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German Goldenshteyn: A Living Tradition

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Photo by David Kaufman

German Goldenshteyn
1934 - 2006

It is with deep sorrow that we inform you that our good friend, Moldavian klezmer clarinetist, German Goldenshteyn died Saturday morning, June 10.  He was 71 years old. German was the essence of the Living Tradition.  He taught his amazing repertoire of klezmer melodies, most never before heard here in America, to the younger generation of musicians with a modesty and pride that belied his virtuosity.  

It is now yet more poignant that at the last KlezKamp, German recorded a CD of his melodies with a group of KlezKamp faculty which, ironically, was due to be released officially in the next week.  It is a small comfort now that German was able to see the CD, "German Goldenshteyn: A Living Tradition" and to hear the results of that boisterous set of recording sessions. 

"From the Repertoire of German Goldenshteyn"

A collection of transcriptions of 100 bulgars, freylakhs, hongas, khosidls and zhokuls from German Goldenshteyn's unique repertoire. Includes all the melodies on the German Goldenshteyn: A Living Tradition CD.  For Bb instruments.
(Please Note: A C book is in the works.)

Now available at our online store.

Also available at our online store:

KlezKamp 2006:  German Goldenshteyn Memorial Concert  December 25, 2006 – Two CDs

Live recording of a very special concert by the musicians featured on German Goldenshteyn: A Living Tradition, the CD recorded at KlezKamp 2005:  Aaron Alexander, Josh Horowitz, Mark Rubin, Hank Sapoznik, Cookie Segelstein and Susan Watts, under the direction of Alex Kontorovich, joined later by other KlezKamp faculty.

Di Grine Katshke

Over four days at the 2005 KlezKamp, master Moldavian klezmer clarinetist German Goldenshteyn, together with a hand-picked rhythm section of today’s greatest Yiddish musicians, sat down and recorded 20 tunes from his staggering collection of over 800 bulgars, freylakhs, horas, khosidls and sirbas. German Goldenshteyn's brilliant command of an old world klezmer sound and repertoire thought lost makes him the 21st century Dave Tarras, Naftule Brandwein, or Shloimke Beckerman.

German Goldenshteyn: clarinet
Aaron Alexander: poyk
Josh Horowitz: accordion
Alex Kontorovich: clarinet
Mark “Rubinchik” Rubin: tuba
Henry “Hank” Sapoznik: tenor banjo
Cookie Segelstein: fiddle
Susan Watts: trumpet
Engineered by King Django

Songs (click to hear excerpt)

  1. Concert Freylakhs
  2. Hora
  3. Garofitsa
  4. Betuta din Yaloveny
  5. Jewish Hora
  6. Zhokul Rezeshilor
  7. Bulgars Medley
  8. Khosidl
  1. Moldavian Freylakhs
  2. Gypsy Hora
  3. Sirba
  4. Polka
  5. Wedding Hora
  6. Freylakhs Medley
  7. Russian Medley
  8. Tserenkutsa

Ladies and gentlemen, this CD is the product of the sheer joy, enthusiasm, and fun that can only come from cutting short lunches and dinners for four intense days, and sneaking into a hotel room with some of the world's greatest klezmorim to just sit, roll tape, and play. And I mean "play" in every ear-to-ear-grinning, schoolyard-giddy sense of the word.

Yes, it was at the 21st annual KlezKamp festival in the Catskills that eight brave souls volunteered their precious time to pay homage to a true living master - klezmer clarinetist German Abramovich Goldenshteyn. Scheduling recording sessions around our teaching duties (read: in lieu of meals) we commandeered a room closed for repairs and set up our makeshift recording studio (so makeshift, in fact, that when Cookie's violin needed more isolation – we moved her into the bathroom!)

Just listen to Hank's banjo act as a snare drum to Aaron's poyk, or how Susan's trumpet trades licks with Cookie's fiddle and Josh's accordion. No. Listen to the moment in "Tserenkutsa" (Track 16) when Rubinchik's tuba stinger catches German off-guard and triggers his helpless laughter. (What's really great is that, after some vodka and lunch at German's place in Sheepshead Bay, I played him the rough mix and he laughed at exactly the same point, in exactly the same way. "Oh, that Marik," he said as he giggled and shook his index finger.)

By no means shall I attempt to provide a full biography of the guest of honor, but for the uninitiated, German Goldenshteyn brings with him a repertoire and a performance style missing in American klezmer music. Born in 1934, he lost his parents in the Holocaust and after the war, he and his siblings entered an orphanage in Odessa. As a young man, German successfully auditioned for the army band school, after which, he spent 10 years playing in military orchestras and completing his service.
German later studied at a technical institute in Kiev, earning an engineering degree, and became a machinist in the town of Mohyliv-Podilskyi in Moldavia. It was there that he met some older musicians at a Jewish wedding, and had another life-changing audition: the clarinetist of the wedding band handed him his horn and commanded, "play." As a result, from the mid 1950's until he came to the United States in 1994, German played thousands of simchas. He learned melodies quickly, but found he could not retain too many simultaneously. So, every time he learned a new song, he would write it down so as not to forget it. Over time, German managed "not to forget" more than 800 melodies, most of which have never been heard on this side of the pond. The 20 songs we present here make up one-fortieth (!) of German's repertoire, all of which will be published in new editions as part of our ongoing documentation of German's unique catalog of music.

On the topic of the recording, I have a few remarks. Though two clarinetists are credited, almost all of the time you are listening exclusively to German. What you are hearing is live in the purest sense: no rehearsing, no arranging, no overdubbing, and, at most, two or three takes on any tune (to be fair, an "garrangement," as well as a chord progression, would materialize by the second take). German's breathtaking phrasing, time placement, improvisations and variations in navigating the melody, remind me of the great clarinetist Sid Beckerman, with whom I also had the great privilege of studying at KlezKamp, and who also received most of his training on the bandstand. In fact, Sid's great recording "Klezmer Plus!" was recorded very much the same way we did ours.

We hope this recording will bring you some of the joy that playing German's music has brought us; and that it will bring German some of the recognition he deserves. – Alex Kontorovich

I have great admiration and respect for Aaron Alexander, Josh Horowitz, Alex Kontorovitch, Mark Rubin, Henry Sapoznik, Cookie Segelstein, and Susan Watts and cannot thank them enough for their beautiful playing and hard work on this project. None of this would have been possible without the generous support of KlezKamp, Living Traditions, and Henry's hard work in both organizations. I must thank Jeff ("King Django") Baker for the wonderful job in recording us, and Alex for his tireless efforts in producing this album. An enormous amount of thanks is due to my good friend Michael Alpert, who was instrumental in my becoming known in this musical community. He took me and my repertoire to many festivals and concerts, from KlezKanada and the New England Conservatory to places like Toronto, Poland, and of course, all over the New York area. Lastly, I wish to thank my loving wife, Mina, for granting me permission to attend KlezKamp.

— German Goldenshteyn (Translated from Russian by Alex Kontorovich)

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