The Eulogizer: Composer Daniel Catan and Rabbi Moshe Goldblum

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Read previous columns here

Daniel Catan, 62, opera composer

Daniel Catan, a native of Mexico whose operas drew inspiration from Latin American literature and other sources, died April 9 in Austin, Texas. He was 62. He was in Austin as a visiting artist at the Butler School of Music of the University of Texas.

Catan’s latest opera, "Il Postino," was adapted from the Oscar-winning1994 film of the same name, which had been based on a novel about a letter carrier who learns about poetry and love from his friend, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. The opera received its world premiere in 2010 at the L.A. Opera and co-starred Placido Domingo as Neruda.

Catan said last year that the subject matter of the opera, as with all of his work, was “the place that love and art hold in the context of our lives. Love and art are the vehicles to self-realization as a human being in the full sense of the word." The Los Angeles Times praised the work’s "rich instrumental colors." L.A. Opera Chairman Marc Stern said Catan’s death was a "terrible loss."

“Il Postino” made its Houston premiere the weekend Catan died, and its final performance at the University of Houston’s Moores Opera Center was dedicated to the composer’s memory. He had been expected to attend one of the performances.

Catan’s “lyricism was outstanding and was so natural," said David Ashley White, director of the Moores School of Music. "To my ears, ‘Il Postino’ was his best work – and as it now turns out, it will be a fitting tribute to him and his immense expressive abilities." 

A prior work, "Florencia en el Amazonas," was inspired by the efforts of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was the first Spanish-language opera commissioned by a major American company. It premiered in Houston in 1996 and also was performed in Los Angeles.

Catan, who lived in Pasadena, Calif., was in Texas with a commission from the Butler School to adapt Frank Capra’s 1941 film classic "Meet John Doe" as an opera. In an interview last week, Catan said he was midway through the work, which had been scheduled to premiere in the fall of 2012.

Daniel Moos, a professor at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif., where Catan taught, said Catan was excited about the new work, even as “Il Postino” was still being performed.

“It struck me as the perfect Daniel Catan moment," Moos said, "because if he wasn’t so humble and incredibly self-effacing, another person would have been self-absorbed in the spotlight of ‘Il Postino’ and he was already energized about the new project.”

Catan became the first Mexican composer to have his work performed in the United States when the San Diego Opera produced "Rappaccini’s Daughter," an opera based on a Nathaniel Hawthorne story, in 1994.

Catan was born in Mexico City of mixed Sephardic and Russian heritage. He studied philosophy at University of Sussex and music at University of Southampton. He received a doctorate from Princeton University, where he studied with Milton Babbitt, who died in February. Catan received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000.

Moshe V. Goldblum, former Pittsburgh rabbi

Moshe V. Goldblum, rabbi of Pittsburgh’s Beth Shalom Congregation for 24 years, was known as a teacher, pastor and mentor. He died April 3 in Israel.

“He welcomed me warmly and we did lots of things together like Thanksgiving services and conversions,” said Rabbi Alvin Berkun.

“As a rookie and bachelor rabbi coming to Pittsburgh in 1973, I was blessed to have a colleague such as Rabbi Goldblum,” said Rabbi Stephen Steindel, who succeeded Goldblum at Beth Shalom and is now rabbi emeritus. 

Goldblum was a 1949 graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary and came to Pittsburgh from Jacksonville, Fla. He also served congregations in Columbus and Mansfield, Ohio, New York and Baltimore. He was a U.S. Army chaplain from 1945 to 1947.

 

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