Time, contrasts, life.

A gorgeous autumn-feeling dawn this morning belies the fact that there is rain spreading from the north-west today, “by lunchtime” if one is to believe the voice of Radio 4. There are quite a few visitors in Swanage gathering for the bank-holiday weekend, the beach and seafront being comfortably busy in the early evening, last night, as I took a walk to Peveril Point, passing buckets of impressively large crabs beside boys and girls of all-ages lowering nets from stone ledges, as generations have done before.

Passing the tap-tapping masts of the boat club along the foreshore, the sunshine happily bathing a family with two photographed children and a rough-haired dog. “Hold your arms up and smile” as their Daddy records the scene. Will they look at this image fifty, sixty years from now, or will it be gone when that phone dies and another upgrade takes its place?

Taking the steps to the coastal watch look-out and seat, for the courting young couple and elderly long-married alike, there are further signs that autumn is all but with us: a bank of red blackberries ripening to the sound of chattering sparrows, and the more suppressed conversation of the young starlings stripping the elderberries below them. I stood looking for some time at the changing plumage of the young birds; some with bright, almost-sparkling breasts, jewelled with white flecks; others, heads dark, nearly black, some brown; still others, I suppose older birds, of which there were a few, almost dull in contrast.

Turning up a recorded Prom in the evening, I settled on that of Monday 13th August*, an amazing performance by the Estonian Festival Orchestra, with conductor Paavo Järvi and, in the presence of Arvo Pärt himself, they began the concert with his mesmeric Symphony No. 3. He came onto the stage at the end to rapturous applause. It was a very special moment.

Then came the familiar and much-loved Greig Piano Concerto in A Minor, but played by the Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvilli it was as never heard before. She seems to play entirely by touch and instinct, her fingers gliding one moment, like hammer-blows the next, her arms sweeping off the keys into the air, as she at times lifted right off the piano stool, or her hair hung over her face, nearly touching the keys as she continued to play. I don’t think anyone had seen anything like it. And the speed… what a tempo to set for the exhilarating drama in the last movement…! Her encore, by contrast, was the dreamy Clair de Lune of Debussy.

As a long-time lover of Sibelius, the concert could hardly have finished more happily for me than with one of his Symphonies. Paavo Järvi spoke of the 5th Symphony before conducting it and of the silence before each of its final, deliberate and riveting chords. Such an emotional ending; such touching, memorable music.

The prophet Habakkuk’s poetic verses have been the reading at evening prayer these last two nights; his thoughts struggling with the injustice of life, but this morning we had Jacob dreaming of the ladder set up from earth to heaven and the angels ascending and descending on it. Surely God is in this place….. Life holds so many twists and turns…..

John Mann

*Broadcast on BBC 4 on Friday 17th August