1 The building: The £70m Sage Gateshead was the first cultural building designed by
Foster and Partners, Sir Norman Foster’s architectural practice, so the eyes of
the world were on it from the start. With its ample curves, it is now one of
the region’s most distinctive buildings. Its two concert halls, with vital
input from Arup Acoustics, seat 1,700 and 400 people respectively and they sit
above a 25-room Music Education Centre. The concourse offers wonderful views of
Newcastle and the Tyne.
2 The concerts: So many and all memorable in their own way. James Brown, Lesley
Garrett, Bryan Ferry, Sir Thomas Allen, José Carreras, Seasick Steve,
Sugababes, Kathryn Tickell, Sting, the Royal Northern Sinfonia and umpteen
choirs, ensembles and renowned soloists have trod the boards in Hall One or
Hall Two. There have been more than 4,500 performances over 10 years in the
broadest spectrum of genres. Personal favourites include the premiere of
Skellig, the opera, in 2008, Opera North’s Ring Cycle, performed over four
years, and Kathryn Tickell’s Festival of the North East concert in 2013.
3 The education: “There is so much frankly tokenistic stuff talked about education
being a very important part of the arts,” said Anthony Sargent on his
appointment. “With the Music Centre, education is absolutely fundamental to the
project, whether it is a conductor talking to an audience about a piece of
music or children having tuition.” He has been true to his word. Some of the
region’s brightest youngsters are on the Young Musicians Programme while others
perform in the ensembles listed below. There are sessions for pre-schoolers and
the over 50s (the Silver Programme) and Sage runs degree courses in community
music and in jazz, popular and commercial music with Sunderland University.
Sage is one of 10 national Bridge organisations, funded by Arts Council
England, helping to connect young people with art and culture.
4 The outreach: The work of Sage Gateshead extends far beyond the building. In the
past 10 years it has provided music-making sessions to more than a million
people in more than 1,000 places. A heartwarming example of its work is to be
seen at Hawthorn Primary School in Elswick, Newcastle, as part of the In
Harmony programme. Inspired by a scheme in Venezuela, the children in the
school have been given access to musical instruments and music has become
ingrained in the curriculum. Youngsters who might never have had a chance to
express themselves musically are learning new skills and forming groups and
ensembles. Meanwhile CoMusica works across the region with young people aged
five to 24, many of whom live in challenging circumstances.
5 The music groups: Some of the region’s keenest and most talented young musicians
perform in Sage ensembles including Jambone, Folkestra and the Quay choirs, one
for lads and one for lasses. They perform to an exceptionally high standard and
have entertained the Queen among many others. But Sage also has adult
instrument groups (you have seen nothing like a massed ukelele band) and singing
groups. Check out groups such as In The Groove, Old Town Voices and the Sage
Gateshead Chamber Choir on the Sage website.
6 Royal Northern Sinfonia: The region’s professional chamber orchestra, founded in 1958, was a
founding partner of Sage Gateshead, along with Folkworks. Since moving into its
new home, a period coinciding with the start of Thomas Zehetmair’s period as
music director, the orchestra has gone from strength to strength, working with
some of the most in-demand classical artists and conductors in the world
including Sir Mark Elder, Ian Bostridge, David Lang and Heinz Holliger. It has
also worked with Sting, Pet Shop Boys, Kathryn Tickell and with the youngsters
on the In Harmony programme. In June 2013 the Queen bestowed the title ‘Royal’
on the orchestra.
7 The people: Many who work at Sage Gateshead are music mad. Some are performers
in their own right. Anthony Sargent came to Gateshead describing himself as
“lapsed bassoon player” but he was a university choral scholar and also
conducted. Philippa King, an event producer in Sage’s conference and events
team, graduated from a Sage degree course and sings in the Philippa King Band,
performing at weddings, festivals and events. Sage has provided a platform for
North East musicians who went away to further their careers, such as conductor
John Wilson and cellist Jonathan Bloxham, both from Gateshead.
8 The profile: Anthony Sargent, on his appointment, said many people outside the
region knew the Music Centre was to be in Gateshead. They just weren’t sure
where Gateshead was. “But they will,” he promised. “It is part of the longer
positioning process.” Now Sage boasts a regular Classic FM series of concerts
and also has concerts broadcast live by the BBC. BBC Radio 3 takes over the
venue for its autumn Free Thinking Festival and the venue has twice hosted the
BBC Young Musician contest. Its regular festivals, such as the Gateshead
International Jazz Festival and SummerTyne Americana Festival, get national
9 The conferences: People don’t only descend on Sage for music. In 2006 it hosted the
World Summit on Arts ; Culture and it has also been the venue for
several political conferences. “One of our most successful events ever,” said
the appreciative events director of the British Council for Shopping Centres.
Various medical gatherings have also availed themselves of the venue’s
facilities. It has been estimated that Sage has contributed £300m to the
10 The weddings: Some people love the building so much they get married there. More
than 100 couples have tied the knot at Sage Gateshead with the biggest wedding
attended by more than 700 guests. Some of these special couples will return to
the building on December 21 for a special dinner and concert.