Jazz, Frankincense and Beethoven: Wynton Marsalis and Sheku Kanneh-Mason Will Make the Season Brighter

The holidays are a time of giving, and the Harriman-Jewell Series has two brightly wrapped packages for Kansas City this December. One is a Christmas celebration by Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, and the other is a free Discovery Concert featuring the young British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his sister, pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason.

“For our 55th anniversary we wanted to bring back some of our favorite headliners, the megastars that our audience knows and will love to celebrate with,” Clark Morris, executive and artistic director of the Harriman-Jewell Series said. “Wynton Marsalis falls into that category, and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is just terrific.”

Whether it’s angels blowing their trumpets or Salvation Army bands playing outside department stores, brass music and Christmas seem to go together, and Marsalis knows how to put together a thrilling holiday show for the whole family. The Dec. 5 concert, Big Band Holidays, will take place at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland, which was originally one of Kansas City’s most opulent movie palaces.

“Marsalis and his orchestra and their guest vocalists work really well in that setting,” Morris said, recalling his Series’ previous presentation in 2016. “It’s a big hall, and they fill it with amazing sound. People are giddy walking out of that performance, and there are always Christmas lights up in the Power and Light District, so it creates a great evening.”

On Dec. 15 at 5 p.m. it’s a free Discovery Concert featuring cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason at the Folly Theater. Kanneh-Mason’s father is from Antigua and his mother is from Sierra Leone. He grew up in Nottingham, England, with seven siblings — all are accomplished musicians. Sheku’s sister Isata, a pianist who will perform alongside Sheku, is a rising star in her own right — Isata just released her first album, Romance, a collection of piano works by Clara Schumann on the Decca label.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason has become something of a sensation, especially in Europe. Besides appearing on Britain’s Got Talent with his siblings, in 2016 the cellist became the first black musician to win the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year contest. But what really raised Sheku’s profile was his performance at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May 2018.

“The atmosphere was amazing, and I’m proud to have played a small part in the celebrations,” Sheku Kanneh-Mason tweeted after the wedding. “It’s a day I will remember for the rest of my life.”

“We’re a little nervous that too many people are going to come to his Discovery Concert,” Morris said. “We want to make sure that everyone who wants to can get into the Folly. He’s become such a huge sensation, partly based on his exposure at the royal wedding, which billions of people saw around the world. He’s also become a star in festivals and gala performances, and he has a huge social media following. We think a lot of people in Kansas City are going to be clamoring to hear Sheku perform.”

The Kanneh-Masons will make their New York recital debut at Carnegie Hall just four days before their Harriman-Jewell debut, with a planned program of Beethoven, Lutoslawski, Barber and Rachmaninoff.

Sheku is obviously very comfortable with core classical composers, but he’s also known to stretch recital boundaries with works like Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Marley’s No Woman, No Cry. Whatever the Kanneh-Masons decide to play at the Folly Theater, it’s undoubtedly going to be a memorable concert.

“It will be quite a treat for the audience,” Morris said. “It is a gift to the community. And the gift is not just from Harriman-Jewell. It’s also from all of our supporters and donors who want to make this kind of art accessible to everyone in Kansas City, which is such a beautiful sentiment. We are really thrilled that with the help of our donors we’re able to do that.”

For tickets and more information, call 816-415-5025 or visit www.hjseries.org.

–Patrick Neas

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