• Conundrum – When Does A Shower Become Rain?

Yesterday at 06.30, BBC Radio’s weather forecasters predicted “showers in the West”.  It then proceeded to rain solidly – and heavily – for three hours.

So when does a shower become rain?

I’d like to think that there’s Zen-like enlightenment to be found in that elusive moment of transition.

• Reclaiming Heligan

An unpromising early weather forecast yesterday didn’t deter us from making an excursion to The Lost Gardens of Heligan.  Pouring rain en route was not encouraging.  On arrival, it seemed wise to take the opportunity to have a coffee-break with the few other visitors who had braved the elements.  But the forecast was right – it cleared up.  Yet the gardens remained virtually deserted.  We had the Northern Summerhouse to ourselves (rain-soaked views to the sea) and even, an hour or so later, the Italian Garden (above).  These two spots are particularly atmospheric, fit for contemplation from their open-fronted summerhouses.  Yesterday, this really was possible.

 Why, at the height of the tourist season, were there so few visitors?  I hope that it wasn’t a result of the appallingly feeble BBC2 documentary last Wednesday (produced and narrated by Philippa Forrester).  I’ve been to Heligan over half-a-dozen times in the last couple of years and have been continually amazed by its variety, its surprises, its seasonal beauty, the vigour of its spirit, the rigour of its restoration and the dedicated discipline of its workforce.  Its magic lies, I think, in the unusual combination of man-made structures with both tamed and untamed nature.  The last thing it needed was some slack TV team making a twee, toothless travesty of a nature programme about it.

Natural World: Heligan – Secrets of a Lost Garden (no secrets were revealed) was soft-focus, slow-motion and hugely overextended (its hour’s content could have been contained in a programme a third of its length).  It did Heligan no service and, a few episodes of mildly interesting visuals aside (mating toads, seaweed gathering), added nothing to existing widespread knowledge of the place nor of the lives of the few animal species upon which it set its blinkered gaze.

When you go to the Hide, for example, you’ll see Heligan’s own films of its wildlife that knock spots off the BBC’s.  The programme’s music tracks were almost uniformly distracting and inappropriate, with the saccharine tone of the spoken commentary seemingly about to break into the phrase “This is not just Heligan.  This is Your Heligan”.  And who is it with two brain cells who can’t see through the ludicrously anthropomorphised text and visuals concerning the death of a young fox or the Great Spotted Woodpeckers, which we were supposed to believe might be laying a few extra eggs especially so that Nice Mr Grey Squirrel could have a few?  Surely the world and the rest of the BBC have long moved on from (the inimitable) Beatrix Potter when it comes to discussing wildlife.  Not even the coverage of the restoration of Heligan came anywhere near adequate.  It was just plain lazy.

So, if you haven’t already been to Heligan, go soon, no matter what the weather, walk the grounds and reclaim its history and marvel at its living character.  You’ll find it an infinitely more intense, real and fascinating experience than this low-grade gift-shop souvenir would have you believe.

• Sit, Stand, Walk

Yesterday, I got in from a convivial evening with friends at the Rising Sun near Altarnun just in time to catch Radio 3’s late-night Hear And Now, a broadcast of a brilliant concert from this year’s Spitalfields Festival.  It was given by Chroma and featured works by Param Vir (Hayagriva) and Jonathan Harvey (Sringara Chaconne).  But for me the highlights were two works by Rolf Hind: Horse Sacrifice (2001) and the premiere of Sit, Stand, Walk (2011).

photo: Alys Tomlinson

I should declare an interest here: Rolf spent nine days in Cornwall in July 2010, meditating intensely indoors and outdoors (though not on a deckchair, as I recall).  More importantly, he composed one of the movements of Sit, Stand, Walk in my music room.  His stay has spurred me on to get quotes for converting the garage into a proper studio where artists of any discipline can come and be creative away from their normal hustle and bustle.

I first met Rolf when he came to give a recital at Queen’s University, Belfast, in the mid-1980s.  I’ve never forgotten his stunning performances of Beethoven, Copland and Carter sonatas that evening.  Few pianists can match his total dedication to new music and it’s no wonder that composers specifically ask to work with him, knowing that he’ll get to the heart of their music, both interpretatively and technically.  So it’s great that the tables are now turning and performers are asking to work on his own growing output as a composer.

He has a distinctive voice that comes in large part, I suspect, from the tough demands that he makes on himself in his Buddhist meditation.  He also has an acute ear for the delicate balance of musical continuities and discontinuities, for ritual and for unusual instrumental sonorities and combinations.  The solo-ensemble drama of Horse Sacrifice played out like a miniature concerto, deft, expressive and perfectly formed, with a particularly atmospheric final movement.

Ten years on, Sit, Stand, Walk revisits the concerto principle, this time with the clarinet (a virtuosic performance from Stewart King) as protagonist.  This was even more like a journey of the soul, revealing the interior through tender antiphony (or antiphonal tenderness?) between the soloist and the slowly-gathering reflectors of the other instruments.  The ritualistic punctuation of the percussion was offset by unexpected colours, especially that of the accordion, which whetted the appetite for Rolf’s forthcoming accordion concerto (for James Crabb and the BBCSO).  This was a haunting exploration of the experience of meditation, completed by a brief fourth movement ‘Open’, which the composer rightly called ‘an exponential explosion of joy’.  A great piece and a fascinating concert of meditation-inspired pieces, though perhaps before midnight on a Saturday was not the most ideal placing!

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