Winner of the 2016 BBC Young Musician competition, Sheku Kanneh-Mason is in great demand from orchestras and concert halls worldwide. He became a household name in May 2018 after performing at the Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at Windsor Castle. In January 2020, Sheku released his second album, Elgar, featuring the Cello Concerto, which he recorded at Abbey Road Studios with Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra. On its release, it reached No. 8 in the UK Official Album Chart, making Sheku the youngest classical instrumentalist and the first cellist in history to reach the UK Top 10.
Craig Maplesden caught up with Sheku ahead of playing Dvorak with Bath Philharmonia, at Bath Forum, on Saturday 24th September.
Many people will know you from playing Cello at the Royal Wedding and for winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year. Prior to this though, you played with your siblings on Britain’s Got Talent. What was that experience like?
It was a great experience and to feel we were maybe bringing classical music to a different audience via that programme.
Did playing in front of such a large audience help you with any nerves, prior to the BBC YMOTY final?
I have never really suffered from nerves; performing to a live audience is something I have always really enjoyed.
What are your earliest memories of music and what was it about the cello that appealed to you?
My earliest memories are of listening to music on long car journeys and of watching my elder siblings play in the local youth orchestra. Watching those concerts inspired me to start the cello.
How much do you practice and does learning the instrument at such a young age allow you to develop your own style?
I practice around 4 hours a day but it can vary either way; if I have a performance for instance I would practice less that day to save myself physically. Starting to learn the cello at a young age was very useful, but that’s not to say it’s ever too late to learn an instrument.
You’ve been described as ‘The saviour of Classical music’. Does classical music need saving?
There are so many amazing pieces of classical music and so many fantastic musicians out there - and lots of young musicians doing really creative and wonderful things - many of whom I am lucky enough to work with: there’s really no evidence it needs saving!
If you were PM for the day, what law would you introduce to help classical music, or the music industry in general?
I would make it so that each and everychild had the opportunity to have a proper music education.
Let’s talk about the Royal Wedding! How much of a thrill and how nervous were you?
It was a real honour to be asked of course, very exciting. I really wasn't that nervous on the day as I enjoy performing so much and engage totally with the music I am playing.
You have achieved so much in your life so far. What’s the next challenge?
I love the idea of knowing there is always going to be so much more music to explore; that in itself is a continuing and ongoing challenge which I really relish the thought of.
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Do you think, especially in light of the BLM movement, that you play an important role in encouraging more children from a BAME background to get into Classical music?
Yes I think I am very lucky to be able to perform to such a large audience and I enjoy the responsibility to inspire a wider range of children to see classical music and to ensure they can see that they are able to take part. It's an exciting role to play.
Do you feel that teaching more Classical music in state education would also encourage this?
Yes, definitely, it would more than encourage it. It would really help and play an important role in allowing a wider range of children to experience this wonderful music and perhaps become classical musicians themselves.