Classical musicians on the rise in 2021

Image Credit: Larisa Birta

Explore new stars of the classical music world.

Luckily for classical music there’s an abundance of new talent, as well as distinguished figures, who are bringing much-needed diversity to the often closed-off industry and keeping the beloved corner of the music world from going stale in modern times. Whether you’re a classical aficionado or like to listen to unwind, check out these classical musicians at the top of their game in 2021.


Carmel Smickersgill

Based in Manchester, Smickersgill was nominated for the Ivor Novello Rising Star award in 2020. An innovative classical composer who also takes inspiration from jazz and electronic pop music, playing with the band Bunny Hoova. Passionate about collaborations and music as an art form, Smickersgill is currently under the mentorship of Anna Meredith and her career looks set to go in ever-more interesting directions.  


Brandon Patrick George

The immensely talented New York City-based flautist’s impressive solo album came out in autumn 2020, walking us through 300 years of music history. New ventures for George in 2021 include the new album Bruits from the GRAMMY-nominated wind quintet Imani Winds which he joined in 2018.


The Kanneh-Mason family

You can’t talk about modern classical music without mentioning the Kanneh-Masons. 22-year-old Sheku Kanneh-Mason performed cello at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, and his six siblings are just as talented. Pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason is signed to Decca Classics along with Sheku. Expert violinist Braimah performs with Chineke! Orchestra. Jeneba, keyboard finalist of the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2018, studies at the Royal College of Music whilst Konya studies at Royal Academy of Music. Aminata and Mariatu are both still at school, but Aminata has Grade 8 Distinction on violin and piano and performs with her siblings in concert, whilst Mariatu has already achieved Grade 8 Distinction in cello. Releasing a family album on Decca Classics together in November 2020, the siblings are all individually set to continue to make incredible music.


Jockstrap

Newly signed to Warp records, this extraordinary London duo experiment with retro sonic creations, mixing classical music with romantic pop tunes and harsh, electronic sounds. Newly graduated, they met at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, forming the band in 2017. A peculiar and fascinating workout for the ears.


Jess Gillam

Resourceful, lively and open, Gillam has a knack for spreading joy and a remarkable gift with the classical saxophone. Over lockdown Gillam founded the Virtual Scratch Orchestra, resulting in 2,000 musicians from 30 countries playing every instrument imaginable in an online orchestra. The first saxophonist to be signed to Decca Classics, both of her genre-spanning albums, RISE and ​TIME, reached number one in the Official UK Classical Charts. An established radio and podcast presenter, Gillam is already a key figure of the UK classical music scene at the age of 22.


Arsha Kaviani

Dubai-born, British-Iranian classical and jazz pianist Kaviani is a virtuoso whose star continues to rise. In concert he regularly improvises over themes from the audience – something he’s tried to replicate remotely over the last year. Passionate about explaining classical composition to the uninitiated, Kaviani’s charisma makes him an inspiring figure in the classical music world.


Ella Jarman-Pinto

Gifted, relentlessly dedicated and passionate about the things that matter, Jarman-Pinto’s previous projects include a post as Composer in Residence with Streetwise Opera, working with homeless people to put on operas and concerts in UK cities. A dab hand at writing scores for film and TV, last summer the Cumbria-based composer launched Apple and Spotify podcast Beyond the Chameleon, talking to industry professionals about improving inclusivity on both sides of the screen.


Nicolas van Poucke

The Dutch pianist’s critically acclaimed third album, Schumann Collection Volume 1, released in November. After being unable to perform due to lockdowns, van Poucke made his debut in London in October 2020 with a socially distanced performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with Chineke! Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. His beautiful tone and thoughtful approach to the music sets the bar high for the future.


Alexandra Whittingham

An award-winning and fiendishly talented guitar player from Manchester, Whittingham’s first album releases in April 2021 via Delphian Records and explores her own personal journey discovering 19th-century guitar works. Her use of social media, including engaging and inclusive YouTube tutorials that have snared views up in the tens of millions, is the ultimate standard for up-and-coming classical musicians seeking new audiences and looking to revitalise the field.


Inspiring figures in the classical music world prove themselves willing to be adaptable and inclusive in the fight against the ingrained habits and institutional prejudices of the field. There’s always more to be done, and these musicians and composers will continue to keep the genre fresh and forward-looking in 2021 and beyond.

I write about music for RouteNote, sharing fun stuff, news, and tips and tricks for musicians and producers. Also a saxophonist and hater of marmalade.

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One comment

    Thank you very much for the introduction of these up-and-coming musicians and composers. Their musicianship and perseverance during this difficult period for the arts are very much admired. It is very inspiring to know their creative ways in making their own music/vision available remotely when “traditional” concerts were impossible!

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