Jack Gottlieb, 80, was former music director at Temple Israel

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Jack Gottlieb, former music director of Temple Israel, former assistant to Leonard Bernstein, and a founder of the St. Louis Circle of Jewish Music, died Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011. He was 80 and had resided in New York City in recent years.

“Jack Gottlieb contributed his considerable creative gifts to a broad spectrum of musical endeavor that spans high art, Judaically related, functional liturgical and theatrical musical expression-as well as music criticism and scholarship of popular idioms,” said Neil W. Levin of the Milken Archive of Jewish Music. He added that Mr. Gottlieb described his own music as “basically eclectic,” in the American tradition of Aaron Copland. “(Mr. Gottleib’s) pungent rhythms, inventive harmonic colors, clarity and refreshing directness bespeak a magnificently urban American influence, often also informed by Jewish musical traditions and, where applicable, by the natural sonorities and cadences of the Hebrew language,” said Levin.

Mr. Gottlieb grew up in New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City, and initially played the clarinet in marching bands. In his younger days, he was influenced by American popular music played on the radio, including jazz and Broadway tunes. He later taught himself to play the piano.

Levin noted that Mr. Gottlieb’s “defining moment in his musical development and his Jewish musical awareness came during his summer residences at the Brandeis Arts Institute, a division of the Brandeis Camp Institute in Santa Susana, Calif. where he was mentored and inspired by the highly regarded choral director Max Helfman.” Helfman was described by Levin as “one of the seminal figures in Jewish music.”

Mr. Gottlieb earned his bachelor’s degree from Queens College in New York (part of the City University system), where he studied with Karol Rathaus, whom he also credits for having had a major impact on him. He earned his master’s degree at Brandeis University and his doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In an oral history for the Milken Archive of Jewish Music, Mr. Gottlieb said that it was during that period “when I was bitten by the so-called Stravinsky-Copland bug.”

From 1958 to 1966, Mr. Gottlieb was Leonard Bernstein’s assistant at the New York Philharmonic, and later became publications director of Amberson Enterprises, the Leonard Bernstein Office, which manages the Bernstein musical legacy. At a tribute concert on the occasion of Mr. Gottlieb’s 50th birthday, a gala event was held at the Merkin Concert Hall in New York in which 50 musicians participated, including Bernstein, who hailed Mr. Gottlieb as “one of the most important talents on the American musical scene.”

From 1970 until 1973, Mr. Gottlieb was the musical director of Temple Israel in St. Louis. At Temple Israel, Mr. Gottlieb started and supervised considerable musical programming. He also was among the founders of the St. Louis Circle of Jewish Music, an organization of local cantors and Jewish musical directors.

Also at Temple Israel, Mr. Gottlieb was choirmaster and organist in addition to serving as music director. He was a lecturer, performer and composer of liturgical and secular music, three of which were “Love Songs for Sabbath,” “New Year’s Service for Young People” and “Family Torah Service.” These compositions and others were performed by the Civic Chorus, the Fontbonne College (now University) Chorus, the St. Louis Symphony, the New Music Circle and the St. Louis Circle of Jewish Music. His show, “From Sthtetl to Stage Door,” had its premiere in St. Louis, performed by Circle artists, and later appeared nationwide.

During the 1970s, Mr. Gottlieb was a professor of music at the College of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City.

In 1993, Mr. Gottlieb was the first recipient of the Ahad Ha’am Award from the Center for Jewish Creativity and Culture. He recently had been named as the Leonard Bernstein Scholar-in-Residence by the New York Philharmonic.

There were no immediate survivors. A tribute memorial service in Mr. Gottlieb’s honor will take later this month at Congregation Temple Emanu-El in New York City, where he had been scheduled to speak.