On December 17, very special memories will be kindled for music lovers who were first across the threshold of Sage Gateshead when it opened to the public for the first time.
On that date in 2004, on a very cold night, a giant statue of Pavarotti silently serenaded people awaiting admission to the region’s latest landmark building. Noisily serenading the same crowd was Peter Moser, from Morecambe, who wore pink tights and proclaimed himself “the fastest one-man band in the world”.
The fact that 1,500 free tickets had been issued ahead of the opening night didn’t stop people queuing outside. At the head of that queue – and they will remember it well – was a group of Women’s Institute members from Bedlington, Northumberland.
For many months people had watched the building take shape next to the Tyne Bridge at Bottle Bank, a series of concrete blocks rising from the levelled mud to be followed by the crowning glory, that famous curved roof that seemed to mimic that old bridge and the new Gateshead Millennium Bridge downriver.
“It’s a very, very proud moment for all of us after many years of waiting,” said Ros Rigby, now the Sage’s performance programme director. “But finally this magnificent building is open.”
Many singers, choirs, orchestras and groups have followed in the footsteps of the man in pink tights and the ladies from Bedlington and the 10th anniversary is almost upon us.
To mark the occasion Sage Gateshead are throwing “a party with a difference”.
Music, art and fun are promised over six days with the many musical genres represented. Beverley Knight, Eliza Carthy, Paul Smith, the Royal Northern Sinfonia and trance DJs Above and Beyond will all be involved, the latter transforming the concourse into an all-night superclub, kicking off at 10pm on December 19.
The special programme suggests that there will be something to suit most musical tastes but a little mystery still hangs over the anniversary night itself.
Wednesday, December 17, Now We Are Ten, is billed as “a night full of surprises” and those planning to attend are advised to “expect the unexpected”.
Access to Sage Gateshead on that night will be to ticket-holders only, as was the case 10 years ago. The tickets are free and available to those fastest off the mark (see the foot of this article for details).
Today The Journal – with the aim of whetting the appetite rather than spoiling the surprise – can reveal two of the musical groups that will be performing on that night. They are the Hilliard Ensemble, a revered vocal chamber group who will be giving their penultimate performance on the night, and Newcastle-based Warm Digits, who describe themselves as “a motoric epiphany of drums, guitar and pulsing hardware”.
Clearly the pair occupy very different musical territories and that’s the point.
Mo Lovatt, who headed the Festival of the North East in 2013 and is overseeing this special night, said yesterday: “The idea behind it is that we know lots of people come to Sage Gateshead for certain things but don’t necessarily know there are other fabulous things we do.
“This is a way of introducing people to all the various types of music that happen here.
“Also, sometimes arts organisations can seem a bit serious or worthy, but this place is in the heart of Gateshead for a reason – it’s for the people here. There are lots of fun and and interesting things that happen here. That’s where the idea of a funfair comes from.”
Ah, yes... the funfair. The six-day festival, running from December 16 to 21, is to be called Funfair and a jolly poster on the theme was unveiled yesterday, giving a taste of what is come, although cards are still being played pretty close to chests.
Anthony Sargent, general director of Sage Gateshead, is particularly excited about the involvement of American-born percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky. She will work with Sage musicians in a huge project that, according to Anthony, “will pop up unexpectedly throughout the week”.
Mo explains that the whole building, renowned for acoustic qualities that can enhance all manner of musical instruments, can also be played like an instrument itself.
“Robyn has been working with percussion leaders here and about 100 young people so they will form an exciting part of our birthday week. We have been ‘playing’ the building, listening to some of the sounds it makes.”
The birthday week will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the £70m Foster and Partners building (officially opened by the Queen on October 14, 2005) while also drawing attention to the fact that its staff run music projects right across the region and its orchestra, the Royal Northern Sinfonia, is world renowned.
The ticketed concerts throughout the week will demonstrate the Sage’s all-embracing approach to music.
The Royal Northern Sinfonia, the resident orchestra, will perform a concert of Christmas favourites with the Inspiration Choir on December 20 and reconvene the following day for a concert conducted by Thomas Zehetmair (Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, ‘Pathétique’, and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with soloist Francesco Piemontesi).
Folkworks, also one of Sage’s founding partners, will be represented by family Christmas ceilidhs and a concert with Eliza Carthy celebrating 25 years of the Folkworks Youth Summer School.
Soul diva Beverley Knight will get proceedings under way on December 16 when Sage visitors can also enjoy a battle between North East breakdance crew Battalions and rivals from elsewhere.
To be part of the Now We Are Ten programme on December 17, you must enter the free draw by going to www.sagegateshead.com/ten and registering your details by Monday, November 17. Successful applicants will be notified by email.