Image: Ditte Elly
Sage Gateshead host a mini-festival of new music on Friday 27th and Saturday 28th January, showcasing an eclectic range of artists across a multitude of genres. We chatted to Director of Popular and Contemporary Performance Programming Tamsin Austin and Director of Royal Northern Sinfonia and Classical Music Thorben Dittes to find out more.
What was your criteria for booking the artists on the bill?
Tamsin Austin: NYNA is essentially a Sage Gateshead mega-mix! An opportunity to bring together some of the most incredible young artists from across a range of music that we champion at Sage Gateshead and a chance for audiences to open their ears to new music that they may not otherwise go to hear. The artists selected are all at the beginning of their careers, are on the rise and have been selected for their musical excellence and innovation.
Thorben Dittes: The classical artists have been selected by the classical programme directors of the ECHO network. This is an EU-wide group of the best concert halls, including the Musikverein in Vienna, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Philhamonie in Paris… and Sage Gateshead. It’s a privilege to be part of this organisation, and great fun to meet with my colleagues from across Europe to debate each country’s nominations. Only 5-6 are selected each year, so it is very competitive and the nominations seek to put only those emerging classical artists forward who are starting to make an international impact.
Who are you looking forward to seeing personally?
TA: All of them! Seriously I am. I love discovering new music and I love variety so the idea of having two full days to dip in and out of loads of really high quality performances is like my ideal weekend! I saw Anna Meredith at the Great Escape and booked her on the back of that appearance. She is the perfect headliner for the festival as a cross over artist from classical to electronic, she is innovative, creative, dynamic and her live show is incredible.
TD: As Tamsin says, all of the artists are worth hearing, that’s why we put the bill together. However, I am personally very excited to be hearing Mariam Batsashvili play Liszt’s b minor sonata. It’s an amazing piece, and as a prizewinner at the recent Liszt competition, her performance will be outstanding. If you love the piano, this is one slot you shouldn’t miss!
Are there any other hot tips you’d let our readers in on?
TA: Amythyst Kiah, a young soul/gospel singer from Jacksonville Alabama is another of my faves. She does a killer version of the Afro-American spiritual Trouble so Hard which most people know as Natural Blues from Moby’s Play album.
TD: I really hope folk will buy the day pass and just totally immerse themselves in what’s on offer. That was the idea about putting the mini-festival together in this way, and I am certainly looking forward to hearing all of Tamsin’s artists as well as my classical choices.
Sage Gateshead’s remit has always been to be diverse in its programming, why is that so important to the venue?
TA: Because Sage Gateshead is for everyone, it’s artistically democratic and we do our best to attract as diverse a programme of artists as we can to appeal to a wide range of audiences. Obviously some genres work better than others in certain spaces but the commitment is there to try to make everything work and present and promote it really well.
In reality how difficult is that to achieve taking into account the acoustics and the nature of the venue itself?
TA: Sage Two is super-flexible. Everyone who is a regular attendee knows that. Grime, techno, drone, folk, raga, piano recital, we can make it work! Sage One is a bit more challenging but we do our best to attract as wide a range of artists as we can to the North East and present shows that otherwise may not happen. Some of the best shows we’ve had recently such as Cinematic Orchestra, Field Music, Explosions in the Sky some may have preferred to be fully standing but having the pit is a good half way house to give the artists the best of both worlds and the audience a chance for a nice sit down! (I can usually be found snoozing at the back somewhere!) Acoustics and sound wise, for amplified music we have a brilliant and totally dedicated tech team who love to make everything look and sound as good as possible. We have a really good house PA which works for most things but bring in additional production when needed.
You’ve had some noisier/more raucous stage-show wise events in Hall One, do you feel they’ve responded to the space well?
TA: I’ve got some brilliant footage on my phone of everyone going crazy at Underworld last year! There’s still a big appetite for down tempo electronic /dance music and actually some of these types of shows have worked really well in Sage One, so well I’m thinking I might do a Dad-rave weekend!
Do you find that some audiences still have preconceived ideas about the space?
TA: Yes of course. But we generally find most people are pleasantly surprised when they actually come and I like to think we are a pretty welcoming bunch at Sage. For NYNA we are mainly using Sage Two and Northern Rock Foundation Hall. The programme will roll between those two spaces which works really brilliantly for festivals as we did for TUSK Festival recently.
And how much of a challenge is it for you to overcome those?
TA: People will make their own minds up. We just do our best to present as broad and as high quality a programme as we can within the spaces and hope that people will come and feel a part of things with us. Sage is full of people who just love music and thrive on making really great events happen.
If you could have any line-up of musicians to play at the venue, what would be your dream gig?
TA: Oh gawd I dunno, I change my mind every day! If I could bring back Patsy Cline, I’d love to have her headline SummerTyne but failing that, having Jack White, Loretta Lynn and Margo Price for next year’s SummerTyne would make me very happy!
Thorben, as the director of RNS and the classical programme, how important is it to you that the classical element of Sage’s programming reaches a new audience?
TD: This is one of my central pre-occupations. I honestly believe classical music is for everyone and can speak to anyone, which is why we have taken the conscious decision to present RNS outside the building and across the region more often over the last two seasons – you may have heard that the orchestra ‘popped up’ in Eldon Square and the Metro Centre, for instance. But at the same time, there is nothing like hearing classical music performed well in the great acoustics we have at Sage Gateshead, so I am all about encouraging folks to give this a go. That’s why we have introduced the Bar 5 scheme for under 30s (tickets for £5 and a bottle of beer!), and Gateshead First Timer tickets (if you live in Gateshead, and have never heard your orchestra, you can come for free the first time!). But I think it is also crucial that the audiences of the future can connect with the artists of the future, hence this weekend!
When it comes to new talent, are you always on the look out for up and coming stars?
TD: Absolutely, emerging artists often bring something really fresh to the great classical works, and I like to programme a mix of more established performers and the stars of the future. The next generation of classical performers is also starting to experiment with concert formats and the way they relate to audiences, so I hope we will be able to showcase more of that at Sage Gateshead over coming seasons.
How receptive to new work and up and coming artists do you find the classical audience to be?
TD: You would be surprised! Our core audience is very loyal and trusts us to always deliver quality, even if it is artists and works they don’t know. However, it is fair to say, that more casual concert-goers find new music in particular challenging sometimes. I always aim to provide a context in which the new makes sense, such as pre-concert talks with composers, or simply a programme mix where the new piece works, so I would like to encourage even less regular attenders to give a concert a go, even if they only know one piece on the programme. There is so much great music out there worth discovering!
In terms of other events at the venue, if you could suggest one performance coming up next year that ‘classical virgins’ should see, what would it be?
TD: From past experience, ‘classical virgins’ enjoy their first concert most, if there is music on the programme they recognise. On 10 February, Julian Rachlin will be performing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, before conducting Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony – recently voted the best symphony of all time. That concert is perfect for trying out classical music for the first time, so do come along!
Tickets for New Year New Artists can be purchased via the venue’s website, starting from £12.90.