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Ben Fogle's Notes From Hidden Britain musical tour took us to the North East, home to the Northern Sinfonia, the Sage Gateshead, England’s answer to Vivaldi and the rock star Sting…
Charles Avison, England’s answer to Vivaldi, was born in Newcastle in 1709. He was an organist at Church of St Nicholas in the city for over 30 years but is perhaps best remembered for his ‘12 Concerti Grossi after Scarlatti .’
Avison is also famous for his Essay on Musical Expression, the first music criticism published in English.
Avison’s orchestral arrangement of Scarlatti's keyboard works for orchestra were filled with the confidence and bravura usually associated with Italy, but despite his affinity with the country, Avison never left England. His only contact with Italy was through his teacher in London, Francesco Geminiani (pictured).
Despite the Mediterranean influence Geminiani inspired in Avison, the Newcastle lad moved back to his hometown after finishing his studies in London and from his return in 1775 until his death in 1770, he never ventured further than Durham.
Newcastle's City Hall was opened in 1927 and plays host to many great concerts and recording sessions. In 1971 rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer recorded their take on Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition here, with the opening track played on the hall's Harrison and Harrison pipe organ.
Another rock star familiar with City Hall is Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting. A son of a milkman, he was born in the suburb of Wallsend. He trained as a teacher and taught in a school for two years, playing jazz at weekends.
He was given the nickname Sting by one of his fellow band members after wearing a black and yellow jersey at one gig. He later found success with rock band The Police before Sting, always keen to follow new directions, went solo.
Sting's musical interest isn't confined to rock. He has had long been fascinated by the music of John Dowland and in 2006, the singer released an album of John Dowland Lute Songs accompanied by Edin Karamazov on lute and archlute.
Over the Tyne in Gateshead, is the Quay development district featuring the Millennium Bridge, the Sage arts centre and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. The Sage boasts a superb concert hall whose acoustics are modelled on the legendary Musikverein in Vienna.
The centre's resident orchestra is Classic FM’s orchestra in the North East, the Northern Sinfonia. Known for its dynamic approach to music, the orchestra’s repertoire, under its Music Director Thomas Zehetmair, covers the full range of Western classical music from early baroque, through the classical and romantic periods, to specially commissioned new work.
Down the coast from Gateshead is the fishing town of Seaham, the birthplace of one of our greatest living operatic baritones, Sir Thomas Allen. While at Ryhope Grammar School, Allen's potential was spotted by his physics teacher, Denis Weatherley, himself a fine baritone. His teacher helped him gain a place at the Royal College of Music and, after making his debut at the Royal Opera House in 1971 has gone on to perform in the world's major opera houses.
His modest beginnings and subsequent starry career were the inspiration for the character of Billy Elliot, the fictional schoolboy who jetés his pit-village origins to become a ballet dancer.
The mining town of Seaham boasts another musical connection. In 1815 the poet and novelist Lord Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke, the daughter of the local landowner. It wasn't a happy marriage from the beginning; Byron didn't like her or her town and once wrote in a letter to a friend, 'Upon this dreary coast we have nothing but county meetings and shipwrecks.'
Anne divorced Byron after just a year, and he fled to Switzerland, never to return to Britain. It was there that he became fascinated by the supernatural, devouring books on the subject which inspired him to write his own dramatic poem ‘Manfred’. The poem was later adapted for music by Schumann in 'Manfred: Dramatic Poem with music in Three Parts' and also inspired Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony.
Inland from Seaham is Durham, dominated by its magnificent cathedral, this city also boasts a fine university. A few years ago, as the university's 175th anniversary approached, some of the former students thought their old alma mater should celebrate with it a new piece of music inspired by the city and its university.
The students approached the keyboard player from rock group Deep Purple, Jon Lord. This wasn't the first time Lord, who started playing the piano aged five, had fused rock and classical music.
'Jon Lord's Durham Concerto' was debuted in Durham Cathedral on 20 October 2007, as part of the university's 175th anniversary celebrations with Lord himself playing the Hammond organ part.