Samuel Barber has always been my favorite composer. It starts there, but the bigger reason for this film is to make up for neglect. Independent cinema has a scarcity of documentaries about classical music, and the audience’s hunger for them is underestimated. Also, Barber’s oeuvre has been overshadowed by his Adagio for Strings, popularized widely by Oliver Stone’s relentless use of it in Platoon. The Adagio has also served as a memorial work at historic moments of grieving, from the deaths of FDR and JFK, to the tragedy of 9/11. But Barber wrote so much more, ranging from innocence to violence. Thinking about his whole life and music, major 20th Century themes converge: loss of faith, modernism battling emotionality and tradition in music, and a gay underground of classical musicians and composers whose sexuality could never attach to their public identities.
Documentaries about popular music can be accused of navel-gazing, but when we immerse into a performance of classical music, it is usually formal and from a distance. My artistic objective firstly was to celebrate the physicality of classical musicians when they perform the music of Barber. Meticulous, complex, and absorbed into the melancholy, a great performance communicates more than words. Resisting a narrator, I structured the film from Barber’s opuses in strict chronological order, finding biographical clues in the music to tell the story of his life in a non-linear narrative. While committing mainly to be a work of art, this film’s core is research and biographical accuracy, up to the standards of academic dissertation. Barber’s family estate, his biographers, his alma mater, and his famous advocates, have been enthusiastic supporters of the project. Now that it’s ready, I invite you to join this first-ever documentary celebration of the life and music of Samuel Barber.