BBC Young Musician of the Year Sheku Kanneh-Mason delights Worthing audience

Sheku Kanneh-Mason
Sheku Kanneh-Mason

A SELL-OUT concert starring the 2016 BBC Young Musician of the Year justified with talent to spare Worthing Symphony Orchestra's proud boast, 'world-class music on your doorstep'.

Spring had finally begun to spring again outside the Assembly Hall on Sunday after the untimely cold snap, but it was forever autumn inside while 18-year-old Sheku Kanneh-Mason was performing Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor.

Without apparent fear or baggage, the gifted and delightfully personable young cellist took on Elgar's 1919 lament for a world torn asunder by the carnage and horror of the Great War.

The work will forever be associated with the extraordinary emotion wrung from it by Jacqueline du Pré, who died aged only 42 in 1987, 12 years before Sheku was born.

WSO principal conductor John Gibbons more than hinted at the giant shadow cast by du Pré over all subsequent performers of the concerto by saying it was his sister's favourite piece of music – and she had worn out her du Pré recording.

There, however, in the perishability of a vinyl disc, lies the key to success when a soloist of tender years such as Sheku faces the challenge of interpreting an iconic masterpiece.

The beauty of the live performing arts – classical music especially – is that works deemed almost sacrosanct will never become trapped in aspic all the time Sheku and other virtuosi play them as they should be played – in the moment, with limitless potential for new insights, and as if every second could possibly be your last.

An extreme version of ephemerality is that you're only as good as your next performance, but Sheku's Sunday best with the WSO more than sufficed, particularly his gorgeous playing in the slow movement of the Elgar, when his Antonius and Hieronymus Amati cello (c 1610) sang out in sublime defiance of a lone emergency siren outside.

Sheku played as an encore a beguiling folk-like miniature he had composed himself. He said afterwards it had no title, but as there were shades of Scarborough Fair about it, perhaps he should call it Goose Fair in tribute to his home city of Nottingham.

You almost sensed the WSO regulars in the hall wanted to adopt Sheku as a favourite grandson, such is the special relationship the orchestra and its audience have with BBC young musicians of the year.

In recent seasons, the orchestra has also welcomed the 2012 and 2014 winners – cellist Laura van der Heijden and pianist Martin James Bartlett – not to mention the regular visits of its first lady of violin, the 2004 winner Nicola Benedetti, and the outrageously talented saxophonist Jess Gillam, runner-up in 2016, who will be playing with the orchestra in its RAF centenary concert on Sunday, April 8.

As if Sheku Kanneh-Mason's contribution wasn't riches enough for one afternoon, there was a beautiful balance and clarity about the WSO after the interval in a magisterial account of Brahms' Second Symphony in D major.

John Gibbons described the German work as 'glorious... guaranteed to send you home with a smile on your face'. Once more, the orchestra did what it said on the poster – 'world-class music on your doorstep'.

And if the Brahms was like a sleek, new Mercedes purring up and down the Assembly Hall autobahn, then the invigorating concert opener – The Bartered Bride Overture by Czech composer Smetana – had been a Skoda. Honest.

See also: https://www.chichester.co.uk/author/Phil.Hewitt2