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Hornchurch’s Martin James Bartlett named BBC Young Musician of the Year

Martin James Bartlett with his award. Picture: Alan Peebles Martin James Bartlett with his award. Picture: Alan Peebles

Tuesday, May 20, 2014
6:00 PM

A teenage piano prodigy from Hornchurch, who began learning the instrument aged six, has scooped the prestigious BBC Young Musician of the Year Award.

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Martin with parents Tony and Hazel. Picture: Alan PeeblesMartin with parents Tony and Hazel. Picture: Alan Peebles

Martin James Bartlett triumphed in Sunday’s final, held in Edinburgh and broadcast on BBC Four, with his performance of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

The biannual award is the UK’s leading contest for young classical musicians and 17-year-old Martin, who is studying for his A levels in music and physics, has already been awarded full scholarships at three top London conservatoires.

“It’s such an amazing feeling,” he said. “It’s not the winning that really matters so much, it’s just the whole experience is so fulfilling. It’s incredible.

“My mum always had BBC Young Musician on the television when I was growing up in Hornchurch, so it’s something I’ve thought about for quite some time. I did it two years ago and learnt so much from the experience so I thought I’d come back and try again.

Madeleine Mitchell, from Hornchurch, has taught at the Royal College of Music for 20 yearsMadeleine Mitchell, from Hornchurch, has taught at the Royal College of Music for 20 years

“It’s not just the highlight of my musical career, it’s the highlight of my life.”

A panel of world-renowned musicians judged the competition, which featured two other finalists - percussionist Elliott Gaston-Ross and recorder player Sophie Westbrooke, both 15. All three were backed on the day by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, before a clearly shocked Martin was named as the winner.

Accepting the ward, the emotional teenager said: “I can’t believe it.”

A whirlwind of national media coverage has followed for Martin this week, with numerous radio and television spots, including an interview on BBC Breakfast on Tuesday.

He first began learning the piano aged six, and from eight has studied at the Royal College of Music junior department, as well as the Purcell School in Watford.

Aged just 12 he achieved Grade 8 distinctions in piano, the bassoon and the recorder, and has since performed in numerous competitions and festivals.

After his latest triumph, he earned the praise of classical violinist Madeleine Mitchell, also from Hornchurch, who teaches at the Royal College of Music.

She said: “As a solo classical violinist who has played all over the world, and professor at the Royal College of Music for 20 years, it [Martin’s win] is a great endorsement of classical music in Britain.

“Having attended Hornchurch Grammar School and led the Hornchurch Youth Orchestra as a teenager, I am especially delighted that another musician from the area has hit the heights.”

It maybe the most acclaimed prize he has won, but the Young Musician award is not Martin’s first. During his time at the Royal College of Music he has won a variety of awards and performed at venues including the Royal Albert Hall, St John’s Smith Square and Moscow Multi-Media Arts Hall.

Though his parents still live in Hornchurch, Martin has his sights set on being a concert pianista and touring the world: “I would love to play to wider audiences and get more people involved in classical music, because it’s great fun,” he said.

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