Why this film and why now?
Since 1988, the year Robert Shaw took the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus on a grand European tour, I have wanted to initiate a documentary about the incredible legacy of a man who touched countless lives through his passion for great music. I was a member of the ASO chorus and our first concert on that tour was in East Berlin, a city long divided by the hated Berlin Wall. The concert featured Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and was a life-changing event for most in attendance, musicians and audience alike. The audience experienced the profound impact of Beethoven’s powerful message - ‘All people will be brothers’ - just more than a year before the Berlin Wall would be torn down by the German people.
Shaw, as always focused on the heart of the composer’s intent, brought real and palpable hope to his listeners. They, in turn were riveted as one, responding collectively with tear stained faces. At the conclusion of this matinee the audience exploded with countless rounds of cheers, whistles, shouts, and foot stomping, all quite uncharacteristic of German concertgoers. Once the orchestra and chorus exited, Shaw returned repeatedly to an empty stage, the musically sophisticated crowd unrelenting, and unwilling to let him go. He did that day what he did over and over again, which was to change his sliver of the world with his music. The power of this man needs to be captured on film, I thought then. And here we are, 25 years later.
The lessons Robert Shaw has to teach us are important ones, particularly to a 21st century individual who lives in a world of fast everything. Shaw’s approach is studied, detailed, and exceptionally thorough. He revisits and studies at length every score, no matter how many times he has conducted the piece, knowing that he can learn even more from it. He communicates exceptionally in rehearsals, every aspect of what he has learned in his study, and then bathes his chorus in weekly letters, providing his singers with graduate level analysis, insight, technical tips, and references to the worlds of art, literature, religion, and philosophy. With him, we learn and grow and learn some more. He is indefatigable. And all this from a man without a sheepskin from any music school or conservatory, with virtually no musical training, a phenomenon hard to grasp. His genius and tremendous talent, along with his incredibly hard work, have made Robert Shaw something of a household word, a giant in the world of the musical arts.
With this film, we examine the mystery of the man, and the tremendously vibrant and unforgettable music he brought to our world.