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Young virtuoso who wowed royal wedding stars in virtual festival

Sheku Kanneh-Mason

A young cellist who wowed a worldwide audience of two billion people when he performed at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will take centre stage at a top festival in North Wales.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason will be starring alongside his equally gifted pianist sister, Isata, at the North Wales International Music Festival which is going virtual this year for the first time in 49 years.

Isata Kanneh-Mason

Instead of being held at St Asaph Cathedral the festival will be hosted on the internet on the original dates from Saturday, September 12, to Saturday, September 26, thanks to support from the Arts Council of Wales and festival sponsors including Salisburys chartered accountants and the Pendine Park care organisation via the Pendine Arts and Community Trust.

The theme of this year’s festival is Visions from Afar to reflect the fact it will be a virtual event.

The concert featuring Sheku and Isata will be available to view on the festival website – www.nwimf.com – at 7.30pm on Thursday, September 17.

Other highlights this year will be concerts with Australian guitarist Craig Ogden, stunning vocal group Voces8, piano virtuoso Luke Jones from Wrexham, the festival’s orchestra in residence NEW Sinfonia and the renowned trio Awen Celtica with folk band VRï.

Sheku and Isata are just two of seven incredibly gifted Nottingham siblings, all aged between 10 and 24, who have spent lockdown in their family home with parents Stuart and Kadiatu.

They have already chalked up appearances all over the world including New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Sheku won the prestigious 2016 BBC Young Musician of the Year Award and his arrangement of Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry, has been downloaded more than 11 million times on Spotify.

He said: “It was never some big plan by my parents to have seven children who were all musicians. Isata started having piano lessons and I used to see her and my older brother playing the violin and just wanted to join in.

“That was the same for our younger siblings and before you know it the house is full of music. It’s great growing up in a house full of music. And when it comes to practicing your siblings sort of motivate you.

“It’s a real shame because of the whole Covid-19 pandemic that our debut concert at the North Wales International Music Festival is going to have to be a virtual concert but I can assure audiences we will be giving it our all.”

Isata, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, added: “Because I grew up with music and learnt the piano very early it just feels natural. We don’t have to force ourselves it’s just a part of our lives and we inspire each other.

“Our mother, Kadiatu, was born in Sierra Leone but grew up in Wales and our grandmother is Welsh, so we have spent a good number of holidays walking the Welsh hills.”

The festival’s artistic director, Ann Atkinson, said: “The fact we have musicians of the calibre of Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason performing is amazing. They are incredible musicians and performers who have played to audiences in iconic venues all around the world. It’s certainly a virtual concert not to be missed and I’m delighted they will perform as part of our virtual festival.

“I was determined despite it being a virtual festival this year that the number and quality of concerts will not be compromised and I think a performance by Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason shows when it comes to quality, we have achieved our goal.

“I’m naturally disappointed we can’t have live music in the cathedral this year but being online means we are able to attract an audience from further afield.

She added: “We will also have an ensemble of 18 musicians from our resident orchestra, NEW Sinfonia, performing a virtual concert recorded inside the cathedral, socially distanced of course. We will be doing the best we can under all the circumstances.”

“Harpist Bethan Williams will perform a Vision of the Seasons and a Vision of Locations virtual performances alongside poetry by Aled Lewis Evans and Grahame Davies.”

“As ever the festival will involve educational projects and we will be working with St Asaph’s Ysgol Esgob Morgan on a recycled orchestra project alongside NEW Sinfonia players, as well as artwork sessions.

“There will also be an instrumental project for players of all standards, with NEW Sinfonia and North Wales Music Services tutors, and virtual steps in music classes for children up to aged seven with Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias. Educational projects are always an important feature of the festival.

“As well as recording community concerts aimed specifically at care homes, schools and community groups, our chamber music Morning Coffee Concerts, with Ensemble Cymru, NEW Sinfonia and Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias students, will be broadcast at 11am. Everyone will be able to tune in online to watch and listen.

“There will also be a broadcast of a discussion podcast with musical clips featuring composer Paul Mealor alongside Bishop Gregory and Grahame Davies, and Choral Vision podcasts with Welsh National Opera and the Festival Community Chorus.

“It’s an exciting festival programme and we are very happy about it. It is a challenge being our first virtual festival but we couldn’t have done more. I’m sure people who watch the concerts from the comfort of their own homes won’t be disappointed.