Laurette Goldberg, 73, advocate of Jewish Music Fest

Whenever Laurette Goldberg accidentally dropped the sheet music of Johann Sebastian Bach on the floor, she acted just as if she dropped a prayer book; she would carefully pick it up and kiss it, as if it were holy.

“She loved Bach so much, it was like a love story,” said Sylvie Braitman of San Francisco, a French-born Jewish musician who was Goldberg’s student.

Goldberg, a music teacher who was a fixture in the Bay Area Baroque music scene, died of heart failure on Sunday, April 3, in Berkeley. She was 73.

In an interview in the 1990 Jewish Bulletin, she explained her spiritual connection to the music of Bach.

“Standing on the bimah during my bat mitzvah, I knew there was a God because there was a Bach. How he [Bach] got to South Bend, I don’t know.”

Music and Jewish prayer were heavily intertwined, in Goldberg’s mind. “There is an unbroken tradition between the Jewish people and the musician,” she said. “It is a gift to the spirit, a comfort to the soul.”

Born Laurette Kushner-Cantor on Jan. 16, 1932 in Chicago, Goldberg was raised in South Bend, Ind. At age 4, she began piano lessons. By age 9, she was studying privately with a college music teacher, and at 12, she debuted with a college orchestra.

She earned her bachelor’s degree at Chicago Musical College in 1953, and it was there that she was first exposed to the harpsichord, which would become her great love.

Goldberg moved to the Bay Area that same year, to attend Mills College.

In 1954, she married Solomon Goldberg, and they settled in Oakland. They had three children, and eventually divorced.

Over the years, Goldberg worked with the San Francisco Opera and Ballet and the Oakland Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. She taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, U.C. Berkeley, Hebrew University and the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem.

According to a Web site of San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, which Goldberg founded, she was a pioneer in the field of early music.

Goldberg was the founder of both the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra — which grew to be the premier orchestra playing on period instruments — and Berkeley’s MusicSources — a center for early period instruments. She also served as president of the Junior Bach Festival for several years, and was a founder the San Francisco Early Music Society.

She produced an edition of Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” and in 1995 published “The Well-Tempered Clavier of J.S. Bach: A Handbook for Keyboard Teachers and Performers.”

In June 2004, she was awarded the Howard Mayer Brown Award for lifetime achievement in the field of early music by Early Music America.

Goldberg’s influence was also widely felt in the Jewish musical community. While she traveled extensively with her harpsichord, in 1980, she took it to perform in Israel.

“I performed music that had never been performed ever in that land,” she said in 1990. “When European immigrants came to Israel, they had two heroes: Moses and Bach.”

On March 21, 1985, she led the singing of “Yom Huledet Sameach” (“Happy Birthday”) on behalf of Bach at the Israel Museum.

In 1995, she served on the advisory committee of the Berkeley Jewish Music Festival. Until then, the festival had focused mainly on klezmer and folk music, but Goldberg pushed for it to include classical music by Jewish composers.

It was the 10th year of the festival, and she organized “The Jewish Spirit in Seven Centuries of Classical Music,” a program of Jewish musicians playing Jewish composers’ music on Jewish themes. She played the harpsichord with 20 other Jewish musicians in a concert that had some rearranging their schedules, others playing a second performance that same day, and yet others driving from hours away to accommodate her.

In 2000, Goldberg was responsible for the centerpiece of the music festival, Jacques Fromental Halévy’s “La Juive” (The Jewess), the only Jewish opera on non-biblical themes that remains in international repertory.

Ellie Shapiro, the current director of the festival who was co-chair when Goldberg was on the committee, called her a “force of nature.”

Although her diabetes and heart problems had been particularly bad in past years, Shapiro said, “Her love of music kept her alive. I’ve never seen anybody who was such an example of that.”

Goldberg is survived by her husband, Alan Compher; sons Daniel and Ron; daughter Raquel; and nine grandchildren. A memorial tribute concert is being planned. Information: (415) 252-1288.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."