By Carl Zebrowski
Editor of Hakol
The composer Wu Fei will discuss the WWII-era Jewish community of Shanghai that inspired her 2019 composition “Hello Gold Mountain” at Lehigh University’s Zoellner Arts Center on February 8. This private audience with the community will conclude with a sneak peak at a rehearsal with Fei on Chinese zither, Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz on oud and an ensemble from the Lehigh University Philharmonic in preparation for the February 11 performance of the work.
The companion events are presented in a partnership between the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley and the Zoellner Arts Center. The February 8 program was originally scheduled to take place in a slightly different format at the JCC, and free bus round-trip transportation is being provided from the JCC to Lehigh’s campus for the free event (see details at the end).
The Jewish community of Shanghai was made up of refugees escaping Europe after the Nazis came to power. By the end of the 1930s, China was at war with Japan, and Japan held Shanghai. In 1941, the Japanese rounded up the Jews into a one-square-mile ghetto.
Conditions were harsh, with some 10 people to a room, poor sanitation, and not enough food and few jobs. Some Jews joined the resistance movement, working as informants and carrying intelligence, performing minor acts of sabotage and helping downed Allied airman.
Eventually, the most of the Jews left. Many ended up in San Francisco.
Fei, born in Beijing and trained in the city’s China Conservatory of Music, learned about the Shanghai community in 2006, when she discovered a documentary in a library after moving the United States. “When I watched ‘Shanghai Ghetto,’ I probably used a whole box of tissues to wipe my tears,” she said. “I was stunned by how profound this history was, at the same time puzzled by why it was never mentioned or taught to us in China nor the United States.”
She wondered what might have been if the community had remained in China, if its Jewish folk music had a chance to filter through the local folk music to form something new. “‘Hello Gold Mountain’ is my attempt to write music that I think could have come out of the fascinating cultural possibilities of the Jewish presence in Shanghai,” she said.
The foundation was in place for exciting things to happen in Shanghai, she said. “If the Jewish community stayed, also assuming China didn’t have the civil war (which was intermittent through the end of the 1940s), the Jewish community of Shanghai would be a center of education, arts and science, businesses, fashion and cuisine in the world.”
What about the music itself? “It would have been incredibly fun and vibrant,” she said, “lots of singing, lots of string and piano playing together, lots of woodwind and reeds playing, lots of dancing, lots of jamming and improvising together, and lots of new orchestral works.”
The February 8 program at the Zoellner center was moved from the JCC to accommodate Fei’s hectic rehearsal schedule in getting ready for the February 11 performance. Admittance to our private reception on February 8 is free. Register at jewishlehighvalley.regfox.com/hello-gold-mountain-wu-fei-2823.
The bus will leave the JCC for Zoellner at 5:45 p.m. (please arrive at 5:30) and return to the JCC after the program ends. Attendees can also go straight to Zoellner, to arrive by 6:15.
The full performance of “Hello Gold Mountain” will happen on Saturday, February 11, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 (free for Lehigh students). Call 610-758-2787 or visit zoellnerartscenter.org for tickets.