March 16, 2017

PBS Performance of Boyer’s Ellis Island Is “Celebration of Immigration”

Immigrants looking at the Statue of Liberty
Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America celebrates the hopes and experiences of immigrants who entered the United States through Ellis Island between 1910 and 1940. (Photo courtesy of the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration)

Claremont Graduate University Professor of Music Peter Boyer’s Grammy-nominated work Ellis Island: The Dream of America will be produced as a national television program for PBS’s Great Performances series with Orange County’s Pacific Symphony.

Performances scheduled for April 7 and 8 will be filmed for a broadcast debut in the series’ 2017–2018 season, with subsequent broadcasts planned over the next three years. This will be the first-ever national television broadcast from the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, the orchestra’s home.

Considered a major and ambitious work, Boyer’s Ellis Island—through a blend of spoken word, orchestral composition, and projected images—celebrates the hopes and experiences of seven immigrants who entered the United States through Ellis Island between 1910 and 1940. In addition to composing the score, Boyer created the script for the work from stories he selected from the Ellis Island Oral History Project, held at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.

Portrait of Peter Boyer
Peter Boyer, Helen M. Smith Chair in Music

“I found myself deeply moved by the real stories of real people, which are included in Ellis Island, spoken in their own words,” said Boyer, CGU’s Helen M. Smith Chair in Music. “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.”

The performances serve as the centerpiece of the symphony’s 2017 American Composers Festival, scheduled for April 6 through April 9. The festival will also feature performances by acclaimed composers John Adams and Frank Ticheli.

Festival organizers described Ellis Island as “a meaningful nod to the past, with lessons for the present, fortified by hope for the future.”

“When I composed this work 15 years ago, of course I could not have foreseen the present national conversation regarding immigration,” Boyer said. “My work is a celebration of historical immigration to the United States through Ellis Island, and as it is a positive and optimistic statement about American immigration, I am grateful that it will be seen and heard by so many people nationwide on Great Performances. It seems that the subject matter of Ellis Island could not be more timely and relevant than it is right now.”

Ellis Island was last performed by the Pacific Symphony in July 2005 at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, but this will be the first time it is played at Segerstrom.

Ellis Island has been Boyer’s most successful composition to date. Premiered in 2002, the work has received more than 160 live performances by 70 orchestras. Boyer’s recording of Ellis Island with the Philharmonia Orchestra on the Naxos American Classics label was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition in 2006.

“It has been a dream of mine since I composed Ellis Island that one day it would be produced for Great Performances, America’s preeminent performing arts television series—and finally that dream is coming true!” Boyer said.