At 19, Sheku Kanneh-Mason has already played the gig of his life. While the Duke and Duchess of Sussex signed the register at May’s Royal Wedding, the superstar cellist thrilled the congregation in Windsor’s St George’s Chapel and a TV audience of hundreds of millions with his playing. It was, he would later reveal, not just a massive musical moment but also the first wedding he’d ever been to.
His ‘save the date’ instruction arrived in the form of a letter from Buckingham Palace saying the Duchess of Sussex wanted to get in touch. ‘It didn’t come as a total surprise when she rang. She told me she’d been listening to my album and we talked about some ideas for what I could play: I suggested a couple of pieces, so did she.’
At 19, Sheku Kanneh-Mason has already played the gig of his life. While the Duke and Duchess of Sussex signed the register at May’s Royal Wedding, the superstar cellist thrilled the congregation in Windsor’s St George’s Chapel and a TV audience of hundreds of millions with his playing
The result was that he played two favourites of his own, Sicilienne by Maria Theresia von Paradis and Après un Rêve by Fauré, as well as Ave Maria, the personal choice of the bride. The final selection was made after a top secret try-out with Harry and Meghan in the chapel weeks before the wedding. ‘They were really friendly. It was great to talk to them and see how much they cared,’ says Kanneh-Mason.
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Share Sheku’s Proms
First Prom Last year, with Chineke! (Europe’s first Black And Minority Ethnic orchestra).
Dream Prom To play Elgar’s Cello Concerto. It’s such a fantastic piece.
Tips for this year Go to as many as you can!
On the day, he beguiled thousands of new fans with a coolly brilliant performance. His achievement was all the more significant because he had not been able to tune or warm up.
‘I don’t get nervous playing the cello,’ he says. ‘To me it was an amazing opportunity to be able to perform for so many people.’ The Royals were delighted and wrote to tell him so. ‘I received a lovely thank-you letter from the Duke and Duchess a few days after they got back from honeymoon. I was very touched,’ he says.
A month later he bagged two awards at the Classical Brits, alongside established performers such as Michael Ball and Alfie Boe. He dedicated them to his parents who raised him, one of seven music-mad children, in Nottingham. Kanneh-Mason is eager to bring his extraordinary musicianship to the Proms. He’ll be playing a concert to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the BBC’s Young Musician competition, which he won in 2016. He made history as the first black person to do so, and has said: ‘Going to watch orchestras, seeing very few black faces, meant it could be difficult to see yourself doing something you see no one else like you do. That’s one of the challenges in classical music.’
‘I don’t get nervous playing the cello,’ Sheku says. ‘To me it was an amazing opportunity to be able to perform for so many people.’
Kanneh-Mason’s debut album is called, fittingly, Inspiration. It mixes pieces by Shostakovich with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and his arrangement of Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry. ‘It’s there because I love reggae.’
Sheku Kanneh-Mason is one of 21 BBC Young Musician Alumni performing in the BBC Young Musicians Prom on July 15
Jazz, gospel and rock at the Proms? Radio 3 presenter Georgia Mann tells Event why she’s all for a musical mash-up
Radio 3 breakfast presenter Georgia Mann-Smith has much to smile about: the station that is the home of The Proms is stealing listeners from rivals with its very modern mash-up, blending old and new classical music, and a bit of jazz and folk too.
Its innovative attitude is mirrored by a 2018 Proms season that will see Mann-Smith heading up to a Drill Hall in Lincolnshire to present Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale and introducing a Havana Meets Kingston musical fusion prom.
Radio 3 breakfast presenter Georgia Mann-Smith has much to smile about: the station that is the home of The Proms is stealing listeners from rivals
In recent years, she points out, there have also been Ibiza, gospel and urban music proms, the latter presented from a car park in Peckham, south London, with the sound of trains trundling in and out of Peckham Rye station providing a percussive backdrop.
It’s all a long way from the traditional ‘Union Jacks in the Albert Hall’ image of the festival but then Mann-Smith, 37, is one of the new wave of young and glamorous classical music presenters that includes Myleene Klass, Clemency Burton-Hill and Katie Derham.
She’s apt to describe Vivaldi as ‘the Jimmy Hendrix of the Baroque era,’ and is currently re-learning the piano so she can accompany herself as she sings Nina Simone standards.
‘There are all the big tunes such as O Fortuna, Saint-Saens’ Carnival Of The Animals and Holst’s The Planets – music that exists in the ether of Britain – and Dvorak’s New World Symphony, which, of course, everyone knows as the Hovis advert music. But then there are also Chamber Proms in the Cadogan Hall, each of which features a specially commissioned new piece from a modern female composers – The Proms cross the whole musical gambit.’
‘We live in a news-saturated society, we are being continually bombarded with information whereas Radio 3 gives people the headspace they need,’ says Mann-Smith. ‘Radio 3 loves to throw up interesting things so for example if you put some jazz next to Handel you can see the parallels. ‘There’s a real sense of discovery around station but some things don’t change and for us summer wouldn’t be summer without the Proms.’
First Prom: I was reporting on Handel’s Messiah being sung by children’s choirs from all over the country. At the interval I was chatting to Stephen Fry while kids were singing bits of the Hallelujah chorus to us – that was a real Proms moment
Dream Prom: If I could bring people back from the dead I’d love to hear Maria Callas sing Casta Diva on stage at the Albert Hall
Tips for this year’s Prom: Prom like a Prommer, get onto the floor of the Albert Hall and get into the spirit of the thing.
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