Stephen Barber turns back time (to Cher)

Recently we stopped by the South Austin studio of composer, arranger and all-around music master Stephen Barber for a photo shoot.

Next week is the premiere of “Taliesin,”  Barber’s  suite for a  nine-piece chamber ensemble based on the life and work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Look for our story on Barber and his music.

A native of West Texas, Barber migrated to Austin the early aughts after 25 year career in New York and Hollywood, where he collaborated with luminaries such as David Byrne, Keith Richards, Kosta Kolev, Natalie Merchant Ornette Coleman, Gilberto Gil — as well as the London Symphony Orchestra and the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra.

Barber was inducted in the Austin Music Hall of Fame in 2004.

“Music and architecture both make sculpture out of air,” said Barber with his mellifluous West Texas accent when asked what inspired him to compose a piece about the iconic American architect.

“Taliesin” premieres June 24 as part of  Revel’s annual Solstice Festival.

Revel is among the indie chamber group in Austin shaking things up. Their credo: “We’re not sure who invented the rule that you have to sit up straight in prim rows, formal clothing, and complete silence to hear classical music. But it doesn’t apply here.


Stephen Barber in his South Austin studio with American-Statesman photographer Jessalyn Tamez.

Barber’s studio is filled with the items of a richly creative and well-lived career.

Family photos from his childhood in Abilene, Texas (he is first cousin to novelist John Grisham) nestle with odd items from his days in the throes of New York’s downtown music scene in the 1970s and 1980s.

Among his most treasured objects is a faded framed color photograph from 1967. Thanks to a family connection, the 15-year-old Barber (pictured far right) and his cousin got to go to the premiere of “Good Times,” a musical comedy film starring Sonny and Cher.

“I was so in love with Cher at the time,” recalls Barber, eyes lighting up. “I even dug through the ashtray to save her cigarette butts. She smoked Chesterfield filters.”

Stephen Barber (pictured far right) in 1967 with Sonny and Cher. Barber’s cousin is pictured far left.



Barber recorded his 2012 CD Astral Vinyl in Austin at Church House studios with an all-Austin line-up of musicians.

Here’s “Les Mots” featuring Tosca String Quartet.

Author: Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the arts critic for the Austin American-Statesman. She writes about visual art, theater, dance, music, performance, public art, architecture and just about any combination thereof.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s