Cliburn Competitor Talks Performing for the Queen, Sir Elton John

Fort Worth is on the world stage as the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition enters its final day Saturday.

This year, 290 applications from the best pianists ages 18-30 were submitted for the Cliburn. It's a competition of prestige where only the top 30 applicants are invited to compete.

There are numerous events surrounding the competition to get the North Texas community involved—including a free luncheon Friday where some of the competitors performed.

Patiently waiting, while warming his fingers to play, was one of those top 30 competitors.

"I'm so thrilled to be here. It's always been in the back of my mind, of course, I would like to enter this one day, but I never thought I would and I'm so glad to be here," said 20-year-old Martin James Bartlett.

Bartlett grew up in England. He started playing piano with his mom at just six years old. Now 20, he gets fan mail—one came with a mixed review of his performance style.

"Actually, I did receive an email the other day from someone saying how much they loved my playing, but how ugly my face was when I play the piano," Bartlett said.

NBC 5's Kristin Dickerson asked, "What does your face do?"

"It's quite expressive, I would say," Bartlett said with a laugh.

His sweet and expressive face has only helped add to his crescendo of life accomplishments.

"Well, I was lucky enough last year to perform for Her Majesty the Queen," Bartlett said with a smile.

He also released a single alongside Sir Elton John.

Dickerson asked, "Which were you more nervous about: the Queen, or Elton John?"

"The Queen! I think so," Bartlett said, laughing.

Bartlett's trip to Fort Worth is also a benchmark of sorts.

"This is my first international competition I’ve ever entered, actually," Bartlett said. "It's incredibly nerve-racking, but it's such a big deal, this competition. I think it's the biggest competition in the world."

Bartlett, and the 29 other competitors, are staying with host families while they are in Fort Worth, and their homes come with many benefits, including practice time.

"There are Steinways that are put into each house. So you have a piano to practice on whenever you want to. Two a.m., three a.m. in the morning–you can do as much as you need to," Bartlett said.

His father, Anthony Bartlett, came to Fort Worth with him.

Dickerson asked his father, "Are you giving him tips and telling him what to do?"

"No! He's giving me tips and telling me what to do," Anthony Bartlett said with a laugh.

To get ready for this competition, Martin James Bartlett was practicing up to nine hours a day. His hard work helped him make it to the top 20 out of the 290 who applied to compete.

Now, he'll head back to England as a proud international competitor who is looking forward to a summer of concert tours playing the piano. And he'll have some great stories about tasting Texas food.

"Some of which I shan't be sampling again, if I may say so. However, I have enjoyed it," Bartlett said with a laugh.

His father added that they weren't so sure about the calf fries they tried while visiting Fort Worth.

Contact Us