Barber’s compositions whisper unspoken truths

Canadian Creativity 2012

Lesley Barber never intended to be a composer for film and television.

Her early works came out of the Toronto theater and classical scenes, but after being asked to score Patricia Rozema’s 1995 “When Night Is Falling,” her one-off detour soon became a full-fledged career.

“Part of the job of the composer is to say the lines that aren’t in the film, to create an atmospheric link between what is and what isn’t on screen,” Barber says.

These unseen musical “characters” that Barber creates have added depth and nuance to works across the entertainment spectrum — from the spare classicism of “A Price Above Rubies” to the ornate, yet subtly idiosyncratic “Mansfield Park” and through the much-beloved nostalgia of the animated television series “Little Bear.”

“Lesley’s work is so unique because she composes music that is great to listen to regardless of whether or not you are watching a film,” says director and collaborator Boaz Yakin (“A Price Above Rubies,” “Death in Love”). The stand-alone nature of her work suits her compositions to films that explore intense emotional themes.

Barber recalls writing the score for ‘Mansfield Park” as an “intuitive process” in which she aimed to avoid temporal pastiche by writing “something more modern and immediate.”

As a Canadian film composer, Barber has benefited greatly from her country’s generous film-based tax incentives. Though in recent years, as other countries have introduced like-minded programs, Barber has found herself involved in numerous international co-productions.

“I think part of the new push towards international financing has created this incredible worldwide community of composers where Canadians are sitting right at the table,” Barber says.

Barber, who recently began working on the 10-part Canadian miniseries “The Heretics,” seems to have found her niche in the film world by offering a unique combination of compositional invention and narrative force.

As Yakin says: “This woman is a musician. Her scores can sit on my shelf right beside Philip Glass and John Cage’s pieces and not take a back seat.”

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