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

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

"Don't just sit there..."

"Don't just sit there. DO something!" The line is a popular comedy feature because of its usual subtext: the person addressing it to someone else hasn't got a clue what to do themselves.

A lot of us are just sitting there at the moment, wondering what the heck to do. We do what we can on a daily basis - taking care of the family, cooking, cleaning, shopping where possible, attempting exercise, trying to get on with any work we're lucky enough to have. I'm measuring out the weeks in the fabulous streamings from National Theatre At Home, each available for seven days from Thursdays. Tom is practising Paganini and catching up on 60 years of reading (I just gave him some Nabokov, but now can't get him to put it down and go to sleep). The cats are so well combed that they look ready to win rosettes at the Somali Cat Club Show, except that it had to be cancelled.

But there remains the deep and frustrating desire to do something positive; to make a difference in this bloody crisis; to make it all go away, or at least cheer other people up a little bit.

We each revert to type under stress, while work habits also become accentuated because they make us happy through their familiarity. Yesterday I felt happy because I had virtually a normal working day. I corresponded with an editor and a PR person about an article, selling an idea to the former, then telling the latter that I'd to do an interview (over Zoom). I started transcribing a recording of another interview, had a phone conversation with someone I'm consulting with regard to the story of a forthcoming opera libretto, watched a documentary from which I can learn about that topic, worked on a largish recordings-related project and on the side took part in a super Twitter discussion about how to conduct Tchaikovsky. And I combed Ricki, of course (Tom does Cosi). Normality makes one feel better. But of course, it is only a millimetre deep; any of this may vanish at any moment. As for personal tendencies, when things are difficult, I hide. I hole myself up in my study (back at college, it was a practice room, if and when such things could actually be found) until the danger has passed...

If someone says to me "DO something", I write, because that's my profession and represents the best of what I have to give. If you are a musician, you'll want to make music, for exactly the same reason. If you are a doctor or nurse, you will want to step up to offer your best in that department. Perhaps I am a hopeless idealist, but I think people have a natural instinct to want to help when times are tough.  That makes it depressing to see the negativity with which so many cynical misery-guts  are greeting artists' efforts to do something.

If musicians and musical organisations are giving free performances online, it's not because they are committing the evil of "self-promoting" (dear American readers, you'd be amazed to hear that a certain strata of Brits regard this as the worst of cardinal sins, rather like "being in trade, darling..."). It's not because they are trying to undercut everyone and make it impossible to earn a living henceforth because this extraordinary patch is how it's gonna be forever and forever more amen. It's possibly partly because some organisations are publicly funded and have a type of moral obligation to make their work available to the public in some form. It's also a matter of musicians staying in shape, because performing is an art in itself and it's easy to fall out of the habit, the adrenalin, the resilience.

But generally, it's because they want to do something. To give something. To give their best. Anything from a live recital - Igor Levit's regular house-concerts on Twitter are among the most popular around - to playing on the balcony for the Thursday evening Clap for Carers...


Alexandra Dariescu and Andreas Flor at home in London


Indeed, you can browse the internet and find a live broadcast of chamber music from the Budapest Festival Orchestra, or Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason playing the Rachmaninov Cello Sonata in the family home (that was wonderful), or Fenella Humphreys giving a violin recital from her front room after getting the audience to choose her programme via a Twitter poll, or the Royal Academy of Dancing offering Silver Swan ballet classes for the longer in tooth, or the live concert the other day from the Bavarian State Opera in which Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch performed Schumann's Dichterliebe to an empty theatre, which was fabulous but heartbreaking ("Music without an audience just isn't the same," Kaufmann commented to the camera afterwards).

Yes, there is a glut of stuff; yes, it is often marvellous; no, it is no substitute whatsoever for attending the real live thing in a performance space shared with the performers and 500-3000+ other people. I don't believe the digital option is something we should expect to become the be-all and end-all forever, even though the virus danger needs to be much reduced before we can think of safely attending mass events again. No, it's simply the Thin End of the Wedge, and we all know it, but we hesitate to say so, either because we're trying to be terribly positive about things, or because we are bloody terrified. Neither is a reason to malign people's intent in providing this material.

If you object to people giving their work away for free, you are correct that of course they shouldn't have to. It is well known that streaming is daylight robbery in terms of proportion of income that goes to the companies versus that to the person actually providing the material, i.e. the artist. The artists should be able to earn a decent living from their work; it is scandalous that they do not. And it's usually not their fault - they've been got over a barrel and been forced to sign away their rights (small person versus big company: 'twas ever so). Ditto writers; since the Net Book Agreement, which set the price of a book, was done away with, incomes have plummeted and the only way is down.

However, streaming on the internet in times of crisis is an issue on its own. This is a period in which household incomes are shattered and in some cases completely non-existent. Ordering your colleagues not to do free work in case they find that people get used to it and expect it forever is really not the answer (not least because it is already too late).

May I suggest something constructive?

There are a number of crowdfunding platforms online which are suitable for musicians and writers. On Buy Me A Coffee, you can ask patrons to contribute the price of a cuppa after enjoying your work. Patreon enables (I think) people to offer you a chosen amount every month. GoFundMe seems easy to use, is efficient, lets you set a target but keep whatever funds are raised even if you don't reach that amount. And there are of course many more. I recommend that musicians offering free streaming could set up an account on one of these and encourage those who can to contribute as large or small an amount as they wish. I recommend, too, that those with the means could offer as much as they can to support their preferred artists.

On a larger scale, the big companies - the National Theatre included - present a request for a donation with every streaming. Most theatres, festivals and concert halls that have had to cancel their performances will offer you the option of donating your ticket price to help the company and its artists to weather this blast, and if you feel able to do that it is a very, very good thing.

There are plenty of charities, such as Help Musicians UK, which will be massively grateful for donations and provides grants for musicians in financial trouble. You can help in all kinds of ways, and the latest is your very own Tasmingram to say it with music: Tasmin Little is offering musical video messages specially recorded for you, in aid of Help Musicians UK (it's £35, the same cost as a nice bouquet - more details here).

As for those individuals who disparage all internet music on the grounds of No Free Performance and No Internet Presence, please contribute a donation to everything you hear, watch or read, and then you won't feel so bad. Indeed, you will feel that you did something worthwhile - and quite rightly so.



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


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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