SAGE Gateshead came alive to the sound of music again for the first time since its enforced closure, as it welcomed back an audience with a life-affirming concert from Royal Northern Sinfonia.

There was even more to celebrate, with the news of a £1.8m award from the Government Culture Recovery Fund to help secure the venue's future.

A tangible sense of excitement and joy filled the concourse as people filed in to be treated to a pre-concert taster in the shape of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A Major.

"The purpose of what we do as a group is perform for an audience," said principal clarinettist Jessica Lee. And perform they did, pouring their souls into the warm uplifting work.

Everything was done to make people feel safe and, in a well-rehearsed operation, the audience was shepherded smoothly to their seats in batches.

Social distancing meant that Hall One's capacity of over 1,600 was reduced to 300 people. But it was every bit an intimate a reunion, with hundreds more able to follow proceedings from the comfort of their homes via Sage's first livestream.

RNS have an enviable reputation for the excellence of their Mozart interpretations, so what better way to kick off than with their calling card; the overture to The Marriage of Figaro.

Led by the dynamic conductor Jessica Cottis, the players burst from the blocks, relishing the fun and frivolity of the piece.

RNS programming always offers something new and the evening saw a first for two composers. The French composer Jean Francaix's Double Bass Concerto gives the instrument a rare gets a chance to shine. It was also the perfect opportunity to introduce the orchestra's newly-signed principal double bass, Philip Nelson.

In a virtuosic display, he showcased just how versatile his unwieldy instrument can be. From the elephantine plodding march of the opening movement to a slow movement which drew out singing tones of plaintive soulfulness, he had the audience captivated.

The second debut came in the form of the short but exhilarating work Strum, by the young American composer Jessie Montgomery. A work infused with American folk idioms, with a rich tapestry of textures laced with cascades of strumming pizzicato passages, it was delivered with aplomb.

The evening was crowned with a glorious performance of Mozart's Symphony No 39 in E flat.

It was the first of seven-week series of concerts. If you are unable to make it on the night, be sure to get livestream livestream. The RNS and Sage need all the support they can get.

The next performance features Lars Vogt director/piano performing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 5 'Emperor', along with and RNS at 7.30pm on Friday.

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