suppose occasionally when it gets really tough, I have to write down what pieces and time and everything like that. Normally, warm up a bit but normally I warm up away from the piano, so I do a few stretches, run my hand under some warm water, just to loosen up my joints and everything, but then I think you can’t spend so much on technical studies because you’ve got so, there’s such a vast amount of repertoire to learn. You really have to just get stuck in and just go through as many pieces as you can.

MS: Do you ever practice away from the piano?

MJB: I do a lot of practice away from the piano in different ways, such as, you know, sometimes I’ll be looking at the score and listening through recordings or sometimes I just sit in bed after a hard day at work and I’m thinking, you know, now let’s get the score out and we can just look at all the markings and make sure I’m clear about what I’m doing.

MS: Yeah. So, what are your favourite pianists, or I should say who are your favourite pianists, Martin?

MJB: My favourite pianists, I love Horowitz. I love Martha Argerich for clarity and the sound as well. Claudio Arrau, has a sound like a bell like sound and really sings out. I also love Shura Cherkassky for these dazzlingly light runs, I mean, those transcriptions like Strauss, I mean there’s so many who I love.

MS: And Horowitz?

MJB: I think, the thing about Horowitz is that there are some moments, if you watch him play and there’s so many flaws in part and there’s, you know, it’s quite inaccurate and you think to yourself, “Oh, you know, is this really him playing?” And then, a moment later there’s a most incredible thing which is just not human and it’s that combination of kind of inconsistency that makes me love his playing so much.

MS: So, which works are you hoping to tackle in the future?

MJB: I’m really hoping in the near future, I’m hoping I’m gonna tackle Rachmaninov 2 and Tchaikovsky as well. Not so many people play Tchaikovsky anymore and I think it’s such a warhorse, it’s gotta be brought back in a way, but in the long term future, of course, I’d love to play Schumann concerto and Rach 3, but I’m kinda waiting for that ‘cause I don’t wanna, I wanna graduate the Rachmaninov concertos up until I hit Rach 3.

MS: When was the light bulb moment when you decided ‘I want to be a pianist?’

MJB: I suppose, it was when I was ten I think, because when I was seven I was not sure and I wanted to kinda…I had several job options…!

MJB: It was really when I was ten, exactly, I wanted to be a marine biologist at some point and a physicist and then when I got to ten, I think, I heard an amazing recording of Claudio Arrau doing Beethoven 4th and when I listened to that, I thought, “You know, this is what I’ve got to do because it just, that really inspired me a lot.

MS: What are your future plans, coming, upcoming concerts?

MJB: I have quite a few upcoming concerts. I have one next week in Wigmore Hall but at the moment I don’t have my diary because the Young Classical Artist Trust have my diary. (YCAT) Yeah, they’re helping me sort things out. I have a meeting with them tomorrow to sort out some things, but they kind of get all the work in and then we can discuss it and work out what works with dates and everything like that. So, I’m not really sure what I’m doing. I’m just gonna see them and they’re gonna tell me what I’m gonna do, so.

MS: What does playing the piano mean to you?

MJB: Playing the piano means so much to me, but I would say that it’s not playing the piano that means so much to me. It’s just music, in general, and I’ve always thought that there’s so much in music that I would really love to do and God forbid but if anything ever happened that I couldn’t play the piano like I would, I would just love to do some conducting and teaching, and there’s just so much that I’d love to do in the profession.

MS: Watch this space?

MJB: Well.

MS: Thank you so much for joining me today, Martin.

MJB: Thank you very much.

Melanie Spanswick: Young British concert pianist, Martin James Bartlett, has just been crowned BBC Young Musician 2014. He’s currently a student at the Royal College of Music Junior Department and the Purcell School and so, I’m so pleased he’s joining me today here at Jacques Samuel Pianos in London for a Classical Conversation. Welcome.

Martin James Bartlett: Thank you very much.

MS: I want to start by congratulating you. It’s fantastic that you’ve won the Young Musician.

MJB: Thank you so much.

MS: Brilliant, and I want to start by asking you all about your musical education, how old you are when you started, why you started, whether you’ve come from a musical family.

MJB: Well, my mum taught me first and I started at the age of six, and then at the age of eight, she decided that I should go somewhere else to carry on my studies. So, I went to the Royal College and I’ve been there for the last ten years now, and I suppose I started the piano because my mum was always teaching people in the house and we always had the radio on and CDs all the time and I just grew so accustomed to hearing it, that I really kind of wanted to follow in what she was doing and everything I could hear.

MS: And so, what teachers then do you think were crucial in your development. I think I know the answer to this.

MJB: No, definitely my mum first started me off really well and then when I went to Emily Jeffrey, she really just, I’ve been with her for the last ten years and she just, was just such an inspiration to come to, and she has so much patience with me and even sometimes I didn’t use to practice that I kind of wasn’t feeling it so much as other times I used to come in and she just used to, you know, carry on going, come back next week and we just have such a great relationship. It’s amazing.

MS: We should talk a little bit about Emily because she’s quite phenomenal, she’s not only had yourself, but she’s also had Lara Melda as Young Musician of the Year as well. So, she’s a phenomenal teacher.

MJB: Yes, she is fantastic and I think one of the reasons we set her apart from other teachers is because she doesn’t play so regularly to me and she just tries to describe how I should feel some of it with different adjectives and things. It makes me find my own sound and my own way of playing, so I don’t copy the way she plays. I have my own kind of voice when I’m playing.

MS: So, how did you develop your technique? I’m always asking this question. It’s fascinating how people start when you play, studies, scales, whether you learn the difficulties within a piece.

MJB: I suppose when I was younger, I used to occasionally do some Czerny Etudes, things like these, but I never really concentrated on a technique because it was always something that we thought, you know, the more we push ourselves with different repertoire it will come anyway.

MS: Right.

MJB: And I never wanted to become mechanical in any way, with the way I practiced, so when I did practice scales, which of course, I did when I was younger, we would, you know, we used to phrase them and do different dynamics and try to get as many kind of techniques in as possible.

MS: Yeah, that’s interesting. So, you know, you’ve won Young Musician. It’s gonna have a huge impact on your career, no doubt, but how do you feel about competitions, in general, because this isn’t the first time you’ve entered, you actually entered in 2012 and did very well as well.

MJB: I think competitions, I think you have to have the right attitude when you go in, and I think, you really can’t be going in to win. I think you’ve really got to go in just to develop yourself more as a pianist and musician, and I think they really push you, in terms of, there’s lots of pressure and you gotta learn new repertoire and of course, lots of international competitions have the set repertoire to go through, the Bach Preludes and Fugues in the first round and things like this, which I think is really good, ‘cause it kind of develops you more, as long as you go with the mindset of I’m just gonna go and give an amazing concert and not worry about the actual prizes or winning.

MS: So, do you feel that you might enter international competitions in the future or do you feel that the Young Musician is enough?

MJB: I suppose, I have no idea what I would do, you know, when it comes to things but I would love to because all those are my idols and things, you know, won the Chopin, and the Tchaikovsky and things. So, I would like to enter some in the future, yes.

MS: That’s a yes. I think it’s good experience isn’t it?

MJB: Yeah, exactly and you just, I mean, I’ve lost so many competitions and I really have, I think everybody loses lots and you just gotta, you carry on going and take it the right way.

MS: Which composers do you love to play?

MJB: I suppose, there are so many that I could mention but I think I quite have a special affinity with Bach. I love Bach but also Beethoven, I absolutely adore, and Schumann as well, but I also love Prokofiev and Romantic composers as well.

MS: And how many concertos do you have in your repertoire? How many do you play with orchestra involved?

MJB: I have around six or seven. When I was younger, I used to play quite a few Mozart concertos and a few Beethoven and also Rachmaninov as well. So, I play, I think, three or four with orchestra but I think concertos are so great because it’s all that chamber music aspect. You don’t really, with solo recitals it’s quite daunting, you know, it’s just you on you’re own, and the good thing about chamber music is if you’re with a fantastic orchestra, you just push each other further, you know, and you get even more out the music than many solo recitals you would do, I think.

MS: Do you have particular practice regime?

MJB: I suppose occasionally when it gets really tough, I have to write down what pieces and time and everything like that. Normally, warm up a bit but normally I warm up away from the piano, so I do a few stretches, run my hand under some warm water, just to loosen up my joints and everything, but then I think you can’t spend so much on technical studies because you’ve got so, there’s such a vast amount of repertoire to learn. You really have to just get stuck in and just go through as many pieces as you can.

MS: Do you ever practice away from the piano?

MJB: I do a lot of practice away from the piano in different ways, such as, you know, sometimes I’ll be looking at the score and listening through recordings or sometimes I just sit in bed after a hard day at work and I’m thinking, you know, now let’s get the score out and we can just look at all the markings and make sure I’m clear about what I’m doing.

MS: Yeah. So, what are your favourite pianists, or I should say who are your favourite pianists, Martin?

MJB: My favourite pianists, I love Horowitz. I love Martha Argerich for clarity and the sound as well. Claudio Arrau, has a sound like a bell like sound and really sings out. I also love Shura Cherkassky for these dazzlingly light runs, I mean, those transcriptions like Strauss, I mean there’s so many who I love.

MS: And Horowitz?

MJB: I think, the thing about Horowitz is that there are some moments, if you watch him play and there’s so many flaws in part and there’s, you know, it’s quite inaccurate and you think to yourself, “Oh, you know, is this really him playing?” And then, a moment later there’s a most incredible thing which is just not human and it’s that combination of kind of inconsistency that makes me love his playing so much.

MS: So, which works are you hoping to tackle in the future?

MJB: I’m really hoping in the near future, I’m hoping I’m gonna tackle Rachmaninov 2 and Tchaikovsky as well. Not so many people play Tchaikovsky anymore and I think it’s such a warhorse, it’s gotta be brought back in a way, but in the long term future, of course, I’d love to play Schumann concerto and Rach 3, but I’m kinda waiting for that ‘cause I don’t wanna, I wanna graduate the Rachmaninov concertos up until I hit Rach 3.

MS: When was the light bulb moment when you decided ‘I want to be a pianist?’

MJB: I suppose, it was when I was ten I think, because when I was seven I was not sure and I wanted to kinda…I had several job options…!

MJB: It was really when I was ten, exactly, I wanted to be a marine biologist at some point and a physicist and then when I got to ten, I think, I heard an amazing recording of Claudio Arrau doing Beethoven 4th and when I listened to that, I thought, “You know, this is what I’ve got to do because it just, that really inspired me a lot.

MS: What are your future plans, coming, upcoming concerts?

MJB: I have quite a few upcoming concerts. I have one next week in Wigmore Hall but at the moment I don’t have my diary because the Young Classical Artist Trust have my diary. (YCAT) Yeah, they’re helping me sort things out. I have a meeting with them tomorrow to sort out some things, but they kind of get all the work in and then we can discuss it and work out what works with dates and everything like that. So, I’m not really sure what I’m doing. I’m just gonna see them and they’re gonna tell me what I’m gonna do, so.

MS: What does playing the piano mean to you?

MJB: Playing the piano means so much to me, but I would say that it’s not playing the piano that means so much to me. It’s just music, in general, and I’ve always thought that there’s so much in music that I would really love to do and God forbid but if anything ever happened that I couldn’t play the piano like I would, I would just love to do some conducting and teaching, and there’s just so much that I’d love to do in the profession.

MS: Watch this space?

MJB: Well.

MS: Thank you so much for joining me today, Martin.

MJB: Thank you very much.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

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