Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Announces Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason As 2024 MAC Music Innovator

A decorated cellist who has been recognized globally for his extraordinary talent, Kanneh-Mason was the first Black musician to win the BBC Young Musician award in 2016.

By: Feb. 27, 2024
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Announces Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason As 2024 MAC Music Innovator
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The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has announced Sheku Kanneh-Mason as its 2024 MAC Music Innovator.

A decorated cellist who has been recognized globally for his extraordinary talent, Kanneh-Mason was the first Black musician to win the BBC Young Musician award in 2016 and subsequently performed at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at Windsor Castle in 2018, viewed by two billion people worldwide. In 2020, Kanneh-Mason was appointed a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the New Year Honours List, recognizing the achievements and service of extraordinary people across the United Kingdom. Kanneh-Mason is global ambassador for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and also serves as an ambassador for Future Talent and Patron of Music Masters charities. As the MAC Music Innovator, Kanneh-Mason will engage with local students and audiences through masterclasses, chamber performances and orchestra performances with the CSO on April 26 and 27 at Music Hall.

“Sheku's mission to make music accessible to all really resonated with us and aligns with the intent of the MAC Music Innovator program which was created to showcase Black classical musicians who demonstrate artistic excellence as well as a passion for community engagement. We are thrilled to have Sheku with the CSO this season, and we're excited to see the impact he will have on local students and the broader community,” said President and CEO of the CSO Jonathan Martin. 

The CSO's MAC Music Innovator is a year-long music residency that works to showcase and highlight Black leaders of classical music. Selected musicians embody artistic innovation and a passion for community engagement and education. With support from the Multicultural Awareness Council (MAC), a volunteer group that supports audience engagement initiatives with the CSO, the MAC Music Innovator collaborates closely with the CSO's Community Engagement, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) and Learning departments to create a distinctive residency with educational and community engagement programs. Kanneh-Mason's residency will include masterclasses with area students and chamber performances and culminate with performances with the CSO on Friday, April 26 and Saturday, April 27 at Music Hall, where he will make his CSO debut performing Shostakovich's Cello Concerto with the Orchestra led by guest conductor Katharina Wincor.

"I'm really excited to have a closer relationship with CSO via this wonderful MAC Music Innovator role,” said Kanneh-Mason. “It's always a privilege to be involved with education projects as well as orchestral performances. It's my first time in the city so it will be nice to get to know the city, the orchestra and the audiences, as well."  

Sheku Kanneh-Mason is the 7th MAC Music Innovator since the residency's inception in 2018, succeeding bassist Endea Owens (2023), conductor Antoine Clark (2022), composer and pianist William Menefield (2021), composer and drummer Mark Lomax (2020), pianist Michelle Cann (2019), and violinist Kelly Hall-Thomas (2018).

Sheku Kanneh-Mason


Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason's career and performances span the globe. Whether performing for children in a school hall, at an underground club or in the world's leading concert venues, Sheku's mission is to make music accessible to all. After winning the BBC Young Musician competition in 2016, Sheku's performance at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at Windsor Castle in 2018 was watched by two billion people worldwide.

Highlights of the 2023-24 season include the Last Night of the Proms with the BBC Symphony and Marin Alsop, performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, Orquesta Nacional de España, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Oslo Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Gävle Symphony, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic on tour in Germany, Cincinnati Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony. With his sister, Isata, he appears in recital in Japan, Singapore, and South Korea in addition to an extensive European recital tour. Sheku will also perform a series of duo recitals with guitarist Plínio Fernandes as well as continuing his solo cello recital tour in the USA and Canada. He returns to Antigua, where he has family connections, as an ambassador for the Antigua and Barbuda Youth Symphony Orchestra. Since his debut in 2017, Sheku has performed every summer at the BBC Proms, including in 2020 when he gave a breathtaking recital performance with his sister Isata, to an empty auditorium due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

A Decca Classics recording artist, his 2022 album, Song, showcases his innately lyrical playing in a wide and varied range of arrangements and collaborations. Sheku's 2020 album Elgar reached No. 8 in the overall Official UK Album Chart, making him the first ever cellist to reach the UK Top 10. Sheet music collections of his performance repertoire along with his own arrangements and compositions are published by Faber.

Sheku is a graduate of London's Royal Academy of Music where he studied with Hannah Roberts and in May 2022 was appointed as the Academy's first Menuhin Visiting Professor of Performance Mentoring. He is an ambassador for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Future Talent, and Music Masters.  Sheku was appointed a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2020 New Year's Honours List. He plays a Matteo Goffriller cello from 1700 which is on indefinite loan to him.



With a legacy dating back 128 years, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is considered one of America's finest and most versatile ensembles. Led by Louis Langrée since 2013, the CSO's distinguished roster of past music directors includes Leopold Stokowski, Eugène Ysaÿe, Fritz Reiner, Max Rudolf, Jesús López Cobos and Paavo Järvi. Matthias Pintscher is the Orchestra's Creative Partner, and previous artistic partners have included Lang Lang, Philip Glass, Branford Marsalis and Jennifer Higdon. The Orchestra also performs as the Cincinnati Pops, founded by Erich Kunzel in 1977 and currently led by John Morris Russell with Damon Gupton serving as Principal Guest Conductor. The CSO further elevates the city's vibrant arts scene by serving as the official orchestra for the Cincinnati May Festival, Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Ballet. 

The CSO has long championed the composers and music of its time and has given historic American premieres by Claude Debussy, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Maurice Ravel, Béla Bartók, William Grant Still and other prominent composers. It has also commissioned many works that ultimately became mainstays of the classical repertoire, including Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. The Orchestra continues to actively commission new work, amplifying new voices from a diverse array of backgrounds, most recently with the Fanfare Project, a series of solo instrument works written for CSO musicians to mark a moment in time during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Deeply committed to inclusion, relevance, and enhancing and expanding opportunities for the children of Greater Cincinnati, the Orchestra works to bring music education, in its many different forms, to as broad a public as possible. These efforts include two youth orchestras, the Nouveau program, Musicians in Schools, the CSO Brass Institute, and one of the longest running Young People's Concerts series in the U.S., which has run for over 100 years.

In 2020, the CSO was one of the first American orchestras to create a Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer position; in 2022, the CSO became the first American orchestra to endow the position to ensure the absorption of best DE&I practices into every facet of the organization in perpetuity. The CSO is also an incubator for and partner to Equity Arc, a consortium of American orchestras, professional musicians and educators established to address the lack of racial equity in the classical music field by aligning resources and collaborating to strengthen the trajectory of classical instrumentalists of color at all stages of their pre-careers.


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