Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason is a virtuoso soloist to watch — one who knows how to connect and communicate with his audience. Ruth Reinhardt makes it clear that she is a conductor with strong ideas, displaying imagination and originality.
Youth and brilliance are on display in the current Seattle Symphony Orchestra program, which travels from traditional repertoire to an otherworldly 2013 work. The conductor, Ruth Reinhardt, is still in her 20s; the soloist, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, is about a decade behind her, and they both have incandescent talent.
Kanneh-Mason, who studies at London’s Royal Academy of Music, rose to international fame last spring as a soloist at the royal wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Onstage at Benaroya Hall on Thursday, sporting a colorful shirt and casual attire, the cellist gave a smoothly lyrical account of Tchaikovsky’s gift to the cello world, the “Rococo Variations.” His velvety tone and the consummate ease of his bowing made short work of most of the Variations’ many technical challenges. This is a virtuoso soloist to watch — one who knows how to connect and communicate with his audience, whose cheers were loud and long.
Kanneh-Mason’s third curtain call brought an encore, an elegant reading of the Gigue movement of Bach’s great C Minor Cello Suite (No. 5).
Reinhardt proved an adept accompanist in the Tchaikovsky, but the rest of the program made it clear that she also is a conductor with strong ideas of her own. The opening work, Schumann’s stormy “Manfred” Overture, got a large-scale, expansive reading that fully realized the score’s furious energy and mercurial character. Except for a few intonation problems, the orchestra was remarkably responsive.
The evening’s novelty, “Ciel d’hiver” (“Winter Sky”) by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, presented an intriguing constellation of sounds that waxed and waned, as delicate pinpoint effects and glissandi grew louder and more complex, finally falling away. Sound clusters alternated back and forth; many of the instruments were muted in places (it’s always fun to see the huge tuba mute come into play, like a party guest with a lampshade on its head). Reinhardt made an excellent case for this unusual work.
Beethoven’s often-heard Symphony No. 1 showed Reinhardt’s imagination and originality in a score where you wouldn’t think there was much room for new approaches. Light, effervescent and crisp, this reading was fleet but never rushed or hurried; the second movement was gracefully phrased with nicely placed accents, and the third was buoyant and full of charm. Reinhardt had fun with the opening of the fourth and final movement, in which the opening theme is presented with a teasing phrase in the violins — just a few notes at first, then a few more, and finally the launch of the whole theme. The finale, with snappy timpani accents, was full of energy and humor.
Catch this program if you can; there’s a repeat on Saturday night.
The Seattle Symphony Orchestra, with guest conductor Ruth Reinhardt, and Sheku Kanneh-Mason, cello soloist; Benaroya Hall, Thursday evening. Repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20; $22-$125. “Beethoven Untuxed” (a shorter program with no intermission), 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19; $13-$63. Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; 206-215-4747, seattlesymphony.org