THIRTEEN’s Great Performances and Pacific Symphony, led by music director Carl St.Clair, pay tribute to America’s history with a performance of composer Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America, a Grammy-nominated contemporary classical work celebrating the historic American immigrant experience. Great Performances – Ellis Island: The Dream of America with Pacific Symphony premieres nationwide Friday, June 29 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) in honor of Immigrant Heritage Month. It will be available to stream the following day via pbs.org/gperf and PBS apps.
Using texts from the Ellis Island Oral History Project and historic Ellis Island images in combination with an original orchestral score, Ellis Island features seven first-hand stories of immigrants dramatically interpreted by guest stars Barry Bostwick, Camryn Manheim, Michael Nouri, Lesley Fera, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Samantha Sloyan and Kira Sternbach. Over 40 percent of the U.S. population can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island, and immigration remains at the forefront of global news. Great Performances – Ellis Island captures the emotions, elation and uncertainties of America’s epic immigrant experience.
The special was recorded by Great Performances at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in 2017 during Pacific Symphony’s 17th American Composers Festival. Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America premiered in 2002 to great acclaim. It has since received nearly 200 performances by more than 80 orchestras, and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Classical Contemporary Composition in 2005.
A co-production of Pacific Symphony and THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET in association with PBS SoCal, Great Performances – Ellis Island: The Dream of America with Pacific Symphony was directed for stage and television by Matthew Diamond and produced by John Walker; with Shawn Murphy as audio producer, production design by Matt Steinbrenner, lighting design by Bob Barnhart and projection design by Perry Freeze. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer and David Horn is executive producer.
Major funding for the program is provided by The Ellis Island Honors Society, The Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, the Jewish Federation and Family Services of Orange County, Nasser and Yvonne Kazeminy, and Seth & Yasuko Siegel and Blossom Siegel. Major funding for Great Performances is provided by the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, the Irene Diamond Fund, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, The Agnes Varis Trust, The Starr Foundation, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, The Abra Prentice Foundation and PBS.
Great Performances is produced by THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers. Throughout its more than 40-year history on public television, Great Performances has provided viewers across the country with an unparalleled showcase of the best in all genres of the performing arts, serving as America’s most prestigious and enduring broadcaster of cultural programming.
More information can be found at the WNET THIRTEEN Pressroom.
Composer Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America seems tailor-made for PBS. The piece traces the experiences of seven immigrants from seven countries on their way to America, using monologues from actors with orchestral underscoring and interludes… It’s easy to see why Ellis Island has had legs since its premiere in 2002… The piece makes its appeal emotionally and directly… Boyer deftly heightens the emotions of the text as good underscoring should do.
— Richard Ginell, Los Angeles Times
More than 15 years later, Ellis Island retains its power — not only to move us, as it has in almost 170 performances since its 2002 premiere, but because of its fresh relevance… Boyer writes in an accessible style, reminiscent of film composer John Williams, which at its best is warm, attractive, emotionally persuasive and expertly crafted. Those who expect more complexity and less tradition from their new music concerts would undoubtedly be put off by his style, but only a cynic would deny the effectiveness of Boyer’s approach, especially for this subject… Those who might dismiss Ellis Island as an exercise in patriotic propaganda didn’t hear the sincerity, passion and love of country in those seven immigrants’ tales, or the gratitude that lives between the lines.
— Paul Hodgins, Orange County Register
(Photos by Stan Sholik and Joshua Sudock, courtesy of Pacific Symphony)