Barrie Gavin

Barrie Gavin (born 10 June 1935) is a British film director.

Barrie Gavin
Barrie Gavin.jpg
Barrie Gavin, 10 June 2005, Cascob, UK. Photo by Dmitri N. Smirnov
Born (1935-06-10) 10 June 1935 (age 85)
London, UK
OccupationFilm director

Early yearsEdit

Barrie Gavin was educated at St Paul's School, and studied history at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge from 1954 to 1957.[1] He joined the BBC as an assistant film editor in 1961. With the opening of BBC Two in 1964 he began to direct programmes principally about music.

In the early years of BBC2 there was regular coverage of chamber music and Gavin learnt his craft with many studio-based productions. His experience in the cutting room led inevitably to the making of film documentaries.

Collaboration with Pierre BoulezEdit

In 1966 his fascination with contemporary music brought him into contact with the French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez. Over the next 40 years they collaborated on a series of analytical documentaries on the founding fathers of 20th-century music: Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Bartók, Stravinsky, Ives, Varese, Messiaen and of course Boulez himself. They made twelve films together:

Portraits of contemporary composersEdit

From the 1970s until the end of the 20th century Gavin specialised in portraits of contemporary composers: Roberto Gerhard, Luciano Berio, Luigi Nono, George Benjamin, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Adams, Sofia Gubaidulina, Aribert Reimann, Toru Takemitsu, Isang Yun, Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Oliver Knussen, Hans Werner Henze and many others.

Films on folk musicEdit

In 1970 Barrie Gavin began to explore folk music with the writer and musician A. L. Lloyd. Together they travelled across the British Isles and visited Romania, Hungary, the United States. The death of A. L. Lloyd in 1984 brought this work to an end.

Years in GermanyEdit

In 1977 Gavin had been invited to Germany to make a film about Kurt Weill. This marked the beginning of a long association with German television, resulting not only in many adventurous documentaries (mainly in Frankfurt for the producer Swantje Ehrentreich) but also in a new area of work, directing concerts for television. To date he has been responsible for some 250 relays of concerts and opera.

Collaboration with Sir Simon RattleEdit

In the 1980s Gavin began a collaboration with the conductor Sir Simon Rattle. They worked on a long series of productions with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The list of films created together includes:

  • 1911 (a trilogy on a crucial year in music)
  • From East to West (a trilogy on the influence of the East on classical music)
  • A Symphony in Time of War (Stravinsky – Symphony in three movements)
  • Young Apollo (the early works of Britten)
  • Carl Nielsen: A Life in six Symphonies
  • Leaving Home (a seven part series on the music of the 20th century)
  • Sinfonia (Luciano Berio)
  • The Middle of Life (Hans Werner Henze)
  • A Romantic Imagination (3-part series on Berlioz)
  • Stockhausen: Gruppen (documentary and performance)

Collaboration with Gerard McBurneyEdit

In 1989 he worked for the first time with the composer and writer Gerard McBurney. They have produced some ten films, many of them on Russian music, including Think Today, Speak Tomorrow and Giving Voice (two films on dissident composers in the Soviet Union) 1990 The Fire and the Rose (Sofia Gubaidulina) 1990 The Face behind the Face (Shostakovich).

In 2006 he began a collaboration with Gerard McBurney and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a series of music documentaries for the internet. They have completed productions on music by Bartók, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Holst Vivaldi, Mussorgsky, Sibelius, Dvořák and Debussy. There were created the following films:

Films on arts and literatureEdit

The vast majority of Gavin's work has concentrated on music, but he has also produced in 1967 a series on classic film directors. In addition there have been films on literature and the visual arts. Among them: Sir William in search of Xanadu (Award of Montreal Festival of Films on Art, 1984) and Images – A History of Early Photography (Award of New York Festival of Films on Art, 1989).

Recent projectsEdit

In 2007 he finished a film, Finding the Music in Croatia, on the composer Nigel Osborne. In 2008 he received an award from International Music Publisher' Association for Services to Contemporary Music. In 2009 he completed a film Towards and Beyond (Jonathan Harvey), a portrait of the composer. In 2010 he made two short films: A Mind of Winter (George Benjamin) and How Slow the Wind (Toru Takemitsu), using music by these composers. He also started work on a continuing series of archival, unedited interviews, mainly with contemporary composers.

Copies of many of Gavin's films on contemporary music have been deposited in the archives of the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel, Switzerland.



  1. ^ 'Cambridge Tripos Lists', Times, 28 June 1957, p.15.

External linksEdit