Award-winning cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason returns with Elgar, a new album of works anchored around Elgar’s Cello Concerto – arguably the best-known work in the classical canon written for solo cello, which saw the 100th anniversary of its first performance this month.
Recorded at the famous Abbey Road Studios with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), and conducted by one of Sheku’s lifelong heroes, Sir Simon Rattle, the work is a statement of intent from the 20-year-old musician whose rise to being “the world’s new favourite cellist” (The Times) has taken nothing away from his ambition to continue evolving and learning as an artist. Sheku explains, “It’s how I feel about the music that really motivates me to work and discover and develop my own ideas – that’s what keeps me going.”
The origins of the new recording on Decca Classics began long before Sheku met with Sir Simon Rattle in Berlin in December 2018, where they played through the concerto together before a game of football in the conductor’s back garden. Sheku recalls his earliest encounters with the iconic work, which his musical family owned on CD, saying it “directly connected with [his] emotions” at the age of eight or nine.
Over a decade later, Sheku has now performed the Cello Concerto many times with orchestras both national and international – including a televised BBC Prom at London’s Royal Albert Hall in August this year, where he was praised for his “poised” (Telegraph) and “introspective” (FT) performance – and, armed with the inspiration of the 1965 recording by his heroine Jacqueline du Pré, he embarked on an electrifying day of recording with the LSO.
Sheku has set the iconic work amid nine exquisite pieces, some popular and some less well-known, which provide a musical context to the Cello Concerto. He explains: “All the pieces are connected, either exercising similar emotions to the Cello Concerto, or written around the same time.”
There are works by the European composers Julius Klengel (Hymnus for 12 Cellos), Gabriel Fauré (Élégie) and the Swiss-born Ernst Bloch (Prayer, featuring his brother Braimah on violin, and Prelude), each of whom crossed from the old world into the politically turbulent and chaotically advanced 20th century.
The experience begins with a beautiful adaptation of the traditional Northumbrian folk tune Blow the Wind Southerly, an inclusion inspired by Kathleen Ferrier’s 1949 Decca recording of the song.
Also featured are Simon Parkin’s brand new arrangements of the gorgeous Scarborough Fair (for cello & classical guitar), Spring Song by English composer Frank Bridge, and more Elgar: Romance in D minor and a new take on Nimrod from Enigma Variations, arranged for six cellos.
It has been a whirlwind few years for Sheku. He won BBC Young Musician at the age of 17, and by his 19th birthday was performing at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, watched by 3 billion people around the world. Last year also saw the release of his Classical BRIT award-winning debut album ‘Inspiration’ which topped the Classical Album Chart and peaked at No.11 in the Official UK Album Chart, earning him a BRIT Certified Breakthrough Award. With over 60 million accumulative streams, Sheku has been named one of TIME Magazine’s Next Generation Leaders, evidence of his ability to cross musical boundaries and draw new audiences into the world of classical music.
Music education provision remains a topic close to Sheku’s heart; he is Junior Ambassador for inner-city music charity London Music Masters and was presented with the 2019 PPL Classical Award at the O2 Silver Clef Awards, held on behalf of music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins. Sheku’s work studying his instrument is far from done – he still attends the Royal Academy of Music, where he passes his brother and sisters Braimah, Konya and Isata in the corridor. Along with Jeneba, Aminata and Mariatu (who are still at school but attend Junior Academy) the Kanneh-Masons have become known as “The world’s most talented family” (The Telegraph Magazine).
Over the next few months Sheku will embark upon an extensive tour of Europe and the US, with dates throughout the winter of 2019 and into next year. He will return to his hometown of Nottingham in the week of his album’s release in the new year, surrounded by his family, who along with his supportive fans and followers around the world, keep his feet firmly on the ground.
2019 31st October – Town Hall, Cheltenham, UK 2nd November – Town Hall, Oxford, UK 7th November – Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, UK 10th November – Marlborough College, UK 11th November – Prinzregententheater, Munich, Germany 15th November – St Mary's Church, Lamberhurst, UK 17th November – Corn Exchange, Dorchester, UK 23rd November – St. Michael’s Highgate, London, UK 28th November – hr-Sendesaal, Frankfurt, Germany 29th November – hr-Sendesaal, Frankfurt, Germany 30th November – Erwin-Piscator-Haus, Marburg, Germany 3rd December – Colburn School, Los Angeles, USA 4th December – UC Berkeley (Zellerbach Hall), Berkeley, USA 5th December – Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Saint Paul, USA 6th December – Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Saint Paul, USA 8th December – Orpheum Theater, Vancouver, Canada 10th December – University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA 11th December – Carnegie Hall, New York, USA 13th December – New England Conservatory, Boston, USA 14th December – Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, USA 15th December – Folly Theater, Kansas City, USA 17th December – Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, USA 22nd December – Concert Hall, Perth, UK 29th December – Wigmore Hall, London, UK
2020 12th January – Fairfield Hall, Croydon, UK 23rd January – Kulturhuset Glada Hudik, Hudiksvall, Sweden 24th January – Konserthus, Gävle, Sweden 30th January – Music Center at Strathmore, North Bethesda, USA 31st January – Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, USA 1st February – Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, USA 9th February – Harrogate International Festival, UK 16th February – Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, UK 23rd February – Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, France 29th February – Teatro della Pergola, Florence, Italy 2nd March – Teatro Gaetano Fraschini, Pavia, Italy 3rd March – Conservatorio di Musica "Giuseppe Verdi", Milan, Italy 13th March – Halifax Philharmonic Club, UK (with Guy Johnson) 14th March – Stoller Hall, Manchester, UK 15th March – Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, UK