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Where ideas come from—music and design at RHS Chelsea 2017

26th May 2017

After the introduction of Nature-generated music at RHS Chelsea last year, the world’s most famous flower show saw the debut performance, this week, of a piece inspired by a show garden design.

Lauren Marshall, principal composer in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, has created Linger in Light in response to Chris Beardshaw’s garden for the Morgan Stanley bank. It was performed in public for the first time on Monday. “Nature has always been hugely influential in my work but this opportunity has taken my interest to the next level,” said Lauren.

Music had already played a part in the garden’s inspiration. “I was looking for pieces of music that mathematicians had looked at from a fractal point of view,” said Chris.

He settled on two pieces. The shady end is inspired by Bach’s Concerto No 3 in D Minor, BWV974, the Adagio movement*. “The concerto stood out,” Chris went on. “When I listened, for me it represented woodlands, immersive nature, deep canopy and sparkling light.”

The sunny ‘Mozart’ end of Chris Beardshaw’s garden design for the Morgan Stanley The Fractal Facts of Nature Garden, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017.

Mozart’s Violin Sonata No24 in F major, K376, the Allegro movement** influenced his design of the sunnier end. “There’s pomp and circumstance, a carnival feel, where plants could be prima donnas. In that part, you are walking through a party, hearing fragments of conversation.”

He didn’t tell Lauren. “I’m pleased I didn’t know which pieces had inspired Chris,” she said, “because it would probably have influenced me.” Instead he talked her through the design and took her to Hidcote Manor to explore the dynamics of creating a garden, how you stimulate the emotions, and create texture and form. “It set up a dialogue between the tools that she uses and those that go into garden design,” he said.

Lauren was struck by the similarities between composing and designing. “I thought of a garden as static,” she explained. “I realised that actually it’s a journey for the person going through, and it progresses through time.”

At seventeen, Lauren is soaking up every experience and this has been her first time creating a site-specific piece. Will she use the experience to guide her work in future? “I’m still learning,” she said, “so every piece really influences me.”

The shady “Bach” end of Chris Beardshaw’s design for RHS Chelsea 2017.

Linger in Light is a charming, gentle piece that certainly won’t have you questioning your ideas about gardens. There’s a touch of the English pastoral tradition and more than a sense of Eastern contemplation.

“I’m half-Chinese,” explained Lauren. “I go back to China quite often. Some of the gardens there have a very natural feel and seem very organic, exemplifying organic nature and passage through time, and of course in China you’ve got the link to the Daoist and Buddhist tradition of a journey through life.”

What the garden might have you questioning is the role of fractals on which Chris has put such emphasis. On the Morgan Stanley website, Chris writes, “Although seemingly irregular, unrelated and chaotic, patterns that show up in music and nature have a commonality explained by fractal geometry.

“This intriguing mathematical connection between patterns found in nature and music have led to the development of specific line, form, and texture within the design for this year’s garden. An example lies in the design of the garden’s loggia…with a roof inspired by a tumbling leaf perched on sculpted oak columns.”

Hmm. There may be fractal elements in the make-up of a leaf, but I’d argue that the leaf itself is not a fractal.

Of more interest is the role that music plays in Chris’s garden designs. “I use music at different stages of the design process,” he said. “When thinking about specific details, then classical. For ideas, something more free—contemporary dance music. Eno, Oakenfold—trance-like, giving an ambient sound. But I’d be able to draw ideas from any music that interests me. I use it as a way of painting the mental picture.”

Here, then, is the real inspiration. Fractals may display rhythm and pattern, but it’s rhythm and pattern themselves that are the building blocks, something which Chris seems to hint at on the Morgan Stanley website.

“I have often thought that the orchestration of a garden must share similarities with the orchestration of music and that both possess a pure connection with and influence over our emotional response to our experience of them.”

* Bach Concerto No.3 in D minor, BWV 974: Adagio performed by James Rhodes on Inside Tracks : The Mix Tape – Woodland Themes

** Mozart’s Violin Sonata No24 in F major, K376, the Allegro movement – Natsumi Wakamatsu from Album Mozart:Violin Sonatas Not.17,24,27 and 28 – Terrace Themes

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