The following is an email* I received from Michael Alpert about German’s passing which expresses a many of the same feelings I have about the man and his contributions, most of which we were only beginning to realize.
With deep, deep grief and a enormous feeling of loss, I am writing to inform you that German Goldenshteyn, master Bessarabian traditional clarinetist died yesterday morning (Sat, June 10), apparently of a sudden heart attack or stroke, just one week short of his 72nd birthday.
At the time, he was engaged in his second favorite social activity -- fishing. If there is any positive dimension to his untimely death, it is that he died doing one of the things he loved best, in the midst of the nature he so treasured, and at the height of public appreciation by colleagues, students and audiences.
As many of you know, German embodied a distinct combination of love, warmth, kindness, humor, irony and playfulness, as well as a street-wise and wryly philosophical attitude toward the world and his fellow human beings. But he was not made of sugar. At times the pain of his devastating early years as child survivor of the Nazi and Romanian Holocaust would well up in him. Tears would pour down his face at the gut-level surfacing of memories he could barely recall, or he could wax fierce and bitter, yet in a way that always passed quickly, like a sudden storm that lashes rain momentarily before giving way again to blue sky and shafts of sun.
He was modest to a fault, but knew exactly who he was, and took gentle pride in his extraordinary diligence at all he undertook -- whether his early years as a machinist turning steel at a lathe at the Kirk Agricultural Equipment Factory, or painstakingly notating and indexing the Jewish, Moldavian, Ukrainian and Russian melodies of his native Dniester Valley, played by him and his fellow musicians -- Jewish, Moldavian, Ukrainian and Rom -- at village and town weddings throughout southwestern Podolia and northern Moldavia.
There is so much to say, there is nothing that suffices. H' teyn v H' kakh. As German would often say: "...vifl yurn got vet mir nor geybn." -- as many years as G-d gives me. Hot tears flow, a smile comes remembering his witticisms and hearty laughter, a huge, sad, empty hole remains that he occupied in our lives. Godammit, why did he have to leave now? There is so much more to do, but there will never again be German to share it all with, to watch the determined look on his face as he played, completely in the moment, to share a joke with in his hearty Bessarabian Yiddish or eloquent Russian or downhome Romanian or Ukrainian or his ever-suprising English, to wrangle with over a turn or articulation, to watch as he patiently and lovingly encouraged young musicians, to lift a glass with and toast lekhayim, to bring us the living spirit of shtetl and village weddings, the mud and the snow and the vodka and the gasoline and the fires burning in the night air...
But he has bequeathed us a legacy of melodies deep and fiery, merry and heartrending, and it is ours now to carry on and play, celebrate, dance to, study, pass on to yet future generations, and tell them that we once knew a German, and he gave us these tunes to make our own...
German Goldenshteyn a"h is his survived by his wife Mina, their daughter, son-in law and grandson Klava, Borya and Alex Rozentul, numerous relatives, neighbors and landslayt (compatriots) in New York, Philadelphia, Vienna, Israel and Ukraine, and an entire community of musical friends and colleagues throughout the world.
*(I’ve edited out the parts where he talks about himself however. God love him, my old friend Michael tends to put himself at the center of attention even at someone else’s funeral.)
Pictured with me and German above is young Alex Kontorovich who not only single handedly produced German's only CD, he was also his most attentive disciple, himself a displaced Russian speaking Jewish clarinetist. Others may claim to have introduced us to German, but it is through Alex that his musical legacy has the most worthy exponent. A man of few words, he shares his thoughts on German as well:
As some of you may know, earlier this year some folks and I recorded a CD with a wonderful musician, husband, father, and grandfather, German Goldenshteyn. He had numbers tattooed on his arm from the war which left him an orphan, and a collection of 800 melodies from his 50 years on the bandstand. I was gearing up to email you all about the release party for his CD (which he had in his hands for a month before his heart attack while fishing two days ago) but today was his funeral. Now I'm not the overly sentimental or melodramatic type, but we lost a real gem. German exemplified how a musician active in the business can float above the everyday bullshit and politics of the industry and always keep in mind that our job is simply to make people happy. I never left his house hungry or sober, and hope the lessons we've all learned from him will stay with us for many years to come.
The show must go on; German wouldn't have it any other way. If you want to learn more about him and listen to clips of his playing, visit:
(Needless to say, the proceeds will be passed along to his wife.)
Our concert of German's music in Poland three weeks from now will go on, just instead of a celebration it will be in memoriam.
My best regards to you all, and my prayers to the Goldenshteyn family,
Alex V. Kontorovich