Sheku Kanneh-Mason‘s next recording will be Elgar, a brand new album of works anchored around Elgar’s Cello Concerto, which saw the 100th anniversary of its first performance this month. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, Sheku’s innate artistry and thoughtful approach to performing this iconic work are immortalised in this new recording featuring the London Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. The album is to be released on Decca Classics on 10th January 2020.
Sheku recalls his earliest encounters with the Cello Concerto, saying: “I first heard [it] when I was four or five, watching DVD performances of Jacqueline du Pré and listening to her phenomenal CD recording from 1965. I started learning to play it with a score in my music lessons when I was around seven years old, picking up sections of it from listening to recordings then recreating it for my teacher. Even at that age, I had the ambition of performing the work live; and my family were of course a very encouraging first audience!”
Having performed the Cello Concerto many times with orchestras both national and international over the past two years, Sheku met with Sir Simon in Berlin in December 2018 and played through the concerto with only the conductor at the piano. Armed with the inspiration of the 1965, recorded by a then 20-year-old Jacqueline du Pré, Sheku embarked upon an electrifying day of recording with the LSO in June 2019 at Abbey Road.
At the BBC Proms in August 2019, Sheku sold out the 5,000-seat Royal Albert Hall and presented a “poised and massively confident” (Telegraph) performance of the Cello Concerto alongside the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and dynamic young conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, with whom he recorded his chart-topping debut album Inspiration.
Sheku uses Elgar’s iconic work as a lens through which to explore the wider musical landscape of pre- and post-war Europe, heralded by new recordings of works by Julius Klengel, Gabriel Fauré, and Swiss-born Ernst Bloch. Fauré’s “Élégie”, as well as being a classic work in the cello repertoire, is a last manifestation of romanticism in pre-war Europe before the world changed forever. Klengel’s “Hymnus” – composed for 12 cellos – was written in 1920 and first performed in 1922 at the funeral of Arthur Nikisch, who succeeded Elgar as conductor of the LSO.
Elgar’s Enigma Variations was composed between 1898 and 1899 at the dawn of a new century; the powerful and ubiquitously British “Nimrod”, newly-arranged for solo cello and cello quintet, is frequently performed at ceremonies of remembrance. The traditional folk tune ‘Scarborough Fair’ is reimagined for solo cello and classical guitar, complementing Northumbrian ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’ – an inclusion inspired by Kathleen Ferrier’s 1949 Decca recording, and Sheku’s own arrangement – and a new recording of Frank Bridge’s “Spring Song”, featuring the Heath Quartet.
Following his invitation to perform at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in May 2018, which was watched across the world billions of people, Sheku continues to perform with many of the world’s leading orchestras and will tour Europe and the US with his sister Isata in 2019/2020.
Still a final-year undergraduate student at the Royal Academy of Music, music education provision remains a topic close to his heart; Sheku 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.
Since winning the coveted BBC Young Musician competition in 2016, Sheku signed to Decca in 2017 and released his Classical BRIT award-winning album Inspiration in January 2018, which peaked at No. 11 in the Official UK Album Chart and topped the Official UK Classical Album Chart. Inspiration has, to date, sold over 120,000 copies worldwide, 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.