Van Opstal, 82, scholar, broadcaster of music

November 16, 1995|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Jacob van Opstal, whose deep appreciation of classical music inspired students and radio listeners on three continents, died Saturday of heart failure at Charlestown Retirement Center. He was 82.

With his Vandyke beard and more than passing resemblance to Pan, the pipe-playing god of forests, flocks and herds, Mr. van Opstal taught music in Baltimore public schools and was a professor of music at the old Baltimore Junior College, now Baltimore City Community College.

Before coming to Baltimore, Mr. van Opstal played the clarinet with classical musical groups in Europe and South Africa.

He was active in the Dutch underground during the Nazi occupation of World War II and opposed apartheid in South Africa.

He joined Baltimore Junior College in 1965 as associate professor of music and the next year became the first conductor of the Baltimore Junior College Community Symphony Orchestra, featuring players whose ages ranged from 12 to 70.

Known as Jaap, Mr. van Opstal was born in Holland and began studying music when he was 8. He graduated from Koninklijke Muziek Conservatorium in the Hague, with a diploma in clarinet and piano.

"In a strange twist of events in 1937, he was asked by the celebrated Toscanini to substitute for the first clarinetist of the Residentie Orchestra, who had taken ill," said his son, Eric van Opstal of Huntingtown, Calvert County.

"His performance as solo clarinetist so impressed the world-famous conductor that he was contracted to complete the remaining series of concerts and to play the next year," the son said.

He also played under conductor Bruno Walter and was a member of the Hague Wind Quintet.

In 1946, he emigrated to South Africa, where he helped found the Johannesburg City Orchestra and became a well-known soloist at symphony concerts and radio artist. He was also a member of the Johannesburg Reed Trio, the Lyra Quartet, the Johannesburg Municipal Orchestra and the Johannesburg Promenade Orchestra.

It was while he was in Johannesburg that he began teaching music theory, instrumental and choral music in city schools. He also devoted much of his spare time to teaching African Bantu choir and instrumental students.

His political views and opposition to apartheid, however, made him unwelcome in South Africa, and he immigrated to Baltimore with his family in 1961.

He taught clarinet at the Peabody Preparatory Conservatory of Music. His music appreciation programs were broadcast throughout the area over WBAL and WBJC, where he was host of "An Hour With," in the mid-1970s.

A memorial service is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. today in the chapel at Charlestown, 713 Maiden Choice Lane, Catonsville.

He is survived by his wife of 52 years, the former Lieneke van Leeuwen; two daughters, Marijke Agius of Westminster and Josseline Croft of Medford Lakes, N.J.; and three grandsons.

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