Tuesday, May 3, 2022

NYTimes.com: A Sister and Brother Choose Repertoire by Feeling and Listening [Isata and Sheku Kanneh-Mason]

Credit...Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

May 3, 2022

Are Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason those rarest of things: young superstars who might actually live up to their hype?

It certainly appears that way. The pair are two of seven British brothers and sisters, all musicians, who shot to fame when Sheku, a cellist, won the BBC Young Musician Award in 2016. Sheku’s exposure, in particular, has been extravagant since his star turn in the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in 2018. But listen to more than the breathless reporting of their streaming numbers and you find musicians who, while still in the early stages of their careers, already have serious, distinctive things to say.

Sheku, 23, made his New York Philharmonic debut in November, playing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, a performance that revealed him to be a “charismatic protagonist and a generous collaborator,” as Joshua Barone put it in The New York Times. Isata, 25 and a pianist, has recorded two outstanding solo albums, one filled with works by Clara Schumann, the other cleverly moving between composers including Samuel Barber, Amy Beach, George Gershwin and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

After an acclaimed appearance together at Weill Recital Hall in December 2019, they are returning for a duo recital at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, part of a long, busy tour that continues in Boston and Atlanta before a European leg.

Speaking from Kansas City, Mo., they talked about their program of cello sonatas by Frank Bridge, Britten, Shostakovich and either Khachaturian or Beethoven, depending on the stop. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

You each have your own concerns as artists, so how do you go about compiling a program when you play together on a tour like this?

SHEKU The main criteria is music that we’ve heard or want to discover, that we enjoy and maybe have something to say with, and we want to spend time working on and perform many, many times. Also it’s always interesting to pick repertoire that perhaps is new to some of the audiences we perform for. The Bridge Sonata is an example: It’s music that I really love and think is special, and has been new to a lot of audiences.

ISATA Sometimes when we present pieces that aren’t so well known, you have to go through the difficulty of getting presenters to accept them and trust that the audiences will like them. We’ve found on this tour that the audiences like these pieces; they really respond to the music. That just shows that all good music can be communicated, whether it’s something popular or not.

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