Sheku Kanneh-Mason | Credit: Jake Turney

To suggest an arc of continuity in terms of Santa Barbara’s recent cultural life, a highlight of the year so far in classical music came when the revered maestro Sir Simon Rattle appeared last spring, leading his current orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra. That Granada evening, presented by CAMA (Community Arts Music Association) and Music Academy of the West, set a high bar for symphonic majesty and celebrity in the 805.

On Monday, October 10, at The Granada Theatre, CAMA kicks off its impressive new season of globally renowned orchestras and chamber music settings with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which Sir Simon effectively made famous during his long tenure at the helm. The circle continues, sometimes looping through Santa Barbara.

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla | Credit: Benjamin Ealovega

Speaking of circles, Monday’s concert, the first of nine concerts also including the return of the mighty Chicago Symphony (January 25, 2023), features a local return of British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, now all of 23, who made his Santa Barbara debut just last spring as duo partner with his gifted pianist sister, Isata Kanneh-Mason, at Campbell Hall. At the Granada, he appears as soloist on the Cello Concerto in E minor by Sir Edward Elgar. Incidental historical note: Elgar was the inaugural conductor of the Birmingham orchestra at its 1920 debut.

Holding down the podium position at present is the dynamic young maestra from Lithuania Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, familiar in Southern California as the former assistant of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (which makes its annual CAMA appearance on May 28). Monday’s program menu also taps the double-dipping British music culture of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, along with Debussy’s beloved La Mer and Mieczysław Weinberg’s “Jewish Rhapsody.”

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In Britain and the world over, Sheku Kanneh-Mason has quickly become an international sensation, and for what it is worth, he was the first Black musician to win the coveted BBC Young Musician competition in 2016. He landed in a global (and cosmic?) spotlight when he performed at the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding in 2018. That starry turn touches on another local connection, once removed, given that the royal pair, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now call Montecito home.

The cellist is also a musician with a broad repertoire and taste, as demonstrated on his new Decca album Song. Here, his diversified yet somehow cohesive playlist spans J.S. Bach, Burt Bacharach (a closing take on “Say a Little Prayer”), Stravinsky, Beethoven, a premiere recording of British composer Edmund Finnis, Olivier Messiaen’s poignant Quartet for the End of Time, “Cry Me a River,” and more twists and turns. He serves as cellist and co-songwriter on “Same River,” with his singer-songwriter partner Zak Abel supplying the sole vocal on a determinedly diverse and mostly instrumental adventure.

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla | Credit: Astrid Ackermann

CAMA’s upcoming season, a heartening return to its former glory after pandemic restrictions, is chockablock with calendar-marking high points. Among them, the Juilliard String Quartet (October 24), Hélène Grimaud (December 7), the Dennis Russell Davies–conducted Filharmonie Brno (February 13, 2023); and the Romero Guitar Quartet (March 4, 2023).

CAMA is alive, well, and kicking off a high cultural season with a British accent come Monday at the Granada.


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