Sage Gateshead, viewed from the River Tyne
|Location||Gateshead Quays, UK|
|Type||Concert venue, centre for musical education|
|Capacity||1,640 (Sage One), 600 (Sage Two)|
|Opened||17 December 2004|
|Construction cost||£70 million|
Sage Gateshead is a concert venue and also a centre for musical education, located in Gateshead on the south bank of the River Tyne, in the North East of England. It opened in 2004 and is tenanted by the North Music Trust.
Sage Gateshead hosts concerts from a wide range of internationally famous artists, and those who have played at the venue include Above and Beyond, Blondie, James Brown, Bonobo, Andy Cutting, De La Soul, Nick Cave, George Clinton, Bill Callahan, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Dillinger, Elbow, Explosions in the Sky, the Fall, Herbie Hancock, Mogwai, Morrissey, Mumford & Sons, Grace Jones, Sunn O))), Nancy Sinatra, Snarky Puppy, Sting, Yellowman and others. In February 2015, it was one of the hosts of the second annual BBC Radio 6 Music Festival.
It is also home to Royal Northern Sinfonia, described by the Guardian as 'no better chamber orchestra in Britain' and regularly hosts other visiting orchestras from around the world. The current Music Director for Royal Northern Sinfonia is the pianist and conductor Lars Vogt. In late 2014, Royal Northern Sinfonia collaborated with John Grant, performing at Sage Gateshead and other venues throughout the UK. Recordings from this tour were made available as a limited edition CD and 12" record via Rough Trade Records in 2015.
The centre occupies a curved glass and stainless steel building designed by Foster and Partners, Buro Happold (structural engineering), Mott MacDonald (building services) and Arup (acoustics), with views of Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides, the Tyne Bridge and the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. Foster and Partners were selected following an architectural design competition managed by RIBA Competitions.
Planning for the centre began in the early 1990s, when orchestra of Sage Gateshead, Royal Northern Sinfonia, with encouragement from Northern Arts, began working on plans for a new concert hall. They were soon joined by regional folk music development agency Folkworks, which ensured that the needs of the region's traditional music were taken into consideration and represented in Sage Gateshead's programme of concerts, alongside Rock, Pop, Dance, Hip Hop, classical, jazz, acoustic, indie, country and world, Practice spaces for professional musicians, students and amateurs were an important part of the provision.
The planning and construction process cost over £70 million, which was raised primarily through National Lottery grants. The contractor was Laing O'Rourke. The centre has a range of patrons, notably Sage Group which contributed a large sum of money to have the building named after it. Sage plc has helped support the charitable activities of Sage Gateshead since its conception. The venue opened over the weekend 17–19 December 2004.
Sage Gateshead is also available as a conference venue: for example it hosted the Labour Party's Spring conference in February 2005. It will also be hosting the Liberal Democrat Party conference in March 2012. In August 2009, the National Union of Students announced that their 2010 and 2011 National Conferences would be held at Sage Gateshead.
Sage Gateshead contains three performance spaces; a 1,700-seater, a 450-seater and a smaller rehearsal and performance hall, the Northern Rock Foundation Hall. The rest of the building was designed around these three spaces to allow for maximum attention to detail in their acoustic properties. Structurally it is three separate buildings, insulated from each other to prevent noise and vibration travelling between them. The gaps between them may be seen as one walks around inside. A special 'spongy' concrete mix was used in the construction, with a higher-than-usual air capacity to improve the acoustic. These three buildings are enclosed (but not touched) by the now-famous glass and steel shell. Sage One was intended as an acoustically perfect space, modelled on the renowned Musikverein in Vienna. Its ceiling panels may be raised and lowered and curtains drawn across the ribbed wooden side walls, changing the sound profile of the room to suit any type of music. Sage Two is a smaller venue, possibly the world's only ten-sided performance space. The building's concourse was designed to be used for informal music-making. Below the concourse level is the Music Education Centre, where workshops, community music courses and day-to-day instrumental teaching takes place in over 20 individual, largely sound-proofed rooms, one of which is also a recording studio.
The building is open to the public throughout the day. Visitors can see rehearsals, soundchecks and workshops in progress. It has five bars, a brasserie, the "Sir Michael Straker Café", and "The Barbour Room" – a multi-purpose function room which holds around 200 people. There was also "ExploreMusic": a technologically well-equipped musical branch of Gateshead public library, stocking books, and current magazines covering all aspects of music, a CD library with listening posts, and computers with free internet access, subscriptions to music websites, and music software. However this was closed in March 2011 owing to funding cutbacks to Gateshead Council, who funded this particular part of the building.
The fact that the main entrance doors to the western end of the building are still not working properly, seven years after the building's opening, was described as "disappointing" by the centre's then general manager Anthony Sargent in the North Music Trust's 2010-11 annual report. As of February 2012 significant work has begun on improving the entire Western entrance to the building, including brand new disabled and fire access doors and reinforced revolving doors. As of March 2012 this has now been completed. Sargent stepped down in 2014 and was replaced by Abigail Pogson.
The architectural competition
Sage Gateshead was developed by Foster and Partners following an architectural design competition launched in 1997 and managed by RIBA Competitions. Over 100 architects registered their interest and 12 - a mixture of local, national and international talent - were invited to prepare concept designs. A shortlist of six was then interviewed with Foster and Partners unanimously selected as the winner. The Design has gone on to win a number of awards such as, the RIBA Inclusive Design Award, Civic Trust Award  and The Journal North East Landmark of the Year Award.
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There has been popular debate surrounding Sage Gateshead. There is a broad base of local support for the centre, including cross-party backing from local government. Conversely, some feel that the money might be better spent on improving Gateshead's High Street. However, the money made available to the project build via Lottery Grants would not have been used for such general improvements to the area regardless. The venue is popular in the local area because of its concerts but also for its accessible learning courses for all ages and its constant interaction with local schools and academies through programmes such as Sing Up and the option of school visits.
The building itself has its admirers and detractors. While many people, including locals, hold it to be a fine example of Norman Foster's design, others draw comparisons with a large slug. Gavin Stamp, writing as "Piloti" in Private Eye's Nooks and Corners column, suggested that the structure resembles a "shiny condom".
Sage Gateshead has won many awards, including the Local Authority Building of the Year in the 2005 British Construction Industry Awards and the RIBA Award for Inclusive Design as well as Private Eye's "Hugh Casson" medal for the worst building of 2004.
NUS National Conference
On 18 August 2009, Sage Gateshead was selected to host the 2010 and 2011 National Union of Students annual conference. The 2010 Annual Conference took place from 13–15 April 2010 and attracted approximately 1,500 student delegates and over 300 observers, exhibitors and media.
- North Music Trust accounts at Charity Commission website
- 'Royal Northern Sinfonia/ Zehettmair review' Andrew Clements, Guardian, 20 October 2013
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- Mott MacDonald website
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- Worst Building of 2004
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- The Sage Gateshead
- A 360-degree panoramic view of The Sage and the Newcastle Quayside from The Sage by Peter Loud (Flash required)