Laurette Goldberg, pioneer, prime mover and doyenne of early music in the Bay Area, died of heart failure Sunday morning in Alta Bates Hospital where she was undergoing treatment for other conditions. She was 73.
If one woman were to be chosen as outstanding contributor to the Bay Area’s musical life over the past 50 years, it would have to be Laurette Goldberg. Prominent among her achievements was her founding the Philharmonia Baroque in 1981 and guiding America’s first full-time professional and leading early instrument orchestra through its first five seasons. At that point, in 1986, she gave birth to another original inspiration, MusicSources, a center for historical performance in Berkeley that contains a museum of early keyboard instruments, a library of historical performance practice documents and a school focusing on historically informed performance.
Her viewpoint embraced all aspects of the art of early music, with one dominant, overriding idea that these elements be brought together. Mrs. Goldberg insisted that the five ingredients—the devoted listeners, the scholars, the instrument builders, teachers and performers—were essential to an early music community. A founding member of the San Francisco Early Music Society, she was an activist, a magnet drawing the prominent harpsichord builders here, drawing aspiring harpsichordists to her studio at home and of course, through Philharmonia Baroque, creating the institution that made it possible for a corpus of skilled players to come her to work and stay.
Nicolas McGegan, whom she selected to take over the Philharmonia’s podium (it played without a conductor for its first four years), said that Laurette Goldberg “was the only reason why I am in the Bay Area. It was she who invited me to come. I have everything to thank her for. She was the mother of us all in the sense that, along with Alan Curtis, she began the big early music activity here which has flourished so it is one of the two big centers, along with Boston. It was Alan for his scholarship and Laurette through her boundless energy, founding Philharmonia and teaching at the Conservatory, generations of students, and then MusicSources. Her non-stop enthusiasm practically single-handedly created the conditions for early music here. She planted the garden and the flowers have produced a particularly fascinating show. Of Laurette, the most incredible quality was that she could found something like Philharmonia and sort of like a good mother, let it grow up and find its own way.”
Peter Strykers, a Berkeley physician and pianist who became a harpsichordist studying with her, recalled the first inklings of Laurette Goldberg’s Philharmonia Baroque idea. “‘Peter,’ she said, ‘have you ever heard a baroque orchestra live? You know I haven’t either.’” And so just like that, she started it with Strykers as its first president and a board that included the architect Peter Winkelstein and the Honorable Marie Collins, Superior Court judge. “In the beginning all these people (the musicians) came from Holland and we started basically with a Dutch orchestra,” Strykers said, a native of Holland himself. “Her enthusiasm was one thing, her feel for style another. She had a sticker on her car that said ‘Articulate.’ I’ve never forgotten that.”
Gilbert Martinez, artistic director designate of MusicSources, knew the woman he is to succeed since he was 13. Recalling his studies with her at the San Francisco Conservatory, he described yesterday her greatness in “challenging students’ intuitions about pieces. It was all about documenting our intuition, not accepting someone’s word about music.” Just last month, MusicSources produced an event designed to re-create Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig where Bach held his Collegium and its performances. Intended as a fund-raising event, it became in effect the last celebration of Mrs. Goldberg by her friends and colleagues.
Born Laurette Kushner-Cantor in Chicago, she began musical studies at four, made her debut at 12 playing Beethoven’s C major Concerto with a college orchestra. Her first great teacher was Rudolf Ganz at the Chicago Musical College, and later she was to study at Mills College with Egon Petri. Inspired by Wanda Landowska, she took up the harpsichord and by the 1960s, was teaching harpsichord on the instrument the Oakland Symphony’s conductor, Gerhard Samuel, encouraged her to purchase. She was performing with the Oakland Symphony as its keyboard artist and accompanying the Oakland Symphony Chorus. Her next inspiring teacher was Alice Ehlers, then Ralph Kirkpatrick, America’s first scholar/virtuoso harpsichordist.
The most critical influence was probably Gustav Leonhardt, with whom Mrs. Goldberg was to work at length in Holland, and through whom she developed close ties to the other Dutch leaders in early music performance, Franz Brueggen, Anne Bylsma and Jaap Schroeder, relationships that were to shape the nature and style of the early music circle that formed around her. The soprano Anna Carol Dudley recalled Mrs. Goldberg’s passion about Bach during her Oakland Symphony days as a pianist, “learning to play the harpsichord because of that passion. It was wonderful to see the transformation of her keyboard technique when she came back from studying with Gustav Leonhardt." She was an accomplished player, but increasingly turned her attention and energy to teaching and promoting the cause of Baroque music performance. She wrote her own edition of J.S. Bach’s preludes and fugues, J.S. Bach Open Score, The Well-Tempered Clavier.
Through all of her careers, she remained devoted to the audience and to youth. It was only natural then that she served as president of the Junior Bach Festival for several years. In later years she served the American Bach Soloists as advisor, and was still a board member at the time of her death. A former board member of Early Music America, she was awarded the Howard Mayer Award for lifetime achievement in the field of early music by that organization.
Laurette Kushner-Cantor married Solomon Goldberg in February 1954 and they had three children before separating. She is survived by these three children, Daniel, Ron and Raquel, and her second husband, Alan Compher. Members of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra are working with MusicSources, the San Francisco Early Music Society, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to present a tribute and concert in her memory.
This article was first published on the San Francisco Classical Voice website (www.sfcv.org).?