E. Bay attorney commissions new requiem for Daniel Pearl

Richard Goodman was sure of two things: He was deeply moved by the life and death of Daniel Pearl, and he wanted to somehow commemorate the slain Jewish journalist.

That confluence of passions led the Oakland attorney and amateur singer to co-commission a new work from one of the world’s leading composers.

Steve Reich’s “The Daniel Variations” received a U.S. premiere at Carnegie Hall last October, earning rave reviews. The West Coast bow takes place next month in L.A.’s Disney Hall.

But without Goodman, concertgoers would have been left with nothing but the sound of silence. He, along with partners such as Carnegie Hall and London’s Barbican Centre, pooled resources to commission the piece. For Goodman, it was a dream come true, though not the dream he first envisioned.

“Like most Americans and Jews in particular, I was hoping for [Pearl’s] safe return,” recalls Goodman. “I was particularly touched by his final words, [‘I am Jewish, my family is Jewish,’] which his father later interpreted as a coded way of telling his family and the world that they hadn’t broken him.”

In the aftermath of Pearl’s death at the hands of Pakistani terrorists, Goodman conceived of a grand choral work along the lines of the Brahms or Mozart Requiems. Being a member of the Oakland Symphony Chorus, he had long felt the repertoire needed new works along those lines. Honoring Pearl might provide the springboard.

In 2004, Goodman contacted and soon met with Daniel Pearl’s parents, Judea and Ruth Pearl, in Los Angeles. “I wanted to make sure this was something they would be interested in,” he says. “They are wonderful people who suffered the worst loss a parent can suffer.”

From there it was a simple matter of commissioning a piece, something that turned out not to be so simple.

“Having no idea how to commission a work, I just Googled ‘commission composer,'” recalls Goodman, “and I came up with Meet the Composer.”

That New York-based organization matches composers with potential patrons looking for anything from a 5-minute flute solo to a new symphony. Once in conversation with them, says Goodman, it wasn’t long before the name of Steve Reich came up.

Reich has long been the dean of modern American composers, widely known for his experiments with tape loops and his hyper-percussive style. But for the mostly Mozart set, Reich’s music is an acquired taste.

“I was not an aficionado of that music,” says Goodman, “but he was one of the few contemporary composers I knew. When I talked to Heather Hitchens [of Meet the Composer], Reich was at the top of her list. She felt the composer should be Jewish, and Reich is a practicing Orthodox Jew. It was important this be done by someone for whom it was not just a commission but something that truly resonated, and that was the case with [Reich].”

The timing was perfect, since Reich was about to be feted for his 70th birthday. Carnegie Hall wanted to commission a new work for the occasion, and ultimately teamed with Goodman and Barbican to pay the $70,000 fee. Normally, commissions for major composers must be lined up years in advance, but the Daniel Variations took less than year.

The 25-minute 4-movement piece is scored for pianos, strings, clarinets, vibraphone, percussion and a small ensemble of singers. The text is drawn from the biblical Book of Daniel and the words of Pearl himself (“My name is Daniel Pearl,” uttered moments before his murder).

Explains Goodman, “With any composer I wouldn’t have felt qualified to interject myself, but one thing we did want was that at least some of the lyrics be the words of Daniel Pearl.”

The piece had its world premiere in London, followed soon after by the Carnegie Hall debut. Goodman was there.

“It was touching and awe-inspiring,” he remembers. “The audience was full of wildly enthusiastic Steve Reich aficionados, so everything got standing ovations. It was well reviewed in a number of publications.”

Goodman still wants to create a large choral work in Pearl’s honor. Now that he’s been around the block as an official patron of the arts, he may be closer than ever to that goal. Meanwhile, he couldn’t be happier with the musical fruits of his labor.

“It’s deeply satisfying to feel I was even remotely involved in the creation of a work of art,” he says. “I hope it will be an enduring one, particularly since it’s intended to help keep alive the memory of this wonderful and tragically shortened life.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.