Who is Isata Kanneh-Mason? All you need to know about the British pianist
Meet Isata Kanneh-Mason, the gifted pianist (and member of an amazingly musical family), who will be performing at the 2023 BBC Proms
She'll be performing at the 2023 BBC Proms, and is a member of an astonishingly talented musical family. But who is pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason?
Who is Isata Kanneh-Mason?
Isata Kanneh-Mason is a British pianist with several acclaimed releases to her name. She is one of the Kanneh-Masons, a famously musical family: her siblings include cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and violinist Braimah Kanneh-Mason.
Like her brother Sheku, Isata has been a member of Chineke!, the orchestra founded in 2015 to provide career opportunities for black and ethnically diverse classical musicians in the UK and Europe. Chineke!’s mission is: ‘Championing change and celebrating diversity in classical music’.
How old is Isata Kanneh-Mason?
Isata Kanneh-Mason was born in May 1996, in Nottingham. She is the eldest of the seven Kanneh-Mason siblings.
Where did she grow up?
Isata Kanneh-Mason grew up in the family home in Nottingham. Her father, Stuart Mason, is a business executive of Antiguan background; her mother, Kadiatu Kanneh, is a university educator born in Sierra Leone and has chronicled her experiences in the book Raising the Kanneh-Masons.
Who are the Kanneh-Mason siblings?
Isata is the eldest of seven musical siblings – Braimah, Sheku, Konya, Jeneba, Aminata and Mariatu are the others.
When did Isata first play the piano?
In her 2023 interview for BBC Music Magazine, Isata told our interviewer Jessica Duchen that she had her first encounters with a piano at her paternal grandparents’ home in Antigua, aged about five.
When did she start piano lessons?
Isata started learning piano young, at the age of six. She also had lessons on the recorder, violin and viola, but she soon knew that the piano was instrument for her. ‘It wasn't a conscious thing then, but I remember feeling natural and at home at the piano, whereas on the violin, I felt uncomfortable for much of the time,' she told Jessica.
'I think what I love about the piano now is its orchestral nature. There are so many different voices, colours and sounds that you can get from this one instrument. Whether it’s a solo, a concerto or chamber music, the piano can do so much.’
What has she said about her musical childhood?
‘My first two years of piano playing was basically me just composing and improvising,’ Isata said in her BBC Music Magazine interview. ‘I remember hearing pop songs on the radio, and then I’d go home and try and play them.
'Many of my early musical memories are about listening to music: I remember listening to the Schubert ‘Trout’ Quintet in the car – we were all obsessed with it! – and the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 in the living room with my sister, Jeneba.’
Where did she study?
Isata studied at the Junior Royal Academy of Music and latterly at the Royal Academy of Music.
What albums has Isata Kanneh-Mason recorded?
In 2019, Isata released her debut recording on Decca: a collection of piano works by Clara Schumann.
Then came Summertime, featuring piano works by four American composers: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Amy Beach, Samuel Barber and George Gershwin.
Isata and Sheku collaborated on the album Muse, released in November 2021. It features Samuel Barber's Sonata for Cello and Piano, transcriptions of songs by Barber and Rachmaninov, and Rachmaninov's Cello Sonata.
Her latest release for Decca is devoted to music on the theme of childhood, and features works by Dohnányi, Mozart, Schumann and Debussy.
What is Isata performing at the 2023 BBC Proms?
For Prom 22 on Tuesday 1 August, Isata will perform Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and conductor Ryan Bancroft. The Prom will also feature Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5.
Has she performed at the Proms before?
Yes. Isata and Sheku performed together as a duo at the 2020 BBC Proms.
What does Isata like to do when not playing piano?
‘I sleep,’ Isata told Jessica. ‘I like to be with people,’ she added, ‘because playing the piano, you're by yourself, and you travel alone. It's a lonely lifestyle. I like to see my friends, I love the cinema, long walks and reading and just socialising. And I also like being active because I'm sitting for such long hours, so I go to exercise classes, like biking and Pilates.’
Who are her musical heroes?
'Also I loved Beyoncé, Bob Marley and Michelle Obama, who are my Black heroes. And Rachmaninov I find inspiring as a composer and pianist. They all inspire me in different ways, and either I see parts of myself in them, or I want to absorb into myself parts of what they represent.'
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This is adapted from a piece that appeared in the May 2023 issue of BBC Music Magazine.