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Isata and Sheku Kanneh-Mason Return to Boston

Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, seated left, with his sister, pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, seated right.
Joshua Reiner
Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason (left) and pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason (right)

Pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason and her younger brother, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason are two of the classical music world's fastest rising stars today.

Still just 26 and 23 years old respectively, Isata and Sheku have already built impressive solo careers. Both perform all over the world, and both have released acclaimed albums, including Isata’s 2019 Clara Schumann-focused debut, Romance, and Sheku’s 2018 debut, Inspiration.

In 2021 the pair released Muse, their debut as a duo. It features cello sonatas and song arrangements by Sergei Rachmaninoff and Samuel Barber.

And now the duo is touring the US with a program of cello sonatas by Beethoven, Shostakovich, Frank Bridge, and Samuel Barber, which comes to Symphony Hall on Saturday, May 7, at 8pm, presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston.

What makes these two young musicians so special?

Well, you may have seen the whole Kanneh-Mason family on the internet before - they have been viral sensations for several years, ever since videos like this one of all six Kanneh-Mason siblings having a ball playing music together started making the rounds.

Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason made headlines as a soloist a few years ago as well, when, at just 19, he was tapped to perform at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

But it's not the viral fame that makes Sheku and Isata special.

It's their music making.

Take, for example, their album Muse. What you notice in listening to it is just how tight the brother and sister are as a unit. They have a connectivity and a working-together-as-oneness that leaps through the speakers. And that is extraordinarily hard to do, regardless of your relationship! After all, getting two people to be on the same page about anything is exceptionally challenging.

But in music, you have to take that to the next step: when to start, when to stop, how long to pause during a rest, when to stretch a phrase out and when to speed it up just a little bit, who takes the lead in which section and who is in a supporting role, all while an audience that, in all likelihood, has heard the piece you're playing many times before sits silently watching you put it all together in front of them, live. It's not easy!

And then add your sibling into the mix?

But for these two, perhaps having the sibling there makes it just that much easier. "Well..." Sheku points out with a grin when I asked him about the unity of their playing together, "We’ve been playing together since we were very young, so it feels natural to play with her – and all our siblings really! Particularly on stage when we’re performing, there’s a level of trust that is very valuable when it comes to feeling free and spontaneous."

Isata Kanneh-Mason
Courtesy of the artist
Isata Kanneh-Mason

Perhaps that's what the difference is. Trust. Sure, you can argue and have disagreements with your sibling, but more than anyone else, when you're up there in front of people trying to craft your art together, you can trust that that person has your back.

Not that there's much sibling bickering going on between these two, as Isata made clear when I asked if there was ever any 'I’m-older-oh-ya-well-I-played-at-the-royal-wedding' rivalry between them.

"No, actually!" she laughed. "We tend to focus on the music and we don’t tend to disagree. Sometimes we may have opposing ideas, but we tend to just convince the other person through demonstrating what we think is best and how good our idea is."

That healthy collaboration, that trust, not to mention the genuinely very, very good playing, are incredibly enjoyable to watch and listen to. Take a listen to Muse and you'll hear what I mean. And then go to Symphony Hall and enjoy them make some great music together right before your very eyes.

Isata and Sheku Kanneh-Mason perform an evening of cello sonatas by Beethoven, Shostakovich, Frank Bridge, and Benjamin Britten at Symphony Hall on Saturday, May 7, at 8pm. The performance is the final concert for the 2021/2022 Celebrity Series of Boston concert series at the hall, and you can find tickets at their website . The concert will also be streamed.

The Celebrity Series of Boston has also just announced its 2022/2023 season, and CRB's Brian McCreath has summarized the exciting events to come. Read more here.

Chris Voss is the Weekday Afternoon Host and a Producer for CRB.