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
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
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.
— Chris Pasles, Los Angeles Times
Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America is a sweeping opus masterfully chronicling, in words and music, the disparate experiences of seven European immigrants… It is at turns horrifying, whimsical and heart-rending. But it’s always palpably engaging… Boyer’s moving composition is eloquently symphonic and very digestible for its sheer emotional wallop. I noticed one of the ushers shedding copious tears at the end of the performance.
— Harold McNeil, The Buffalo News
Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island is an ambitious blending of narration, slide projection and orchestral writing that highlights seven immigrants who came to these shores in the period 1910-1940… Boyer’s orchestration is expert, and his conducting is remarkably precise… The work, stirringly played by the orchestra, proved to be a searing emotional experience for many in the Bushnell audience.
— Gerald Moshell, The Hartford Courant
Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America has become one of the most-played recent American works for orchestra. On Friday night it came to Bass Performance Hall via the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra… Historical photographs projected at the beginning and end capture huddled masses, as well as individual faces alternately worn, fearful and exuberant… Boyer acknowledges his influences, and, sure enough, we hear folkish songs and dances à la Copland, brassy and jazzy sass echoing Bernstein, and cinematic climaxes worthy of John Williams. Sniff if you will at “movie music,” but it’s well crafted and emotionally resonant. And it’s hard to hear the reminiscences, and see those photos, without being moved.
— Scott Cantrell, The Dallas Morning News
For impact as well as performing force, [Ellis Island] outweighed Samuel Barber’s heavyweight Concerto for Piano, which preceded it. That means it’s a very substantial work… Boyer’s music is solidly tonal, skillfully crafted and highly evocative of the emotions expressed by the newcomers. Most of the stories tell of fear and hardship, though one by a chipper Irish immigrant is joyously upbeat. Stories and music often bring a gulp, if not a tear. It’s quite an effective piece.
— Olin Chism, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Boyer’s Ellis Island and its narratives are a powerful testament to the experience of thousands of immigrants who entered America through that iconic portal. The piece is a timeless and timely tribute. It reminds us that, for so many who have come here, America has been a symbol of freedom and opportunity for new life.
— Eric Sean Weld, Daily Hampshire Gazette (Massachusetts)
Over the years, millions of immigrants arrived on America’s shores with bags laden not just with belongings but with ardent hope, faith, fear and dreams of a better tomorrow. The Fox Valley Symphony evoked and celebrated that grand journey with its dramatic and emotionally charged season finale performance of Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America. The full-house audience at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center responded. They laughed, they wept, they remembered and they got on their feet and cheered. …It was impossible not to be deeply moved.
— Heather LaRoi, The Post-Crescent (Wisconsin)
People entered the Hemmens not knowing what to expect, yet they finished the evening with standing, cheering ovations for Ellis Island and Boyer, who was a guest of the [Elgin Symphony]. Nobody left for home disappointed. …Ask anyone who experienced Ellis Island: The Dream of America if he or she was not moved deeply by the performance. It was a journey of discovery well-rewarded.
— Bill Gowen, The Daily Herald (Illinois)
Last night, Boyer returned to his native Rhode Island a master of his craft. …The last-minute crush for tickets was so great that the start of the concert had to be postponed a half-hour so that everyone could be seated. …Of the two scores [the other being Titanic], Ellis Island is the more conservative, but also the more mature and confident. …There are strains of John Williams in this sweet, often heroic music, and echoes of Aaron Copland, but it also has a voice of its own.
— Channing Gray, The Providence Journal
Ellis Island: The Dream of America is a dream of a piece, honoring the immigrant experience with a compelling combination of music, narration and photography. The multimedia work, written by Peter Boyer in 2002, celebrates the stories of seven immigrants who passed through Ellis Island beginning in the early parts of the past century. It has become one of the most popular contemporary pieces in the symphonic repertoire, having been performed by more than 40 orchestras. Yesterday, the Winston-Salem Symphony joined the list. …Boyer’s music is in a very tonal, accessible style. Each note perfectly suits the situation at hand. Often, there is a moment of triumph… But Boyer can do more than write uplifting sounds. He is also gifted at capturing a range of personalities.
— Ken Keuffel, Winston-Salem Journal
Ellis Island impressed by exceptional innovation and engrossing subject… Boyer’s music, through inspired playing by the KSO, ingeniously coordinated with seven narratives taken from immigrant interviews… The amalgam of striking visual images and masterfully descriptive music created memories that will last a lifetime.
— C.J. Gianakaris, Kalamazoo Gazette
Given Boyer’s sweepingly lyrical but nicely varied score… the effect was predictably moving and tear-inducing. Whether performed as an unadorned concert piece or in this more elaborate multimedia staging, Ellis Island will likely be repeated on pops and patriotic concerts across the country for years.
— Wayne Lee Gay, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Boyer’s musical score, much of it heard as orchestral interludes between spoken texts, was sophisticated yet accessible. His musical palette revealed a composer capable of capturing a mood with remarkable deftness… From its ominous opening, through poignant and wistful interludes, to music suggestive of the early 20th century, Ellis Island culminated dramatically when the seven actors spoke Emma Lazarus’ famous poem in unison: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” Compelling words that evoked powerful emotions thanks to Boyer’s persuasive music.
— Rick Rogers, The Oklahoman
At the end of composer Peter Boyer’s multimedia tribute to immigration, Ellis Island: The Dream of America, which premiered last month at the Bushnell, the audiences at all performances leapt to their feet. No wonder. They had been primed by 40 minutes of stirring original music… The Bushnell’s timing couldn’t have been better in commissioning Mr. Boyer, a Hartt School alumnus and rising American composer, to create this wonderful tribute.
— The Hartford Courant Editorial
The Recording Academy, in recently choosing nominations for the best contemporary classical competition category… brought the harmonics of multiculturalism all the way home in nominating Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America. …Having researched the Ellis Island Oral History Project’s archive of thousands of interviews with immigrants who were “processed” at Ellis Island, Boyer takes his seat on a pew with Aaron Copland, whose 1942 Lincoln Portrait for speaker and orchestra set a dramatic standard for this kind of concert pageantry. Boyer’s music underneath and between the spoken sections of the work is inspiring, sometimes bracing…There’s so much to be learned from those who have become Americans by choice and by struggle… We’re lucky to have both [Golijov’s Ayre and Boyer’s Ellis Island].
— Porter Anderson, CNN.com
[Boyer] accompanies the dramatic monologues with an orchestral score that provides both subtle mood setting and vivid evocation. …Boyer has learned well how to conjure sonic images of America’s wide-open spaces and bustling cities. …Boyer’s music is nearly upstaged by some of the compelling narratives it frames, yet it adds the kind of emotional resonance that only music can provide, and the uplifting quality of the whole arises from the skillful way the two are woven together.
— Scott Paulin, Barnes and Noble.com
Having conducted performances with two star actors (Barry Bostwick and Kate Burton, with the Brown University Orchestra) and seven actors from a community theatre company (with the Pioneer Valley Symphony), I can attest that Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America is an equally moving work either way. In both cases, the work attracted extremely large audiences that greeted the work with ecstatic responses. At the Pioneer Valley Symphony, we received so many requests to repeat Ellis Island that we did— the only time we have ever performed a major work in consecutive seasons. The power of Ellis Island: The Dream of America, which was immediately apparent from the moment I first heard it on NPR’s SymphonyCast, is even greater in the concert hall, where the combination of orchestra, actors and visual images with Peter Boyer’s beautiful and evocative music stirs in the listener a strongly emotional response virtually unmatched by any other orchestral composition, contemporary or otherwise.
— Paul Phillips, Music Director, Brown University Orchestra and Music Director, Pioneer Valley Symphony
— Joseph Giunta, Music Director, Des Moines Symphony
Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America is one of those works that clutches the heart and won’t let go… The seven real tales of real immigrants are marvelously diverse, and each one is preceded by an orchestral interlude that establishes the mood. The whole is brilliantly paced, with a welcome infusion of humor at just the right moment. There won’t be a dry eye in the house at the end of this inspirational work.
— David Daniels, Music Director, Warren Symphony Orchestra (Michigan)
Ellis Island drew a huge crowd for the Owensboro Symphony and the evening was a major success. The audience was literally “swept off its feet,” and the applause was prolonged for several minutes. Audience members were teary-eyed, emotional and uplifted. For a new work to have such broad palpable appeal is a rarity and a blessing.
— Nicholas Palmer, Music Director, Owensboro Symphony
Ellis Island: The Dream of America is a beautiful and emotionally powerful work that was received enthusiastically by both our audience and the players in the orchestra. It is a perfect collaborative work for cities with theater groups. I would recommend it highly.
— Bernard Rubenstein, Music Director, Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra
Peter Boyer is a master at symphonically accompanying words and visual elements into a cohesive, engaging and exciting experience. The Plymouth Phil audience was both thrilled and moved, jumping up and cheering at the conclusion of our performance of his Ellis Island.
— Steven Karidoyanes, Music Director, Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra
We had an incredible experience with Ellis Island: The Dream of America. The concert was a sell-out and Peter Boyer’s masterful score, combined with the seven actors’ representations of actual immigrants, brought tears and laughter to an audience that cheered the performance for a very long time. I have been on the podium here since 1979, and never before had to pull out my own handkerchief while conducting because I couldn’t see the score through my own tears. This kind of experience should be the model for orchestras seeking to do something that both pleases traditional audiences and attracts new ones. This is a very emotional and rewarding work that I highly recommend.
— Joel Levine, Music Director, Oklahoma City Philharmonic
Every now and then, an artistic project comes along that not only thrills the audience, but also feeds the spirits of those who are privileged to perform in it. Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America is that kind of project.
— Harry Parker, Ph.D., Chair, Department of Theatre, TCU
Mr. Boyer was a great success in both roles [as composer and conductor]. His music, so warm and evocative, was ideal for the setting; it drew in our most diverse audience of the season and brought tears to many eyes. Combined with the powerful narrated text and the stirring projected images, the music of Ellis Island was truly a hit. Premieres are our stock in trade, but rarely has a premiere been such a popular success with such an audience. As conductor, too, Mr. Boyer proved himself a highly capable leader of musicians who can be very critical. It is not at all surprising that Ellis Island and Mr. Boyer are both making appearances with a wide variety of orchestras all season long.
— Catherine M. Cahill, CEO, Brooklyn Philharmonic
The blend of symphonic music combined with words taken from actual oral histories makes Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America a uniquely moving experience. This is a piece to be enjoyed, not only by the Americans who trace their heritage back to an ancestor who first set foot on American soil at Ellis Island, but by their children and grandchildren. It is surely a work for the generations.
— Peg Zitko, Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island Foundation