Memories of Samuel Barber

I met Barber only once when I flew home to Fort Worth, Texas to hear the finals of the Van Cliburn Competition (late '70s). The competition had commissioned from him his piano solo called "Nocturne." In our brief exchange, he said that he, along with his mother, had specified in their wills that his "Adagio for Strings" NOT be played at their funerals.

A year or two later, while I was a student at the Curtis Institute, the school produced a day of birthday tribute concerts. The afternoon concert consisted of Ruth Laredo's performance of the Piano Sonata, Orlando Cole's performance of the cello sonata, Rose Bampton's performance of Dover Beach accompanied by the Curtis Quartet and Theodor Uppman singing the three songs, Op. 45. The evening concert, by the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, consisted of the Violin Concerto with Jaime Laredo, "Knoxville: Summer of 1915" sung by Marianne Caisiello (member of the voice faculty) and the School for Scandal Overture. Menotti attended these concerts as well as Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., son of one of the founders of Curtis.

Two days before these concerts, Uppman cancelled and I was asked to replace him.

A year later, Curtis arranged a concert honoring Nellie Lee Bok. I was asked to sing Dover Beach.

About a week before this concert, I got a somewhat frantic call from John de Lancie, the director of Curtis, telling me that Barber had died and Menotti had requested that I sing Dover Beach at the funeral the following day in Westchester, PA. Though I and the string quartet had already worked on Dover Beach for the Bok tribute, we arranged a quick coaching with Felix Galimir.

The small church in Westchester, PA was only two thirds full. The only "names" in the congregation were Menotti, pianist John Browning and a representative from Barber's publisher, G. Schirmer. A small chorus from Westminster Choir College also performed.

At the wake, I was introduced to Menotti. He put his hands on my shoulders and said "You sounded just like Sam!".

At the graveside, I saw a few people reach into paper grocery bags and hurl something onto the casket but I didn't hear anything land.

The next day, I spoke with Mary Lou Falcone who at the time was the press representative for Curtis. She asked me if they threw croutons on his grave. Though I couldn't say for sure, I told her they must have. Apparently, Barber had expressed this wish to someone and it was indeed fulfilled.