Meet Professor Sheku

Meet Professor Sheku


norman lebrecht

May 26, 2022

The young cellist has a new title.

The Royal Academy of Music today announced cello alumnus Sheku Kanneh-Mason as its first Menuhin Visiting Professor of Performance Mentoring. In a series of visits to the Academy each year, Sheku will work with students at undergraduate, postgraduate and diploma level to encourage and develop practical skills to enhance their performance experience. Initially, Sheku will be working with students on building confidence and spontaneity into improvisation techniques and sharing tools for creative and innovative arranging and transcribing.

Sheku joined Primary Academy aged nine, progressing through as a Junior, undergraduate and Advanced Diploma student, and has studied with Hannah Roberts since 2017. In 2016 he won BBC Young Musician of the Year, becoming the first black musician to win the competition. In 2018 Sheku became a household name when he played at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, an event watched by nearly two billion people. He was awarded an MBE in the 2020 New Year Honours for Services to Music.

Academies are becoming very generous with professorships these days.


  • Nik says:

    Isn’t he still studying with Hannah Roberts at the RAM?
    Are there any other examples of someone being a student and a professor simultaneously at the same institution?

  • Ya what says:

    This is getting ridiculous. He is talented…but so are a dozen other cellists.

    • DML says:

      Agreed. Not to do him a dis-service, and all good luck to him, BUT….. amazing what a bit of TV exposure will do, and, dare I say it, being ‘of colour’. Every member of the family appears to be benefitting too!

    • Milicent says:

      You just can’t be happy for a brilliant, talented person of colour. Shame, shame and shame on you.

  • Colin says:

    The title “Professor” is losing its currency these days.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Not just these days. Karl Böhm had the honorary title of Professor, which in some countries is just that. He also had a doctorate in law. There is a funny response of his on record to someone who called him “Herr Professor”: “Herr Doktor! Jeder Arschloch ist Professor”. (… Every a*hole is professor.]

      • Nik says:

        In Austria, “Professor” is widely used as a respectful form of address for a learned person, much like “dottore” in Italian. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the person in question holds such a title in an official capacity. Austrians also refer to high school teachers as Professor.
        In the UK, nobody is a Professor unless appointed as such by an academic institution.

      • CGDA says:

        Are you comparing Bohm with someone who is great but is just starting out?

        • Petros Linardos says:

          Not at all.

          I am using the Böhm quote as anecdotal evidence of overuse of the “professor” title decades ago, in response to Colin’s comment.

    • Kman says:

      Let’s not be ridiculous. The title is “Visiting Professor,” which holds little weight. Literally a “series of visits.” Academia does this all the time with folks they want to have affiliations with.

    • Hugo Preuß says:

      The article clearly stated that he was appointed “Visiting Professor”, not “Professor”. Someone who apparently does not know the difference between these too should perhaps be a little more careful and hesitant with sweeping assertions.

    • Hugo Preuß says:

      Typo alert: should have been “these two”, not “these too”, obviously. Sorry.

  • N/A says:

    None of us here commenting know the full process of how/why Sheku has been given this role. So, why not give him the benefit of the doubt? Why do we immediately assume he doesn’t deserve it? Were you involved in the decision making process? No, you were not.

    Congratulations to Sheku! Wishing him the best of luck.

    (Psstt, it feels good to have a positive outlook on our fellow humans. You guys should try it sometime)

  • Achim Mentzel says:

    I really wonder who these people are that allow such things. Someone has to put a stop to this bullshit. 22-year-old music directors and 23-year-old professors who have hardly any experience. What ridiculousness is next?

    • seattlemusician says:

      What’s next is our generation phasing you out of the picture into anonymity, where you belong.

    • Anon says:

      A visiting professor is not a professor. He has rather a lot of performing experience in high pressure situations and may have invaluable advice for his peers who are embarking on a similar journey.
      Sharing a passion for improvisation, spontaneity and creativity – what’s ridiculous about that? Can we only appoint professors who can give up-and-coming cellists how to give the umpteenth performance of a Beethoven sonata?

  • Gary Freer says:

    He seems to be a talented and very pleasant young man, but I wonder whether all this adulation at such an early stage of his career might become a burden.

  • Stweart says:

    Before teaching others he needs to work on his manner on the platform. I can’t watch the facial contortions, no matter whether he is very talented or not.

  • David says:

    Generous indeed, having read the New York Times review of his Dvorak concerto with the NY Phil.
    Sheku was evidently the only cellist on stage that night who couldn’t play the concerto in tune.

    • Anon says:

      Please don’t quote one line from a glowing review, it does little for your argument. The same review quoted:

      “…when that entrance finally comes, it’s marked in the score as “risoluto” — resolute, bold, declarative.

      And it could hardly have been more so than it was at Alice Tully Hall on Thursday, when the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason made his debut with the New York Philharmonic. Having sat patiently at his instrument during the introduction, Kanneh-Mason, 22, became suddenly animated, matching the ensemble’s grandeur with his own: fiery vibrato, dramatic phrasing, richly voiced yet crisp forzando chords.

      a charismatic protagonist and a generous collaborator in chamber-like passages…

      …passing errors, were less memorable than the grace of his bow gliding over harmonics, or the control and tension with which he was able to build long crescendos.

      After the standing ovation that followed, he announced that his encore would be a premiere: “3-Minute Cello Concerto,” by the 11-year-old Larissa Lakner, part of the Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers program. Delivered with the same sincerity afforded Dvorak, this work was a dialogue between soloist and orchestra, in varied episodes of Mozartean tidiness and melodies that wouldn’t be out of place on a “Harry Potter” soundtrack; Kanneh-Mason had his share of pyrotechnics in agile fingering, double stops, octaves and passionate legato…..”

      ETC. ETC. ETC.

      Hardly a scathing review as you may leave some to believe.

  • Alexander Walker says:

    Great to see Sheku’s most recent teacher mentioned. It seems to me that Ben Davies who taught Sheku at Junior RAM also played an invaluable part in his success.

  • Anon says:

    Well done, Sheku!

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    He’s a great cellist and fine musician. This is the Royal Academy snatching him up before Curtis, Juilliard, or MIT.

  • Tim Walton says:

    Ridiculous at his age. Yes he’s good but a Professor!!

  • CGDA says:

    Kanneh-Mason is the product of positive discrimination (still discrimination!), identity politics and the ridiculous and ailing music industry. Kanneh-Mason is good but there are many people as good or better.

  • Vic says:

    One can fill an entire jumbo jet of cellists that can play circles around this kid and now he’s a professor? Tell me this has nothing to do with his being a POC.