Isata Kanneh-Mason

Published on - Luc Vermeulen

A Golden Talent

Interview with Isata Kanneh-Mason

Spotted by Sir Elton John in 2013, pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason has been named ECHO Rising Star 2021-2022 by Birmingham Town Hall and Symphony Hall. Discover her incredible talent when she comes to Brussels as part of the Bozar Next Generation concert series.

This article is part of

Bozar Next Generation: 25 Years

How did you start playing the piano?

When I was five, I was on a family holiday with my grandparents in the Caribbean. I loved playing with their piano. I thought the sound was beautiful. Then, when I was six, my mother offered me piano lessons. It all came naturally.


You are the eldest of seven brothers and sisters. Your brother Sheku is a cellist and is also a talented musician. How does everyone find their musical place in the family?

We all started off learning the piano, then we learned a string instrument, the violin, as a second instrument. But Sheku fell in love with the cello after a concert, for its appearance and sound. And so, he chose this instrument.

What’s it like living in a family of musicians?

There’s always someone practising while I’m playing my instrument. It’s great, because I feel supported and always surrounded. It inspires me and it motivates me to practice more and more, and to improve. The social dimension of music matters a lot to me.


After the triumph of the Kanneh-Masons on Britain’s Got Talent, your career as a concert pianist took off. How do you explain this success?

I can’t really… And to tell you the truth I don’t think about it that much. My daily focus is on the music, the works, my learning and my own development. I always feel grateful to play live, but everything else doesn’t really matter to me. If you give it too much importance, you can get distracted and lose sight of reality.


Tell us about your programme at Bozar.

I love this programme because it’s full of contrasts. It brings together pieces that I’ve often listened to, such as Chopin’s Ballade, as well as lesser-known pieces, such as those by Gubaidulina or the new ECHO commission. I hope, through my programmes, to highlight works that the audience is less familiar with.

Whether through your recital at Bozar or your record devoted to Clara Schumann, is it important for you to put women in the spotlight?

Absolutely.  It’s a wonderful thing to do. I love the music of Clara Schumann and my dream would be to see it become part of the mainstream repertoire. 


The Deezer streaming platform has chosen you to represent its classical piano channel. Do you think you can inspire institutions to encourage diversity in the classical music world?

I’m happy to be able to inspire this. Of course, I can’t do it alone and I hope more and more people will take an interest in this issue. Diversity is a huge asset and it’s absolutely essential in the world of classical music.


Who are the personalities that inspire you?

The people who inspire me the most are those who surround me in my everyday life, like my parents, my teachers, but also my peers. One pianist I really love is Martha Argerich. I grew up with her CDs. I find her voicing and her range of colour absolutely phenomenal. I strive constantly to improve my playing in this direction.

How did you react to your nomination as an ‘ECHO Rising Star’?

I was very surprised and excited because it was totally unexpected. This concert tour is also very exciting. I can’t wait to visit so many wonderful places.


For you, music is…

… communication. 


Your guilty pleasure? 

I love running, reading, being with people… but none of my pleasures make me feel guilty… I watch a lot of movies… Ultimately, I also draw inspiration from them, because films reflect life in so many ways.


What is your greatest dream? 

I’d like to record an album of Rachmaninov. With a bit of luck, this dream will come true in a few years. Time will tell.