American Classics - Boyer: Ellis Island "Dream of America"

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Naxos celebrates the immigrant experience with the release of Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America, an ambitious work combining spoken word performances of actual Ellis Island immigrant stories with powerful orchestral music. Performed by London’s renowned Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Boyer, this recording features a cast of Oscar-, Emmy-, and Tony-winning actors: Barry Bostwick, Blair Brown, Olympia Dukakis, Anne Jackson, Bebe Neuwirth, Eli Wallach, and Louis Zorich, directed by Tony- and Grammy-winning Martin Charnin.

Boyer fashioned the seven monologues of Ellis Island: Dream of America from interviews in the Ellis Island Oral History Project with actual immigrants who came to the United States between 1910-1940, weaving a dramatic orchestral tapestry around their true stories. The work concludes with a reading of the Emma Lazarus poem The New Colossus (“Give me your tired, your poor…”), an emotionally powerful ending to this celebration of our nation of immigrants.

Ellis Island: The Dream of America was premiered by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra in April 2002 to great acclaim, and its many subsequent performances have also received enthusiastic responses. Gerald Moshell of the Hartford Courant described the first performance as “a searing emotional experience” while Harold McNeil of the Buffalo News described the piece as “at turns, horrifying, whimsical and heart-rending. But it’s always palpably engaging ...”

Peter Boyer is emerging as one of the most successful young American orchestral composers, with nearly 100 orchestral performances of his work to date. In addition to his work for the concert hall, Boyer is active in the film and television industry and is on the faculty of Claremont Graduate University.

The suite is made up of the following sections:

1. Prologue 06:09
2. Words of Helen Cohen, emigrated from Poland in 1920, read by Blair Brown 02:37
3. Interlude 1 01:24
4. Words of James Apanomith, emigrated from Greece in 1911, read by Louis Zorich 02:43
5. Interlude 2 02:07
6. Words of Lillian Galleta, emigrated from Italy in 1928, read by Olympia Dukakis 03:32
7. Interlude 3 01:33
8. Words of Lazarus Salamon, emigrated from Hungary in 1920, read by Eli Wallach 04:16
9. Interlude 4 01:56
10. Words of Helen Rosenthal, emigrated from Belgium in 1940, read by Bebe Neuwirth 04:27
11. Interlude 5 01:01
12. Words of Manny Steen, emigrated from Ireland in 1925, read by Barry Bostwick 04:42
13. Interlude 6 02:24
14. Words of Katherine Beychook, emigrated from Russia in 1910, read by Anne Jackson 02:53
15. Epilogue: "The New Colossus" (Emma Lazarus, 1883), read by all actors 01:50



Peter Boyer's Ellis Island: The Dream of America will not surprise or disappoint anyone looking for a straightforward presentation piece in the American populist vein, à la Copland's A Lincoln Portrait. Indeed, the music is so openly tonal, melodic, and richly orchestrated; the attitude so noble and patriotic; and the subject matter so emotionally compelling, it would be surprising and disappointing if Boyer had not followed Copland's example, and had set these authentic immigrant narratives from the Ellis Island Oral History Project in anything less than an accessible, American vernacular style. Yet it is the texts, not the music, which matter most in this work, and listeners will find the effective but expectedly epic score less absorbing than the absorbing performances by actors Blair Brown, Louis Zorich, Olympia Dukakis, Eli Wallach, Bebe Neuwirth, Barry Bostwick, and Anne Jackson, who deliver the historic accounts with believable characterizations and genuine emotions. Of course, any invocation of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty must include a recitation of Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus," which is passionately read at the work's conclusion by the cast against the stirring, anthemic accompaniment of the Philharmonia Orchestra. Naxos provides excellent sound, though it is fairly loud in places.

– All Music Guide

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8559246

  • UPC: 636943924624

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Peter Boyer

  • Conductor: Peter Boyer

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Philharmonia Orchestra

  • Performer: Anne Jackson, Barry Bostwick, Bebe Neuwirth, Blair Brown, Eli Wallach, Louis Zorich, Olympia Dukakis