1 June 2021

Royal Northern Sinfonia: Summer Songs (Sage Gateshead)

If I'd have remembered how calming and soul-soothing classical music was my Lockdown might have been a bit easier. Luckily I was reminded by watching Sage Gate-head's live stream of Summer Songs played by the Royal Northern Sinfonia (conducted by highly sought after, Gateshead-born conductor John Wilson). 

The online concert is part of the New Beginnings live-stream series at Sage Gateshead 

Classical music is now more accessible than ever with concerts being streamed live online due to the pandemic. Obviously it's not the same as being in the same room as an orchestra, but it's a close second. Normally in an audience you can't see the individual musicians too well, so the cameras were great for the solos and to virtually get to see individual musicians (I'm not sure how they feel about the close-ups though)! Sound-wise it was top-notch (but expected as the Sage has some of the best acoustics in the world). 

The fab RNS at the Angel of the North

The seventy-minute programme from the New Beginnings series featured four epic summer-themed works. Summer Music, by Four Weddings and A Funeral composer Richard Rodney Bennett featured a masterclass by flautist Katherine Bryan (I was mesmerised). The contrast of the three movements was clear, starting off flowing and floaty, then rising to a rousing climax in the middle and finishing with a playful back and forth between the soloists and the ensemble before again reaching a crescendo. 

Conductor John Wilson and Soprano Francesca Chiejina

Then Delius's A Song Before Sunrise (1918) highlighted the oboe and the clarinet and evoked one of those a stunning morning sunrise accompanied by soothing birdsong, before the show-stopping Knoxville: Summer of 2015 which featured the incredible soprano Francesca Chiejina. Written by Samuel Barber (famed for Adagio for Strings), he incorporated the text of James Agee's 1938 Knoxville poem into the music to stunning effect after drawing parallels between their upbringings. The evening finished with Copland's Appalachian Spring Suite which lulled me into a lovely calm place before building to an extremely living ending incorporating the tune 'Simple Gifts' (more widely recognised as the Lord of the Dance adaptation).

The RNS in (socially distanced) action 

As a classical music novice I didn't expect to enjoy the concert as much as I did, and will definitely make the effort to watch the RNS online or in person soon. What I really noticed was that any stress I had at the time seemed to switch off as I watched/listened, which makes sense as studies have shown that classical music can lower cortisol levels, blood pressure and heart rate. I think in the back of my mind somewhere I knew this and had forgotten about these extra benefits, and was grateful for the reminder. 

It was also interesting to virtually talk to two of the orchestra members,  cellist James Craig and violinist GaĆ«lle-Anne Michel beforehand about their working lives and how they been affected by the pandemic (their work involves a lot more than performing - there's a lot of teaching and outreach work that goes on too).  It goes without saying that they miss playing in front of an audience but they're grateful for the chance to perform virtually in the meantime. The first RNS concert in 2021 with a live audience is Back to Bach on Friday June 11th, featuring baroque specialist director Rachael Podger. Due to social distancing there are limited tickets available (please click here to book). 

Blacks Corner Deli hamper

A big thanks to Marketing Coordinator Abi Groocock for inviting me along and organising a delicious hamper featuring delicious cheeses from Blacks Corner Deli - highly recommend tucking into a hamper whilst watching from the comfort of your own home. 

Click here to visit the Sage Gateshead New Beginnings page 

Click here to visit the Royal Northern Sinfonia (RNS web page) 

Debbie x

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