Dr Charles Barber

Conductor, Artistic Director 2006-2023

Charles began piano at six, violin and trumpet at ten, at age 14 wrote a piano concerto, and at 15 conducted an orchestra. The following year he wrote his first film score, and first musical.

He has since earned a Bachelor of Music, University of Victoria; Master of Arts, Stanford; and, Doctor of Musical Arts, Stanford. His graduate work concentrated on CPE Bach, Ziloti, Rachmaninoff, and Messiaen.

Dr Barber’s teachers include Carlos Kleiber, Andor Toth, George Corwin (conducting); Jaroslav Karlovsky, Bernard Zaslav (viola); Boris Zarry, Paul Kling (violin); Frona Colquhoun (piano); Leonard Ratner, Leland Smith (analysis); George Houle (early music); and Marty Paich (arranging).

Carlos Kleiber was among the greatest conductors of the century. Dr Barber studied with him from 1989 to Mr Kleiber’s death in 2004, receiving more than 200 letters, faxes, postcards and cartoons from him during their 15-year correspondence.

In 2009 he participated in a BBC Radio 3 essay on the life and art of Carlos Kleiber, together with Plácido Domingo, Christine Lemke-Matvey, and Sir Peter Jonas, available at  www.mediafire.com/?wn4lnykyqkk With Dame Felicity Lott, Thomas Hampson, Sir Peter Jonas, and Sir John Tooley, he was heard in a documentary about Kleiber produced by Jon Tolansky in 2014. It appears in 'Carlos Kleiber Complete Orchestral Recordings' with the Vienna Philharmonic (Deutsche Grammophon).

Dr Barber’s operatic and concert repertoire numbers some 230 works, and includes music of Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, Gilbert & Sullivan, Bernstein, Haydn, Handel, Messaien, Ravel, and principal composers of the Silver Age in Russia. Barber’s mentors in opera were Carlos Kleiber and Sir Charles Mackerras; his apprenticeship included Semele and Der Rosenkavalier (San Francisco Opera), and Makropoulos Case and Otello (Metropolitan Opera).

Barber has conducted in Canada and the United States, and on tour in South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Morocco and Spain. His popular repertoire includes Fledermaus, Merry Widow, Countess Maritza, Guys and Dolls, West Side Story, Most Happy Fella, Fanny, Merrily We Roll Along, Orpheus in the Underworld, Man of La Mancha, Crazy for You, and Kiss Me Kate.

For ten years he was assistant to Los Angeles composer and arranger Marty Paich on recordings with Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon and Mel Tormé, and on the films  Prince of TidesAlive, Flatliners, Grand CanyonDaveThe Fugitive, and Wyatt Earp. Barber has also conducted for Stan Getz, Dan Hicks, Weslia Whitfield, Francis Ford Coppola, and Sarah Vaughn.

He has been published by Oxford University Press, Cambridge UP, Yale UP, Greenwood Press, and Carnegie Hall, and authored or co-authored 90 entries in New Grove. His book Lost in the Stars: The Forgotten Musical Life of Alexander Siloti, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2002. Through Carl Fischer, he released The Alexander Siloti Collection:  Editions, Transcriptions, and Arrangements. Marking the 150th anniversary of its founding, Lost in the Stars was translated and published in Russian by the Moscow Conservatory of Music in 2016.

Barber's book, Corresponding With Carlos: A Biography of Carlos Kleiber, first released by Rowman & Littlefield in 2011, appeared in paperback in 2014. In 2015 it was published in Korean, with an Italian edition released by il Saggiatore of Milan in 2020. The Guardian called the book "astonishing", and BBC Music Magazine "fascinating".

Dr Barber served as Music Advisor to the BBC in its award-winning film documentary set, The Art of Conducting. While a Visiting Assistant Professor at Stanford, he launched the Stanford Archive of Conductors on Film:  over 2000 hours of 300 conductors in rehearsal, concert and opera, from 1896 to the present. 

He has also served as producer for Naxos Records. In 1997 he created American Classics, a series that now has over 300 CDs in release. Ten years later he created Canadian Classics, a series that launched in 2011 and surveys Canadian art music from 1800 to the present.

Barber has helped invent ten new operas. In 2012 he conducted the world premiere of Fallujah, with music by Tobin Stokes and libretto by Heather Raffo. It has now also received three American productions. Barber conceived City Opera’s first commission, Pauline, with an original story and libretto by Margaret Atwood. In 2014 he led its first performance in a run of five sold-out nights at the York Theatre in Vancouver, and in 2015 its first performance in Québec. He led construction and premiere of The Lost Operas of Mozart (2016), the commission of Missing (2017),  the Vancouver premiere of Nigredo Hotel (2018), the world premiere of Berlin:  The Last Cabaret (2020) and the commission of Chinatown (2022).

He also conceived and led production of The Festival of Contemporary (2020-), and City Opera Online (2021-).


“I never write letters of recommendation, so this is an exception. Charles Barber is a scholar and a conductor who adores and understands music. We have become friends, and he pretends to believe that I have taught him something.”

~~~ Carlos Kleiber, 1997


“I will go quite far around the block for Charles, because he works for nothing,” remarks Atwood, explaining why she decided to collaborate with a little-known organization based on the other side of the country. “He’s completely dedicated to making operas. You rarely encounter anybody quite like that.”

~~~ Margaret Atwood, 2014