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The Sage Gateshead: Rob Barnes on the forthcoming classical season

New ways of reaching out to the public are being explored through the forthcoming classical season at Sage Gateshead

The Sage Gateshead

The changes have been being rung in at Sage Gateshead since the venue’s 10th anniversary last year.

As well as Abigail Pogson’s appointment as managing director, effective from May, there are have been changes in artistic leadership, with Lars Vogt appointed as music director and Julian Rachlin as principal guest conductor of Royal Northern Sinfonia.

Now positively an old hand, having joined last year as orchestra and classical music director, the experienced Thorben Dittes explained the choice of music in next season’s classical programme, starting on September 18.

“I have worked previously in London and Glasgow but the North East is different again. We looked at box office data to get a sense of the market – what’s gone well and what hasn’t. It was also important to get feedback from audiences.

“We are in the position of simultaneously launching two new relationships (with Lars and Julian) and we needed to take account of their preferences, building around them.

“Lars and I are both from north Germany, so we are used to being away from the cultural centre. We wanted to reflect the idea of being in the North as a cultural strength.

“We also wanted to include a full symphonic cycle over the season, and one which hadn’t been done here previously. We found the perfect candidate in the works of Finland’s Jean Sibelius. It also happens to be the 150th anniversary of his birth this year.

“We felt we should try to build in music written by composers born in the North East as well, and we’ve been able to do this.”

There are three strands running through the 44 concerts and over 130 works in the programme.

Firstly, the seven Sibelius symphonies – very much from the musical North – and including performances from renowned interpreters of the Finn’s work, in the Hallé under Sir Mark Elder and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under Vasily Petrenko.

Next comes the theme of Reclaiming Mozart. Lars Vogt is a renowned interpreter of the Austrian’s work but it’s not all about him. Conductors have been chosen for their ability to interpret Mozart and come up with something fresh. I counted 21 Mozart works in the programme. As someone once said, “You can never get enough Mozart.”

Finally there’s Early Encounters, a chance to breathe new life into some of the great Baroque works of Bach and Handel and present works from that period by two composers from our region, Newcastle’s Charles Avison and John Garth, born in Witton-le-Wear. Their music will be played by the Avison Ensemble, making their Sage debut.

Nazareth-born pianist Saleem Ashkar returns for three concerts in which he will play another 12 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas.

Lars Vogt the new music director of the Northern Sinfonia
Lars Vogt the new music director of the Northern Sinfonia

Also included are familiar works by, among others, Haydn, Grieg, Brahms, Tchaikovsky (Rachlin is a celebrated performer of his work), Dvorak, Britten and Rodrigo. The Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia, with their orchestra, will present four choral masterworks, including Mozart’s Mass in C minor and the Requiem.

Under the heading of New Year, New Artists, January brings performances from some of the world’s finest emerging talent, including Remy van Kesteren on harp and clarinettist Magdalena Faust.

Those of you used to attending classical concerts at the venue will know that Thursdays and weekends have been the preferred days. There’s a change afoot in that more than half the new season concerts will be on a Friday.

The popular Sunday matinees will remain, with John Wilson continuing his popular Classic FM series.

“We want to build habits and regularity and to have regular days of the week for concerts helps in this respect,” says Dittes.

“We also want to build our audience and we feel we’ve provided lots of entry points for people to get involved in the programme. We also place great value on the importance of taking people on a journey and connecting with all that we do here.” The resident orchestra is at the hub of the programme but while they perform in most of the concerts, the schedule also allows them to perform elsewhere while allowing in guest orchestras and groups.

“This new season, with new artistic leadership, presents a exceptional opportunity for people who may have been wondering what is going on classically in this bubble of a building,” says Dittes.

“This is a unique chance for them to get engaged. We are very keen to meet new people and welcome them through the door. I hope and believe there is great variety to move people and engage them with classical music in this new programme. This is an open invitation for those in the area to come and reconnect with their orchestra.”

At a fundamental level, we shouldn’t forget that there are some cracking concerts ahead. Sibelius’s Finlandia and his 5th symphony on the same bill as Elgar’s Cello Concerto? Wow!

The process of filling seats is ongoing but there’s a definite sense of renewed purpose and readiness to connect, with Lars Vogt and his team being key to this. They deserve our support.

The Sage has produced a brochure detailing all scheduled concerts. Tickets go on general sale on May 21. Details: www.sagegateshead.com


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