Lone Brit loses out at the Cliburn

Lone Brit loses out at the Cliburn


norman lebrecht

June 01, 2017

The Van Cliburn competition has chosen its semi-finalists and Martin James Bartlett is not among them.


These are the 12 survivors:

Kenneth Broberg, United States
Han Chen, Taiwan
Rachel Cheung, Hong Kong
Yury Favorin, Russia
Daniel Hsu, United States
Dasol Kim, South Korea
Honggi Kim, South Korea
Leonardo Pierdomenico, Italy
Yutong Sun, China
Yekwon Sunwoo, South Korea
Georgy Tchaidze, Russia
Tony Yike Yang, Canada


  • Raro says:

    As charming as Martin is (and he is), when you hear the intense, emotional power of players such as Yutong Sun and Han Chen you realize we have entered a 21st century of heightened accomplishment, heightened expression, and heightened beauty!

  • Cyril Blair says:

    Bartlett was very good, and has a natural stage presence and charm (although too much swaying, mooning at the ceiling, Lang-Lang type tics). I was surprised he didn’t pass through to the semifinal round, but the level of play this year is so high, just ridiculously high, that really good people have been cut at every round.

    I would pick Sunwoo to win. Dasol Kim will probably also be up there. The truest artist here is Yury Favorin, but I wonder if that will keep him from placing in the top 3 (assuming he advances to the finals).

  • Narissa Bach says:

    and only one female prevails to the semifinals. Numbers are numbers, truly enjoyable, artistry from all!

  • Peter says:

    China, Korea, Russia. The piano talent hubs of our times. And only the occasional North American or Western European of neither Asian or Russian descent.

  • David Rohde says:

    I had to laugh at the headline here. Yeah, he “lost out.” No, Martin James Bartlett was a Cliburn quarterfinalist at age 20. Not bad. And a big nod to another competitor who wasn’t chosen, Tristan Teo of Canada, who was to turn 20 the day after the announcement of the semifinalists. He told the local newspaper that he was happy with the results because he has a tradition of not practicing on his birthday, and this way he could keep his streak going. I thought that was fabulous!

    Of course what people were really discussing was the fact that only one woman, Rachel Cheung, made it into the group of 12 semifinalists. Two days earlier it wasn’t until I had left the building that I consciously realized that there were only three women among the 20 quarterfinalists. I checked my notes and realized that I personally would have advocated for four – Alina Bercu of Romania in addition to the three chosen for the quarterfinals (Su Yeon Kim of Korea and Rachel Kudo of the U.S. in addition to Rachel Cheung).

    In the first two rounds, Su Yeon Kim showed great voice-leading and a range of dynamic contrasts and colors in works ranging from Scriabin’s second sonata to Schumann’s Kreisleriana. Rachel Kudo (disclosure: I know her) grabbed the attention of some audience members in the mezzanine on Tuesday evening who had seemed distracted during the previous competitor’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s dreadful first sonata with the playful zest of Beethoven’s sunny opus 31/3 a.k.a. Sonata No. 18. Rachel also had one of the best spins through Marc-Andre Hamelin’s toccata as the compulsory work in the preliminary round. There’s a jazzy bloom at the end of the piece whose effect is lessened if you blow through Hamelin’s many earlier markings to pull back increases in volume or speed while still keeping things mysterious and anxious throughout. Check out Rachel Kudo’s performance of the toccata – it’s what Hamelin wrote.

    Meanwhile, I can’t say enough about the diversity of technical and interpretive skills that Rachel Cheung brings to the piano as she performs in the semifinals and hopefully the finals. Some of us in the mezzanine at Bass Hall ran out of metaphors to describe her playing. One of the writers said she tosses off 3 and 4-octave runs as if the piano were a harp, while the comparison that occurred to me was that of a xylophone. That may sound contradictory but there’s a ping to every single note combined with the ease of execution that is very striking. Yet in the next moment she can lay down some chords that almost have the sonority of a string orchestra. Her Chopin preludes were a clinic, and you have to check out her Liszt Mephisto Waltz on the replay – the sound and the clarity are phenomenal.

    There does seem to be a preference in the jury for some amount of what I would view as raw and relatively unformed playing, presumably on the theory that they want to hear more from certain people who they think are going places. I’m a bit mystified by the ongoing fascination with the unmistakably talented 18-year-old Tony Yike Yang of Canada. He certainly has the percussive side of the piano down, but his accents in iconic works like Prokofiev’s seventh sonata and the Liszt B minor sonata all sound the same to me, and his slightly splotchy races through downward arpeggios and other figures in the Liszt didn’t serve the work well compared to a gorgeous reading of the entire work by Han Chen of Taiwan.

    I also can’t help comparing Yang’s playing to the incredible interpretive maturity of the other teenager in the semifinals, 19-year-old Daniel Hsu of the U.S., who didn’t beat Bach’s poor violin chaconne to smithereens like another competitor did, and whose Beethoven opus 110 showed a great story-telling understanding of this complex work. The other American in the semifinals, Kenneth Broberg, provided fine drama in Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 and other selections. The one Russian who I (and others) would like to have seen granted a spot in the semifinals but wasn’t is Sergey Belyavskiy. His quarterfinal recital put a big smile on my face, with wonderful interpretations of three great pieces – Beethoven’s Eroica Variations (he really brought out the humor), the marvelous jumble of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 2 with a big extra accelerando at the very end that worked, and a lyrical Liszt (“Faribolo Pasteur”). He has the ability to put on a featherweight touch, while his accents are big sounds with bite but not sting. He’s a performer I’ll be watching out for in the future.

    Among the more experienced pianists there seems to be unanimous admiration for Yekwon Sunwoo, and we’ll see where the jury goes with others such as Yury Favorin (who gets my thanks for presenting all four of Prokofiev’s wild and crazy Opus 2 etudes) and Dasol Kim. Congratulations to all the performers and to the Cliburn organization for the event so far!

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    James is a nice player (played a stonking Rachmaninov Rhapsody in the BBC Young Musician) and he’s done well to reach this stage of one of the world’s major contests. However- the commentator above is correct- he needs to desist from swayings & poetic musings to the heavens. Some showmanship is essential for a concert pianist but he should take note of Earl Wild’s sage advice to concentrate more on the fingers- less on the presentation. But this will come with maturity as he has talent- good luck to him.

    Rather him though than any more South Koreans thank you with their mechanicus like machine gun fire technique with little tonal variety or empathy with the music. But they always reach the finals of major competitions because the jury are well aware that they’re finanacially essential to the future of classical music.

  • Tom Jacobson says:

    I thought Martin was one of the most interesting competitors in the Cliburn Competition. His movements at the piano didn’t bother me a bit. In fact, they indicated a commitment to music that was overwhelming. He will be an important pianist in the years to come. A big mistake in the USA was admitting that he was a wine collector, in a country where it is a crime to sell wine to someone his age! Pretty silly, but still, the Cliburn is very protective of it’s name, and any scandal associated with a medalist would cause a huge uproar. Imagine him busted for underage drinking!! Not allowed! He deserved to go all the way, but I can assure you that upper brass at the Cliburn were concerned with the ramifications of this kid’s fine wine collection. Best of luck to him!!!