Sunday, April 28, 2019 Pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason is signed with top record label

Isata Kanneh-Mason

By Phoebe Southworth

27 April 2019

The sister of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's royal wedding cellist has called for more diversity in the "elitist" classical music industry, as she is signed with a top record label.

Isata Kanneh-Mason, 22, told The Telegraph that the culture was holding back women and ethnic minority musicians when music should be "non-discriminatory".

The pianist, who has played since the age of five, is a postgraduate student at the Royal Academy of Music and has performed across the world including in New York, Paris and Canada.

Her brother Sheku was the first black winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year award in 2016 and captured the nation's heart as the cellist at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding ceremony last year.

Isata's debut album, released this summer, will feature a collection of pieces by Clara Schumann to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the legendary composer's birth.

Clara was the wife of German composer Robert Schumann and remained in his shadow until a revival of her work began in the 1970s.
Isata told The Telegraph: "My sole aim with classical music is to get it out there to as many people as possible regardless of gender or colour because music is universal and therefore non-discriminatory. I think it should be open to everyone.

"Supporting women of colour in classical music is something that is important to my entire family. Because we always had each other we never felt that we were alone in classical music.

"But of course, looking out into the wider world of classical music, we are a minority. So we always hope to get more people of colour involved in classical music."

Isata, who is the eldest of five sisters, added: "If more young women get involved in classical music because of the album then that's amazing."

She also criticised the worrying lack of music funding in state schools, which has taken a 21 per cent cut in the last five years, according to research by the British Phonographic Industry.

Andrew Lloyd Webber has previously spoken out on the subject, saying it is "appalling" that music education is being "neglected".

He added: “What the government should be grasping is that every penny you spend on music – not to turn people into musicians, but music as an empowering force – comes back to you in tenfold."

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who plays Ike Turner in the Tina Turner musical, has also criticised the lack of diversity in the West End after research showed most ethnic minority performers are in just a handful of shows.

Isata said: "Classical music is very expensive and it's shame that because of that it has become slightly elitist.

"Growing up, I've seen the sacrifices my parents had to make for the cost of instruments, music and lessons. Because of that, a lot of people aren't able to get into classical music because they don't have the money or the opportunity.

"I think it needs to be brought back into state schools because it's gradually being stamped out. I think that's a really important step that needs to be taken to get people more involved.

"Music has changed mine and my family's lives an unbelievable amount. I don't know where we'd all be without it."

She said of her brother's Royal Wedding performance: "We were at home together watching Sheku on the TV playing at Harry and Meghan's wedding and we were really proud of him.

"We're really proud of him in everything he does and that was really special."

Isata was a finalist in the 2014 BBC Young Musician competition and completed her undergraduate degree at the Royal Academy of Music as an Elton John scholar.

She even performed with the iconic singer songwriter in Los Angeles in 2013.

The pianist has now been signed by leading record label Decca Classics.

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