A star-studded assemblage of performers will descend upon Atlanta’s Symphony Hall this Sunday afternoon to perform a gala recital in support of “Robert Shaw — Man of Many Voices,” a documentary film project about the life, music and legacy of Robert Lawson Shaw, former music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Performers for the “Stars Shine on Shaw” event will include ASO Music Director Robert Spano as pianist, cellist Lynn Harrell, sopranos Christine Brewer and Sylvia McNair, mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson and American radio personality Martin Goldsmith –all of whom have donated their time and talents for the celebratory concert.
The film project has attracted the attention and support of individual arts patrons and the engagement of community art institutions such as Georgia Public Broadcasting and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. and is poised to go into full production mode at the beginning of 2014.
ArtsATL spoke with Kiki Wilson, the film’s executive producer, about development of the documentary to date.
ArtsATL: What were the earliest thoughts you had for making a documentary film about Robert Shaw?
Kiki Wilson: At the time of Mr. Shaw’s retirement in 1988, I’d been in the chorus for eight or nine years. We did two nights in New York, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, then got on the plane and went to Berlin. We sang a concert in East Berlin that was a life-changing moment — an unbelievable experience. It was the year before the wall came down. We sang the Beethoven 9th, after we sang Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, and this crowd would not let Mr. Shaw off the stage afterward. In Europe that just doesn’t happen. I think there were nine curtain calls. I came home from that tour and went to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and said, “You must make a documentary about Robert Shaw. The whole story of his life. This man touches people like me like nobody else.”
ArtsATL: It has been a long time since then, but you never really let go of the idea. When were you able to actually begin to engage it as an actual project?
Wilson: It started in January of 2009. I spent 2009 garnering support across the community for doing this. We haven’t exactly approached this project in an orthodox manner. Once I got the nod from some prominent people in town got their sanction that this was a good idea, we filmed some sessions, which you’ve seen in the trailer. Florence Kopleff, who was Mr. Shaw’s alto soloist for some time, Dr. David Lowance who was his personal physician and very good friend, Jimmy Carter, and most recently Alice Parker. We did apply for a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
ArtsATL: Why these particular people among those who were very close to Robert Shaw?
Wilson: There were people who were compromised by either age or by health, or both. We’ve since lost Florence. The first filming that we did was in 2010. We did Florence and David in 2010, President Carter in 2011 right after our NEH submission, and Alice Parker last year, 2012. But we are not officially in production. We hope to get to that point in the very first part of 2014.
Our goal is to get to national distribution, so the budget for the film is about $900,000, higher than it would be if we were just going regional. This is a typical budget for anything that goes national in the PBS world. We have letters of documentation to address that because some people see that number and sort of stagger. We’ve produced a lot, but we have not gone into official production.
ArtsATL: So what you’ve done to date is created the foundation for the necessary fundraising so the production to begin in earnest this January.
Wilson: The centennial of Mr. Shaw’s birth is in April of 2016. So if we can get enough money in the hopper to really start production at the beginning of 2014 we’ll make that date. We spent enough background time [in pre-production]. I have a film producer, David Druckenmiller, and Georgia Public Broadcasting has added to the mix Pam Roberts, a very accomplished filmmaker [who] recently got a lot of acclaim for a documentary she did on Margaret Mitchell. It went national, so she’s got a lot of credibility. She’s got a music degree from Yale as a pianist. So she’s very excited about Robert Shaw.
ArtsATL: So Sunday’s gala fundraising concert is an important part of making that happen.
Wilson: I will tell you that we are very excited about this gala recital, and to have that quality of performers all raise their hand and say I want to come to Atlanta without fee and perform for an event that will help raise money. It’s going to be the coming out party for the film.