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Sheku Kanneh-Mason at Royal Concert HallSHEKU KANNEH-MASON
Second Album Launch – Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Friday 10 January 2020

It’s not every day you get to be in the presence of a musician who has performed at a royal wedding, at the BBC Proms 3 times and the BAFTAs twice, not to mention who has been awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List at the age of 20!  

On Friday 10 January, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the launch of cellist, Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s second Album, ‘Elgar’ at the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham.  It was held in the intimate setting of the foyer with the limited tickets selling out within 15 minutes of release.  I first became a fan of Sheku’s when he won BBC Young Musician of the Year 4 years ago and have seen him perform live four times.  He is a great inspiration to me, both as a musician and as a young person.   

The event began with a small concert featuring 3 pieces from the new album:

Scarborough Fair (trad.) in which Sheku was accompanied by one of his younger sister’s, Jeneba, on piano.

Prelude (Bloch), accompanied by his elder brother, Braimah, on violin.

Spring Song (Bridge), again accompanied by sister, Jeneba. 

When I have seen Sheku perform previously, he has often been supported by one or more of his siblings.  It is great to see how they support each other and, despite Sheku having the recording contract, they all seem to appreciate each other’s talent.

After the concert, Sheku spoke to the audience about how life has changed in the past two years and about the new album: 

He told us that he has been very busy and is currently in his third year, studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London.  When asked about his performance at the royal wedding in 2017, he said that he enjoyed performing to a large crowd and loved the pieces which he performed.  The publicity which he received afterwards has allowed him to perform more, including at Carnegie Hall, which he particularly enjoys.  

Sheku talked about the importance of having a life outside of music, saying that if life was just music with no other interests, it would not be a “real life”.  He enjoys playing football (despite the risk of injury to arms and hands!).  Having 6 siblings, the Kanneh-Mason home was like a small conservatoire, all the children are musical and play a variety of instruments including piano, cello and violin.  Sometimes it is a rush to get to the best piano in the house (they have two!).  However, now some of his siblings have also moved to London to study.  He sees Braimah the most as he shares a flat with him.  

Next Sheku went on to talk about the new album, simply entitled “Elgar” whch probably gives us a clue to its main feature – Elgar’s Cello Concerto.  The album is a mix of the major concerto and short pieces.  

Sheku told us that the concerto has been a favourite since he was very young and the iconic, and probably the best known, performance is by British cellist Jacqueline du Pré.  Amazingly, they were both the same age (20) when they recorded the concerto, it was recorded at the same studios (Abbey Road) and with the same accompanying orchestra (London Symphony Orchestra).  Sheku described Jacqueline as “my inspiration”, in particular he loves the honesty and expression of her performance of the piece.  He said that he didn’t find the similarities of the circumstances daunting and felt that it was a “personal piece of music where playing it was like talking to one person, rather than to a crowd”.  

The conductor of Sheku and the LSO for the recording of Elgar’s Cello Concerto was Sir Simon Rattle.  Sheku described how he felt very supported by Sir Simon who allowed him to feel very free with his performance.

Once the discussion was over, there was an opportunity for me to meet Sheku (and get a few signings).  I took the opportunity to ask him how he managed to balance school studies, revision and cello practice when he attended Trinity School in Nottingham.  Sheku said that it was very difficult and always a challenge.  He told me that he sometimes got up early in order to get some practice in before school and that school was very accommodating in finding him little areas to practise, whether it was in the sports hall or in a practice room.  He told me that the balancing act does get easier, since at the RAM, he is now just studying the one subject.  Sheku kindly signed some CDs for me and also a poster for QEGS Music Department (he asked me if this was payment to school for me being allowed to attend the launch?).

Meeting Sheku at the album launch and hearing him perform with his siblings was very special and I will remember it forever.  As I’ll be taking my Grade 8 piano exam later this year, I’m hoping that the advice he gave me ……. along with a little ‘Sheku magic’ will provide me with the inspiration to put in the best performance I can.