American Composers Festival Spotlights ‘Ellis Island’ and Composers Peter Boyer, John Adams, Frank Ticheli
Pacific Symphony’s critically acclaimed American Composers Festival (ACF), led by Music Director Carl St.Clair, enters its 17th year with “Ellis Island”—a meaningful nod to the past, with lessons for the present, fortified by hope for the future. Each year, ACF uncovers a different facet of American music, and in 2017, the Symphony pays tribute to our nation’s historic immigrant experience and the “American Dream” by taking inspiration from the Grammy-nominated work composed by Peter Boyer, “Ellis Island: The Dream of America.” This ambitious blending of narration, projected historical images and orchestral writing highlighting individual immigrants who came to America’s shores between 1910 and 1940 offers a searing, emotionally charged concert experience.
With 40 percent of the U.S. population able to trace their roots through Ellis Island, and with immigration at the forefront of recent news, the Symphony tackles one of today’s most relevant topics. Exploring the impact of an era that defined our nation, ACF honors the hopes and fears of those immigrants in search of a better life. Last performed by Pacific Symphony to a large, enthusiastic audience in July 2005 at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, this will be the first time “Ellis Island: The Dream of America” takes place in the acoustic surroundings of the Segerstrom concert hall. Enhanced by high-profile actors including Michael Nouri, Barry Bostwick and Camryn Manheim, the concert will be recorded by PBS for national broadcast on the acclaimed “Great Performances” series.
On the same program with Boyer’s work, the Symphony pays tribute to two of today’s top contemporary California composers, John Adams and Frank Ticheli. In celebration of Adams’ 70th birthday, the orchestra performs the composer’s “The Dharma at Big Sur,” featuring preeminent electric violinist, Tracy Silverman. The program opens with Ticheli’s jazz-infused “Blue Shades.” The concert, “Ellis Island” takes place Thursday through Saturday, April 6-8, at 8 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. A preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. Concert tickets are $25-$125 (Box Circle, $195); for more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or CLICK HERE. Additionally, Chapman University joins forces with the Symphony to present the Interplay Festival. (For more information, see separate story below.)
“From its opening video images of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island to the final shots of the Statue of Liberty, Peter Boyer’s ‘Ellis Island: The Dream of America’ is a work of rare authenticity and directness. Boyer’s music… does the job with consistent emotional sweep.”— Los Angeles Times
The innovative work is written for actors and orchestra with projected historical images from the Ellis Island archives and presents first-person narrations of seven immigrants who entered the U.S. through Ellis Island during the first half of the 20th century. The spoken texts come from the Ellis Island Oral History Project, a collection of interviews with more than 2,000 immigrants about their experiences immigrating to America, held at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Boyer says: “I found myself deeply moved by the real stories of real people, which are included in ‘Ellis Island,’ spoken in their own words. Over the years, it has been immensely gratifying to me that so many have found ‘Ellis Island’ to be a moving and uplifting experience; and it is my hope that this will be the case with Pacific Symphony audiences.”
Boyer also notes, “The list of composers that have been featured in Pacific Symphony’s American Composers Festival over the years is simply stunning. I am humbled to have my work sharing the program with John Adams and Frank Ticheli, two giants of contemporary American composition. It is both an honor and a thrill. It’s also a fascinating cross-generational program, with composers born in 1947 (Adams), 1958 (Ticheli) and 1970 (Boyer)."
“This ACF explores the various influences on American music and its important voices,” explains Symphony President John Forsyte. “We visit California-based composers with very different compositional approaches. California is home to some of our most distinctive compositional traditions.”