Showing posts with label Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Sheku and BBCYM flying high



Lovely, that! Sheku Kanneh-Mason playing his own cello version of No Woman, No Cry, which features on his smash-hit debut album Inspiration. I don't need to remind anyone that it was the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition 2016 that launched him out of Nottingham straight into the nation's musical heart.

Now it's time once again for the BBC Young Musician of the Year, which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary. Gearing up for it, a TV documentary on BBC 4 last night explored the stories of the three young stars who emerged last time: Sheku himself plus saxophonist Jess Gillam and horn player Ben Goldscheider. It also traces the competition's history with memories from those who took part - Nicholas Daniel, Natalie Clein, Alison Balsom and more - and many more. I was honoured to be among the commentators.

I well remember when it all began, and as a musical child of sorts I was much exercised to realise, thanks to my own peer group, just how far behind them I was. Seeing the likes of Nicholas Daniel, Tasmin Little and all the rest of them on the TV was a tremendous inspiration - so much so that I even insisted on trying to take up the oboe when I was 13. It was a total disaster, but got me out of hockey lessons for a year.

One hasn't always been exactly uncritical of the format and presentation of the series, which at times has veered too much towards TV for the sake of it and too little towards the actual music - but the 2016 edition was a massive improvement and I'm looking forward to seeing what transpires this year.

You can catch up with last night's programme on the BBC iPlayer here (UK only): https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09xzsbm/bbc-young-musician-forty-years-young


Enjoy JDCMB? Support it here, for as much or as little as you like.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Chineke! Riding high at the RFH

Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello), Kevin John Edusei (conductor) and the Chineke! Orchestra.
Photo: Belinda Lawley/Southbank Centre

It's hard enough to put an ordinary orchestra together... so just imagine the effort involved in assembling the magnificent crew that took the stage at the Royal Festival Hall last night for the climax of the Southbank's Africa Utopia festival. Chineke! - the brainchild of double-bass suprema Chi-chi Nwanoku - is Europe's first all-BME symphony orchestra and is designed a) to celebrate the talent of its members and b) to show the rest of us that not all faces on the concert platform need to be white or Far Eastern. The atmosphere of the RFH's foyers, too, was transformed; warm, relaxed, smiley people of every shape, size and colour were there, enjoying the festive programming, foyer events and the food market outside, and the hall itself was packed.

The Chineke! players come from all over the world. They range from young students of the Purcell School and Birmingham Conservatoire to such luminaries as leader Ann-Estelle Médouze, concertmaster of the Orchestre Nationale de l'Ile de France, the lead trumpet of the Met in New York, the violist of the Fine Arts Quartet, the stupendous flautist Eric Lamb, British cellist and educator Desmond Neysmith, principal second violin Samson Diamond who started with Buskaid in Soweto, and of course Chi-chi herself. Charlotte Barbour-Condini, a BBC Young Musician finalist as a recorder player, is here playing the violin.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason.
Photo: Belinda Lawley/Southbank Centre
Several members of the multitalented Kanneh-Mason family are aboard too, including the current Young Musician of the Year, Sheku the cellist; when he wasn't out front, making his RFH debut in the Haydn Cello Concerto, he was back in the middle of the cello section, giving his all.

Despite this disparate nature, even if the ensemble can't always be perfect, there were moments of absolute magic where a section began to play virtually as one instrument, notably the first violins. The conductor, Kevin John Edusei, a young competition winner and now chief conductor of the Münchner Symphoniker, offered clarity, swing and masses of positive and unifying energy.

The evening got off to a flying start with Sibelius's Finlandia. Odd choice? Not so: along came the chorus of Cape Town Opera, which has been performing its Mandela Trilogy in the festival and, ranked up the aisles, they transformed the big tune into a stirring anthem with nice, up-to-the-minute, inclusive words. It would be easy to pick holes in that idea (the cited flora sounded a tad Alpine) - but my goodness, I was right in among them in an aisle seat, and my own background is South African; my late parents left in the '50s and my father refused to go back until Apartheid was brought down, and I thought of how much this evening would have meant to them, and I cried.

Next, a transformation to the 18th century: the three-part Overture to L'amant anonyme by Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges: expert violinist, fencer and favourite of Marie-Antoinette. It's a piece of much charm and the Chineke strings, with Isata Kanneh-Mason at the harpsichord, brought it lilt, warmth and bounce.

Sheku was centre stage for the Haydn concerto and again one had the sense of history in the making. With virtuoso aplomb as cool as the proverbial cucumber punch, a splendid, pure and focused sound and a genuine, smiling stage presence, the 17-year-old cellist is going places, musically mature beyond his years - his encore, Bloch's Abodah in Sheku's own arrangement, was deeply reflective and moving. He had a hero's welcome, and deservedly so.

And to close, the Dvorák "New World" Symphony - a piece I realise one doesn't hear often enough because it, like so many other outright masterpieces (Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet, Mozart's Piano Concerto No.21, Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No.2, etc), has been siphoned off into "popular classics" evenings and therefore often shunned by the bigwigs. But these pieces are popular because they are fabulous works, and I have a special soft spot for Dvorák 9 because it was the first symphony I ever heard live, at the good old RFH when I was 7 years old. So it's always a treat. The drive, passion and blazing beauty of sound that Chineke and Edusei brought it warmed us from head to foot and even if I sometimes missed perhaps an earthier, wilder, more mystical-magical quality in it, each bar nevertheless had its thrills. The audience clapped between movements, a few people went out or came in, and you know something? It was fine.

It does seem extraordinary, of course, that in proud multi-cultural London, in the 21st century, it still has to be proved that a BME orchestra can a) exist and b) play every bit as well as anyone else. But if that is what it takes to wake people up, make them see, think and respond, then that's what it takes. We have to do what it takes. And it's fabulous, and it's working.

Above all, this concert showed us all what absolute rubbish it is to think that music could be anything but for everybody. All these divisions - race, colour, creed, nationality, "relevance" - are imposed by us, not by the music, and do nothing but limit people. Music transcends the lot.

Bravi, Chineke! Brava, Chi-chi! And bravo, Sheku - we will be seeing much, much more of you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Just listen to the BBC Young Musician of the Year's strings winner



Sheku Kanneh-Mason, 16, has won the strings final of the BBC Young Musician of the Year. Just listen to him play this Rachmaninoff Elégie, with his sister Isata Kanneh-Mason at the piano. I hope you're as bowled over as I was during my rushed attempt at a catch-up on the competition's progress.

Sheku will be taking his place in the grand final at the Barbican on Sunday alongside saxophonist Jess Gillham and horn player Ben Goldscheider. Three wonderful performers - I just wish all of them could win outright.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Third go for prizewinning pianist in BBC Young Musician final

The BBC has announced the line-up of category finalists for its Young Musician of the Year 2016. There are some exciting names on the list, including some we've come across before and loved hearing, in a variety of contexts, and a couple who are apparently gluttons for punishment since they are taking their second try - or, in one case, even a third shot at the contest despite having won his category before.

Watch out for cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason - from a whole family of gifted musical siblings...here he is with his violinist brother Braimah playing the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia:



Terrific saxophonist Jess Gillam was in the contest in 2014 and proved herself local heroine at last year's festival in her Lake District home town of Ulverston...



Then there's pianist Julian Trevelyan, who was also in the 2014 and won the top prize (2nd - no first awarded) in the 2015 Long-Thibaud-Crespin Competition in Paris. Here he is in some mightily impressive Shostakovich in another competition in France recently:



And the third go? Quite remarkably, the pianist Yuanfan Yang is back for yet another try for the top. Then a pupil at Chetham's, he won the BBCYM piano prize in 2012 and two years earlier was the youngest contestant in the category's final. He is now 19 and has established a very promising international career. But evidently he still wants to win this particular thing outright and over all. Will it be third time lucky for Yuanfan? Here he is in the final four years ago:



That's just small a taster of some of the amazing talent that this competition continues to attract and showcase - and I can't wait to hear all the others as well. What a shame that, in true TV talent contest style, "There can only be one winner"...

Here's the full line-up:

Keyboard
Jackie Campbell (15) – piano
Tomoka Kan (17) – piano
Harvey Lin (13) – piano
Julian Trevelyan (17) – piano
Yuanfan Yang (19) – piano

Woodwind
Polly Bartlett (17) – recorder
Lucy Driver (17) – flute
Jess Gillam (17) – saxophone
Joanne Lee (15) – flute
Marie Sato (15) – flute

Percussion
Matthew Brett (14)
Hristiyan Hristov (17)
Joe Parks (16)
Tom Pritchard (18)
Andrew Woolcock (16)

Brass
Sam Dye (16) – trombone
Zak Eastop (18) – trumpet
Ben Goldscheider (18) – french horn
Zoe Perkins (17) – trumpet
Gemma Riley (17) – trombone

Strings
Stephanie Childress (16) – violin
Sheku Kanneh-Mason (16) – cello
Charlie Lovell-Jones (16) – violin
Joe Pritchard (16) – cello
Louisa Staples (15) – violin