March 2008

Malcolm Goldstein & AIMToronto Orchestra
March 9, 2008 Somewhere There Toronto
Expressing The Insurmountable
Report and photo
by Tom Sekowski

It is with a large amount of trepidation that I approach talking about Malcolm Goldstein’s concert. In part, I could attribute my hesitance to the fact that last Sunday was my first opportunity to witness this legend live on stage. Another part of me is still stunned at what I observed and words will ultimately fail me. Violinist/composer, co-founder of the Tone Roads Ensemble, Goldstein has been a powerhouse on the new music scene since the 60’s. His radical improvisations have shaken the new music world and in some circles, have turned it on its head. But it’s not the past I’m concerned with, for Goldstein is about the here and now, which is what this concert was all about.

Though he has worked on two newer pieces he presented for a long stretch of time, he was still able to live in the moment. One of those pieces was entitled “Walls”. He went on to explain about the concept of walls and about how it’s a disturbing one to him — whether it’s physical walls that countries build around their territories or walls that people put up to protect themselves from others. He incorporated a Balkan folk piece about a young bride being imprisoned by her older husband. The piece went through a number of phases to arrive at a narrated story of a long lost friend Kazim, who was apparently killed or maimed or perhaps lost in the Middle East. As Goldstein told the tale by striking the strings of his violin in a somewhat violent manner, one got a clear picture of Kazim and his life. Purposefully under-whelming, Joe Sorbara played some light percussive taps on the skin of his djembe, as Goldstein told his tale of loss. As I tried to stop the tears that welled up in my eyes, I began to shake my head and thought to myself, there’s no way I’ll allow music to infiltrate me in such a personal manner.

Next set of pieces were four Hardscrabble Songs. Taken from a fine album from a few years back, these songs tell stories of hardship and the human condition through the realm of Goldstein’s violin and vocalizing. This was the most intense and direct portion of the program. Equalized with generous amounts of arco and pizzicato plucking, Goldstein conveyed stories of stock-markets, social problems and human suffering. His indescribable spewing out of words (most were grunts or soft humming sections) added to the drama. Within the space of a few moments, his violin transformed from a monster into a lamb.

The final piece of the night was a new one, and firmly kept the violin in the gentle-lamb mode. For about half an hour, Goldstein kept producing placid arco movements across the strings. The pitch shifted gently and the mood was nothing but calming and overtly serene. In fact, when I scoured the front row, every one of the audience members had their eyes shut. Were they all tired or did the violin hold them tightly in trance mode? Very lulling piece, one that I wished was drawn out for another half an hour.

Following a brief intermission, AIMToronto Orchestra positioned itself on stage to perform two Malcolm Goldstein pieces. The first one had an Inuit theme — “Qernerâq; our breath as bones”. In an almost supernatural manner, the members of the fourteen piece Orchestra held back. Instead of a forward moving momentum, there was a definite sign of stalling. Under the leadership of saxophonist Kyle Brenders, members of the Orchestra maintained a slow-moving pattern of individual notes. These passages of instrumental and vocal procrastination were held for what seemed like hours on end. You could see each player hold their breath as they read the score, while reading the leader’s facial gestures for clues as to the direction they would go in next. With no climax to speak of, the piece ended in a simple sigh.
Malcolm Goldstein

The final piece of the night was another Malcolm Goldstein composition, “Two Silences”. Again, each member held their breath and the turtle-pacing of the momentum ensured that no peak was ever climbed. It was enthralling to watch individual members hold their breaths in anticipation of what was to come. The entire brass section played an intense section that matched precisely what the string section was doing on the far right side of the room. That never seen orgasm that we were all waiting for actually began at the beginning of the performance. In order to make aural pleasure last all that much longer, it was simply prolonged through the duration of the show.

It was a masterful performance by a group of musicians that should have more people taking note outside of Toronto. Though I do regret I missed Saturday night’s performance of Yosha’s “Morning Song”, this night was remarkable in itself. In having Malcolm Goldstein visit our city for a three night series, he was given ample opportunity to perform in a number of contexts. Without a doubt, an early contender for concert of the year.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Tom Sekowski
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