Wu Fei’s Hello Gold Mountain at Ingram Hall
The most intimate movement of the evening featured Blumenkranz and Fei improvising freely, sharing riffs and melodic thoughts that seemed to connect these instruments of highly disparate cultures, surely a result of Blumenkranz’s experience with the Silk Road Ensemble, nevertheless this remarkable effect proved a powerful message to remind one of shared humanity when cultures clash.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the project, one that Fei began years ago in 2006, was that the ensemble found a local connection to this group. A local woman, Sarah Rose Schiftan gave a reading of Chaim Nachman Bialik’s Take Me Under Your Wing, in memory of her grandmother Edith Schiftan, who was one of those who found refuge in Shanghai. The moment was quite poignant and served to remind us of the real-world consequences of these historically and geographically distant events.
The Sixth Movement “Shanghai Dark Sea,” a slow dirge featuring Fei’s own haunting voice, tremolo strings and Theremin-like bowed pipes, made the sorrow of those “lost possibilities” tangible. Further, Fei ensured that each member of the audience entered into the story through a simple chant that she printed in the program and which the conductor directed the audience to sing, effectively connecting everyone in the room. At the end of the performance, during the pregnant pause before the standing ovation I reflected on what Fei had written about the composition on its dedicated website: https://www.hellogoldmountain.com/about
What musical possibilities were lost because the times did not allow neighbors from these different cultures to grow old together, sharing songs and stories? Similarly, what artistic creations will be lost if Europe and the United States close the door to refugees and migrants from lands in chaos?
It is right and proper that we should consider the past in our decisions regarding the present. With this performance, Chatterbird has done us all a wonderful service in reminding us of that ancient fact. Further, they have also presented a composition whose political and cultural relevance will not soon pass.