Michael Wolpe, "Silent Skies: a tribute to Feng-Shan Ho"

Performed by the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra, October 2009

This short work was composed at the request of the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra as a tribute to the memory of Feng-Shan Ho, a Righteous Amongst the Nations who, in his capacity as China’s Consul General in Vienna, saved many Jews on the eve of the Second World War.

The title is based on the poem – “There are Times when the Skies are Silent” by the poet Avraham Halfi: a happy monk, a melancholy clown, a Pisces like me.  I feel great empathy with his unique character and am very attached to his poetry.

After reading Feng-Shan’s biography, I went for an evening stroll on the border of the desert near my home. I was thinking about the silent sky above me and of the great privilege I have to be living in such tranquility. Throughout my life, I have felt grateful to the good people who saved my family and by whose efforts I can now stand here, peaceful and content. That’s when the idea came to me to describe, in musical notes, this calm that follows the storm.

A dramatic, lively segment, which gradually becomes oppressive and discordant, leads to a lamentation for the dead. Up to this point, the music is dedicated to the terrible past, which overshadows our very lives. In a sharp transition, the music now describes the desert sunset in pentatonic scales, close in nature to the Chinese musical scales. In this manner, I tried to express gratitude to the entire Chinese nation, many of whose sons took part in saving Jews during that terrible period.

At the end of the composition, a song of gratitude rises out of the calm, in tribute to the people who - like Feng-Shan Ho - saved us. It is to their merit that I can observe the wonderful sight of the desert sunset and read to myself the lovely, stirring poem of Avraham Halfi:

There are times when the skies are silent
More than water or stone
Or a thought in twilight’s shadow.
The world flows past in its mists

Another day, another generation, another eternity
Passes me by
Like a thought in twilight’s shadow.
Because there are times when the skies are very silent