Sheku Kenneh-Mason and the MSO Transported the Audience into a New World

by | Aug 3, 2022 | Ambassador thoughts, Cello, Orchestras

Sheku Kenneh-Mason and the MSO: Mid Season Gala

31 July, 2022, Hamer Hall

There was something deeply captivating about cellist Sheku Kenneh-Mason’s performance of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2 to a sold-out audience at Hamer Hall alongside the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. From the dark, brooding opening solo in the lower register of the cello, the wry humour of the scherzo-like second movement to the dystopian fanfares of the finale, he conveyed an intimate and emotional connection with the music along with exceptional technical command.

Kenneh-Mason’s Australian debut performance was far from stock standard – from his choice of repertoire to his modest attire. Shostakovich’s second cello concerto is not commonly performed; it is often overshadowed by the popularity of his first cello concerto, perhaps due to its more subdued soloist scoring. Yet Kenneh-Mason received a standing ovation for his performance of this work which combined passages of gripping intensity with exquisite tenderness, all the while hinting at the sinister tone underlying the concerto. There is no doubt that he has an affinity for Shostakovich’s music, having won the BBC Young Musician title with his compelling performance of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1.

For the encore, Kenneh-Mason chose to share the stage with four MSO cellists, a testament to his sincerity as a musician who prioritises musical communication of depth over showmanship. Their collaborative rendition of ‘Come, Sweet Death’ by J.S. Bach, arranged for five cellos, was a pleasing salve to the dark intensity of the preceding work.

Under the baton of the MSO’s chief conductor Jaime Martin and the capable leadership of concertmaster Sophie Rowell, the concert opened with Australian composer Anne Boyd’s ‘At the Rising of the Sun’. Boyd herself introduced the work and dedicated the performance to her friend, Alice Waten, a foremost Australian violinist and pedagogue who had recently passed. The orchestra brought Boyd’s score to life with a vivid image of sunrise and awakening, signalled by a brass fanfare, followed by spacious quintal harmonies and soft drones of open strings (akin to the sound of tuning strings) that painted the warm glow of the sun.

The final work, Dvorak’s much-loved Symphony Op. 9 ‘From the New World’ showcased the orchestra’s bravura, technical and expressive calibre. Martin’s fluid gestures guided the orchestra through seamless transitions between themes as the thrilling synergy of the different instrumental timbres—supported by a commendably vigorous double bass section—transported the audience into a new world.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason and the Kanneh-Mason family will be touring Australia during August 2022. More information here.

Photo credit: Laura Manariti

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