Sheku Kanneh-Mason

Inspiration

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The British classical scene has a tendency toward musicians and singers of unusual backgrounds, who are lauded and marveled at and then discarded until the next one comes along. But there are strong indications that the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the first non-white winner of the BBC Young Musicians competition, will have staying power beyond the norm. The "Inspiration" title is more than just a general one: the program pays tribute to Kanneh-Mason's role models, including Mstislav Rostropovich, who premiered the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 107, Jacqueline du Pré, who was associated with the French repertory heard here, Pablo Casals, and Bob Marley, whose No Woman No Cry is heard in a delightful chamber arrangement for multiple cellos. Kanneh-Mason succeeds more in the Shostakovich than in the little-known Offenbach pieces here, really catching the venom of the finale. But throughout, he shows the capacity to make a distinct personal statement, which is unusual in a teenage musician, and which is more important than technical precocity or the beauty of tone he produces from his 1610 Amati instrument. Kanneh-Mason has worked with City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conductor Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla and others to create arrangements that reveal group cooperation and a sense of investment in the project rather than the phoned-in standard performances endemic to projects of this type. He's definitely one to watch, and his Shostakovich can stand with anyone's.

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