Businessman Roger McKechnie founded Samling in 1996 together with Karon Wright, who has led the charity as its artistic and executive director ever since. From the very first concert in a converted barn on Windermere given by Katarina Karnéus, who had just won Cardiff Singer of the World Competition and the poet Tony Harrison, Karon’s vision for Samling has focused on classical singing, emerging young artists and education.

Samling Artist Programme’s residential masterclasses for young professional singers and pianists led by some of the world’s greatest artists – including from the beginning our Patron Sir Thomas Allen – fed into critically acclaimed operas, Così fan tutte in 2005 and Don Giovanni in 2007, and an annual Showcase at Wigmore Hall in London. Singers and accompanists became Samling Artists with international careers, and far-reaching outreach programmes have brought classical music and opera year-on-year to thousands of schoolchildren of all ages.

Visual arts projects in the early days also encouraged young emerging painters and sculptors with exhibitions and commissions, culminating in large scale visual arts projects, including arena in 2004. Led by Sir Antony Gormley and supported by NESTA with the largest single education grant given by them at that time, this major public art and mentoring opportunity by Samling set out to examine the nature of public art across Tyne and Wear. From 1997 to 2012 Samling supported emerging visual artists through a series of projects, commissions and an annual exhibition in tandem with our fundraising activities.

In 2012 Samling Academy was established to benefit young musicians aged 14-21, with an intensive coaching programme in voice, languages, acting, movement and through performance. Working with Newcastle and Durham Universities and Sage Gateshead, this provision is unique in the North East of England. It brings a conservatoire standard of coaching to young people who might otherwise never recognise their talents; and knowledge of, and engagement with classical music led by an international team of professional artists and coaches.

Samling’s work came full circle with Samling Academy Opera when in 2013, Benjamin Britten’s centenary year, we produced his great comic opera, Albert Herring. This was followed in 2015 with a production of Ravel’s L’Enfant et les sortilèges. Both operas, led and directed entirely by Samling Artists, gave opportunities to Samling Academy Singers to take on roles in fully-staged productions. Celebrating the establishment of a thriving centre for music, based on interactive participation and performance, rather than formal teaching, we look forward to biennial productions with students from the Academy.

Twenty-one years on we are proud of what we have achieved, despite never having received statutory grants or regular funding and with no endowment. The only building we invest in is the future of classical music and young artists, as we look to a future which will never compromise on that first commitment to excellence.

For a more in-depth history, please look through our Newsletter archive.