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Posted on 24 September 2018

Sage Gateshead was packed with people of all ages celebrating the 60th birthday of their orchestra – Royal Northern Sinfonia – at the weekend.

Friday (SEP21) marked the opening of the orchestra’s 60th season with a very special RNS Rocks concert, which saw Royal Northern Sinfonia collaborate with some of the best loved indie rock artists from the North East – Maximo Mark, Field Music and Martha Hill.

On Saturday hundreds of children enjoyed a birthday Classics4Kids concert in the main hall (Sage One) before getting stuck into cake and party games, with members of the orchestra, on the concourse.

Later that day saw the first public performance from RNS Moves – a new kind of ensemble featuring both disabled and non-disabled musicians.
Sunday night was an epic affair starting with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in honour of the late Michael, Hall, who founded Northern Sinfonia in 1958 (the orchestra was bestowed the title of ‘Royal’ in 2013). This was followed by an opening fanfare on the concourse. Members of Royal Northern Sinfonia and Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia appeared on the stairs and balconies performing a specially commissioned piece called Venetian Sky by James Weeks.

The main three-part gala concert, directed by Lars Vogt, followed in Sage One and showcased the heart of chamber repertoire, featuring the classical masters who invented the form – Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

The concert featured the orchestra’s new artist in focus, harpsichord pioneer Mahan Esfahani, as well as soprano Sarah Tynan and the Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia. The concert ended with an eruption of on stage pyrotechnics and balloons falling from the ceiling, delighting the audience.

After the concert the first of the season’s new ‘Encore’ commissions was unveiled. Sage Gateshead has commissioned three composers (Errollyn Wallen, Tansy Davies and William Marsey) to write encores to be performed by the orchestra at the end of selected concerts during the season.

But the party didn’t stop there. After the concert the audience joined RNS musicians and the Sage Gateshead team for a party on the concourse with music from the Mini Big Band. At midnight the champagne corks popped and a special cake was brought out, cut by Lars and RNS Leader Bradley Creswick, with a special toast made to the orchestra.

A special project called 60 @ 60 Audience Portrait also opened outside Sage One. Over the year, 60 photographic portraits of audience members, together with their memories of RNS over the years, will be on display. An RNS 60 Exhibition also went on display, featuring key events and faces from the first decade of Northern Sinfonia. It will develop over the season until the whole history of the orchestra has been covered.

Abigail Pogson, Managing Director at Sage Gateshead, said: “As we mark this 60th birthday, Royal Northern Sinfonia’s work is as diverse as ever. In the past two years we have been working on two things: re-establishing them as the orchestra of the region and building an orchestra for the 21st century.”

Last season half of the orchestra’s performances were outside the building, across the North of England. At the same time audience numbers in Sage Gateshead have increased by 15 per cent. The total live audience for RNS in the past season was 100,000 people and via stream or broadcast, two million. In both cases this is over double the audience three seasons ago.

Last season RNS worked with amateurs, supported emerging composers, collaborated with an able/disabled dance company and a homeless opera company to create new shows, opened an opera house and continued to build initiatives which seek to give people a first experience of classical music (a free first ticket for any Gateshead resident, £5 tickets for anyone under 18, Baby Sinfonia and Classics4Kids). Two years ago RNS also undertook their first international touring for seven years. Last season they toured nine different countries, giving 25 performances.

She continued: “An orchestra has much to contribute. RNS being embedded within Sage Gateshead isn’t just about having fantastic acoustics and an iconic building, it’s about being part of something – Sage Gateshead – which has creative learning and particularly children and young people at the heart of its purpose.

“RNS have worked with and performed to tens of thousands of young people over the years and this work will be at the heart of our plans in the next decade.”

Highlights to look forward to during the rest of the season:

Lars Vogt will focus on Brahms as both conductor and soloist, culminating in a mammoth Brahms Fest on Saturday 15 June, while Mahan Esfahani, one of the world’s most exciting and innovative young musicians, will be with RNS for a three-concert residency, performing works from Bach to Michael Nyman.

Three ‘Big Birthday Encores’ have been commissioned especially for the birthday season, creating exciting miniatures to be performed again and again. The three commissioned artists are Errollyn Wallen, whose work includes music for the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games London 2012 amongst many others; the award-winning Tansy Davies, composer-in-residence at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw for the 18/19 season; and William Marsey, whose work draws on minimalism, church music and contemporary poetry.

Sage Gateshead’s three titled conductors, Lars Vogt, Julian Rachlin and Thomas Zehetmair will each bring special projects to the season’s programme. Working alongside them to develop the work of the classical programme this season will be Tristan Gurney, who is announced as Chamber Music Curator; Alasdair Beatson as Chamber Pianist-in-Residence; and Karin Hendrickson, who has been appointed to the new post of Music Director Young Sinfonia/ Assistant Conductor RNS.

New this season is ‘RNS Minimal @ Wylam’ – a brand new series of music which will take place in the Grand Hall at Wylam Brewery in Newcastle’s Exhibition Park. Audiences will be able to choose whether to stand or sit to listen to music in this unusual, intimate venue. This series will sit alongside the other seven which will take place in the orchestra’s home at Sage Gateshead:
RNS at Home: the main series of concerts including Brahms Fest with Lars Vogt and New Year New Artists with Jessica Cottis.
RNS Presents: visiting symphony orchestras from near and far including The Hallé and the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra.
RNS Nights Out: film music and popular tracks from James Bond to Beatlemania.
Small is Beautiful: with small chamber groups from within RNS as well as some very special visiting artists including Viktoria Mullova with Stradivarius in Rio, performing music from Brazil and Musique de chambre with Chamber Pianist-in-Residence Alasdair Beatson.
Classics 4 Kids: a family-friendly introduction to classical music.
Piano Greats: four of the world’s greatest pianists including Elisabeth Leonskaja and John Lill.
Classical Christmas: with favourites including Home Alone in Concert, Messiah and The Snowman.