MUSICIANS from the orchestra of Sage Gateshead came together to play for the first time in nearly five months as part of two special outdoor performances in Newcastle last Saturday.

Royal Northern Sinfonia became one of the first full orchestras in the country to perform live in front of a physical audience since lockdown began in March. While the future remains uncertain, the orchestra and its musicians are committed to bringing live music back to the North-East as soon as possible.

The orchestra, who played consecutive concerts to two groups of guests and members of the community, were reunited with their audience at a safe social distance to perform at Summerhill Bowling Club.

The first concert was intended as a thank you to the orchestra’s loyal supporters, many of whom attend Royal Northern Sinfonia concerts week in, week out, at Sage Gateshead during the performance season. The Sage Gateshead audience has been a key support to the organisation since the onset of Covid 19, regularly showing their solidarity with the charity during this challenging time, and generously supporting its Crisis, Recovery and Renaissance coronavirus fundraising campaign.

The second concert was played to an audience of local residents and young musicians and their families, who are part of a national initiative, In Harmony Newcastle Gateshead.

The closure of schools has meant that the In Harmony project, an immersive orchestral music making programme that improves the life chances of children and young people in two West Newcastle primary schools, also ceased. As a result, young aspiring musicians from both Bridgewater and Hawthorn Primary schools have missed out on live orchestral music and group playing for a significant period, making the performance even more special.

The event was carefully planned to ensure those in attendance were safe, but able to enjoy a very special experience. Reflecting the time of year, the programme was created to take the audience on an imaginary journey through a beautiful English Summer’s day by a river and included classics such as Handel’s Water Music and Elgar’s Serenade.

Kyra Humphreys, Royal Northern Sinfonia’s co-leader and first violin, said: “Obviously, this is an extremely challenging time for Royal Northern Sinfonia, Sage Gateshead and the sector as a whole.

"However, we also know that it has been difficult for our audiences and the wider communities in which we work. More people than ever are facing social isolation, struggling with their mental or physical health, missing their music education, or are simply craving the incomparable magic of live music.

"Despite this, we have received so much support from our audiences. It has been an absolute pleasure to see so many In Harmony children here today, and to have the opportunity to say ‘thank you’ with this performance.”

Sage Gateshead’s managing director, Abigail Pogson said: “Royal Northern Sinfonia’s first performance since lockdown began was certainly one to remember. The joy of returning to live music, for players and their audience, was palpable.

"One of the things we have focused on during the pandemic is engaging with our audience, and talking to them about what the future of live music looks like as part of our campaign, A Future for Live Music in the North East.

"The thing that has come across so clearly in this conversation is that music is a huge part of peoples’ lives, and that going forward, it has a role in the recovery of the region.”

Although tickets to the concert were free, many of those who attended made donations to the organisation’s Crisis, Recovery and Renaissance fundraising campaign, of which Sting and Dame Margaret Barbour are Patrons.

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