‘Golems’ in G-Minor
Novelist Thane Rosenbaum and klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals will appear at the 92nd Street Y March 5 for a performance of the music that helped inspire Rosenbaum’s 2002 novel, “The Golems of Gotham” (now out in paperback from Harperperennial). Svigals, a founding member of the Klezmatics, will play Ariel, the book’s 14-year-old street-performing violin prodigy, whose soulful renditions of Old World melodies magically awaken the golems.
Functioning as a kind of tag team, Rosenbaum will read a selection from the book in which Ariel is playing the violin, followed by Svigals performing the music being played in that scene. All musical selections will be drawn from the novel, including — as the centerpiece — “The Invitation to the Dead,” a tune that was played at the graveyards of Jewish parents, inviting them to their children’s weddings. Rosenbaum told the Forward that he first heard the solo violin piece, in a recording by Svigals, while writing “Golems.” He felt that “the authentic sounds of the Romanian forests and the Carpathian Mountains” — as distinguished from the “kitschy, cheesy ‘Hora’” played at American Jewish weddings — embodied, in their ability to reproduce the “sounds of sobbing grandmothers… the mournfulness and vitality of the Jewish experience,” the novel’s themes of repair and continuity after the Holocaust.
Rosenbaum first met Svigal in 1997 while reviewing her solo album for the Forward. Later, the violinist, who like Ariel had been a sidewalk musician (although Svigals was in college at the time), was helpful to Rosenbaum when he was writing the novel. Frustrated with the inadequacy of words to make this unfamiliar music palpable to his readers, Rosenbaum actually discussed the possibility of including a CD along with the book. Though this didn’t materialize, having Svigal play is the next best thing.
“The novel tells the reader that people in front of Zabar’s are mesmerized by the music of their ancestors,” he said of the scene in which Ariel “places the violin under her chin and brings on the golems.” In the author’s view, performing these “authentic sounds” is not simply an act of preservation, but a means of reintroducing a cultural language that was, for the most part, annihilated.
— ADAM JOACHIM GOLDMAN