Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s career was launched two years ago when he won BBC Young Musician in 2016. He went on to perform at the 2017 British Academy Film Awards and alongside the Chineke! Orchestra at the BBC Proms, playing Dvořák’s Rondo in G major.
This year he has released his debut album Inspiration (which will be reviewed in the April issue of BBC Music Magazine) with Decca Classics, featuring the piece with which he won Young Musician, Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1. The album has not only dominated the classical charts, but has also entered the pop charts – a testament to Sheku’s popularity. We caught up with him ahead of this year’s competition.
It’s been two years since you won BBC Young Musician, and so much has changed for you. What has been your career highlight since winning?
Recording my first record was probably the most exciting thing, and I’m really pleased to have been able to do that. Playing at the Proms last summer with the Chineke! Orchestral was also an amazing experience, and definitely one of the most exciting performances I’ve done since the competition. I’m really looking forward to hopefully doing that again!
How did the competition help launch your career?
Because the competition has such a high profile, it opened up so many opportunities. I was very lucky to be surrounded by people who encouraged me – especially at this age, there’s so much more to learn. I was able to focus on the opportunities given to me, and that really helped me progress.
What advice would you give to this year’s finalists?
For me, I really wanted to communicate the music that I loved in the best way possible – that was the most important thing to me. Of course, it’s a competition and there are difficult aspects of performing on stage, but I think the more you can think just about the music you’re playing and perform it in the way you want, the better chance you’ll have.
Your younger sister Jeneba is a finalist in this year’s competition – have you given her any words of advice?
I’ve listened to her practising, and my older sister is a pianist as well and she’s been very helpful to her. Jeneba’s cello teacher is Ben Davies, who also taught me when I was at the Junior Royal Academy of Music, so I know Jeneba has been playing a bit of piano in her cello lessons as well! She’s such a wonderful musician, and I think she is really looking forward to the competition.
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Will you be involved in the competition this year in any capacity?
I’m really looking forward to watching the competition, and I’ll be playing a short piece in the final as well, which will be lovely. It’ll be great to come back this year and enjoy it without the pressure!
BBC Young Musician 2018 launches on BBC Four and BBC Radio 3 in early April. Sheku Kanneh-Mason will be performing at the final on Sunday 13 May.
Listen to our playlist of BBC Young Musician alumni here:
Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.