Few who followed the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year 2016, could fail to be impressed by the winner Sheku Kanneh-Mason and runner up Jess Gillam, both extraordinary in their individual performances on cello and saxophone respectively. Since then, their careers have taken off, and we are so lucky to have the early opportunity to see these rising stars. Sheku will play a dramatic and moving programme of Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Cassado, and Jess presents a sparkling programme including Ravel, Debussy, Iturralde and Phil Woods.
To have a double bill that includes the two instruments that are most nearly akin to the human voice gives us a wonderful opportunity to wallow in a whole evening of beautiful cantabile tone.
Having started on the cello at 6, Sheku gained the highest marks in the UK for Grade 8 cello by the age of 9.
He has continued to win numerous prizes both in Nottingham and at the Royal Academy where he studies with Ben Davies. Sheku made an enormous impression in the Grand Final of BBC’s Young Musician of the Year, with his ‘electric’ winning performance of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No.1.
The BBC documentary ‘Young, Gifted and Classical’ follows his family as all 7 siblings study and excel in piano and strings. When the family ensemble reached the semi-final of Britain’s Got Talent, Simon Cowell named them ‘The Most Talented Family in the World’.
As well as playing in the family chamber groups, Sheku also plays with Chineke! the groundbreaking ensemble of black and minority ethnic musicians, with whom he has played the Haydn Cello Concerto.
Sheku is also passionate about the importance of music in education. He says: “Classical music is not elitist. The music itself is accessible to everyone. The real problem is the fact that it’s expensive and there is so little help from councils and the government.”
In interview, Sheku appears modest and thoughtful with a maturity and calmness that is rare in a classical soloist of any age. But it is comforting that he has time for football and Bob Marley!
We are so fortunate to be able to hear, at the centre of his programme, the piece with which he won the String Final of Young Musician of the Year, the hauntingly beautiful Morceaux de Fantasie Op.3 ‘Elégie’ by Rachmaninov.
19 year old Jess Gillam lives and was educated in Ulverston. She now studies at the Royal Northern College of Music, with an ABRSM scholarship, under Rob Buckland and is mentored by John Harle.
She also made a great impression in the 2014 BBC’s Young Musician of the Year, and then was runner up in the 2016 Grand Final. Her presence on stage was confident, cool and funky, her interviews assured and funny, and her playing was outstanding in its technical brilliance and range of colour.
Jess will take on the task of being ambassador for the saxophone, extending its repertoire from jazz, through transcriptions of baroque, early 20th century treasures to modern day masterpieces.