School Meeting on March 15 brought the Blair community together for
a live, virtual performance by Braimah and Konya Kanneh-Mason, two of seven British siblings in the award-winning Kanneh-Mason musical family. The violin-and-piano concert was the School’s 2021 Bartow Series performance, and it included a mix of classical and crossover pieces that gave audience members the opportunity to enjoy different musical styles performed by young professional artists.
Raised in Nottingham, England, the Kanneh-Mason siblings range in age from 11 to 24 years old. Each of the five sisters and two brothers is classically trained on piano, violin and/or cello, and they often perform and record together. The Kanneh-Masons have released numerous solo and chamber recordings, including a recent album that features a new arrangement of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” in honor of the work’s 50th anniversary. Performances have taken the Kanneh-Masons to some of the world’s most impressive venues, including Carnegie Hall, and to major events, including the 2018 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards and 2019 Royal Variety Show.
Blair performing arts department chair and director of instrumental music Jennifer Pagotto noted that part of the Kanneh-Masons’ mission as musicians is to demystify classical music and, through their recordings and arrangements, show the connection between the classical and more contemporary styles of playing. “As Black musicians, they are also catalysts for bringing change and celebrating diversity in classical music,” she said. “Braimah and Konya are members of the Chineke! Orchestra, the first professional orchestra in Britain comprised solely of Black, Asian and ethnically diverse musicians, and Braimah has long been a mentor at Sistema England, part of the El Sistema movement in music education to share music with underprivileged youth.”
Throughout the Zoom concert, audience members had several opportunities to chat with the Kanneh-Masons in between musical numbers. Blair’s musicians then enjoyed a special post-concert question-and-answer session with Braimah and Konya, followed by a finale, Jules Massenet's "Meditation from Thais."
As students and faculty experienced the concert, Mrs. Pagotto hopes everyone enjoyed this musical interlude that was just for the Blair community. “Given all things COVID, it was a refreshing event!” she said. And, noting the Kanneh-Masons’ work to promote a more diverse and equal playing field in classical music, she added, “As a result of this performance, I hope that all of our students are able to see classical music in a new light.”
The performance by Braimah and Konya Kanneh-Mason is part of the School’s Bartow Series, a program endowed with the mission to expand students’ artistic experiences by bringing professional performers to the Blair stage. The series honors Nevett Bartow, a dedicated music teacher and talented composer who helped shape Blair’s music program. Mr. Bartow taught at Blair from 1961 until his death from leukemia in 1973 at the age of 39.
Read more about the Kanneh-Mason family here.
Photos by Jake Turney.