It's amazing to think that Sage Gateshead is only 10 years old. It's already an institution – and like all great institutions, it feels timeless.
But 10 years old it is, and to celebrate the incredible achievements of the past decade, the venue pulled out all the stops with an audacious evening of site-specific circus, steel drums and flowing champagne.
We were ushered into the building by staff carrying plastic umbrellas adorned with fairylights. Once inside we found the concourse bathed in beautiful aquamarine and indigo light and a huge 10 emblazoned on the wall.
First up was a radical musical and visual spectacular in which sound reverberated from every corner of the building – the entertainments began with a cacophony of percussion from above and thundering drums from below, and soon window cleaners were scaling down the famous windows with torches and circus performers were performing backflips and eating fire.
We were then directed to Hall One, where a video introduced Hawthorn Primary School Symphony Orchestra, a group of young musicians from Elswick between the ages of 7 and 11 who, with the help of Sage Gateshead and funding from Arts Council England and the Department of Education, have received support in learning musical instruments that would not normally be accessible to children from deprived backgrounds. The children performed three songs beautifully and with visible enthusiasm and passion, including Hungarian Winter Dance, which involved them clapping, stamping their feet and jumping in the air while holding their instruments.
Afterwards we were free to explore the various performance spaces the building has to offer, where we could enjoy an eclectic range of music from folk to jazz. You could head to the Music Education Centre where students on Sage's music degree, BA (Hons) in Community Music, were demonstrating their talents, while in Hall Two you could experience Ed Carter's Barographic, an audio-visual piece originally premiered at the Sage and composed from records of the atmospheric pressure in the building over four weeks last year.
Alternatively, we were free to relax on the concourse, where the 'funfair' theme of the evening extended to aerial circus acrobatics, hotdog stands and balloons, and the festivities were accompanied by chilled-out jazz from Jambone and later on by vocal chamber music from The Hilliard Ensemble, who are retiring this year at the end of a 40-year career.
As birthday parties go, it was certainly unique – but it was also a fitting celebration of 10 years in which Sage Gateshead has established itself as a leading centre of culture not just for the North East but for the whole country. Funfair showcased every aspect of Sage Gateshead's legacy, from the eclectic nature of its musical programme and the famous glinting curves of the building itself to its vital work in the community. From looking at the proud smiles of the audience members you could truly understand how significant Sage Gateshead has been in the lives of people young and old across the region. Here's to many more years to come.