Pacific Symphony Enters 17th American Composers Festival with ELLIS ISLAND, Tribute To John Adams, And More

By: Mar. 30, 2017
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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 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.

Pacific Symphony's performance of Boyer's "Ellis Island" will be recorded for national broadcast by PBS' acclaimed "Great Performances"-the first-ever national broadcast from the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. This national platform on public television will ensure that people around the nation will be able to enjoy this profound musical experience during the 2017-18 season of "Great Performances." Now in its 44th season, "Great Performances" has presented programs from nearly every discipline of performing arts, featuring some of the best-known orchestras in the world, including the New York Philharmonic, the LA Phil, Vienna Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony and many more.

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 visit

On April 8, under the leadership of Chairman Nasser Kazeminy, the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO)-a national non-profit organization whose mission is to honor and preserve the diversity of America, and to foster tolerance, respect and understanding among religious and ethnic groups-will be hosting a dinner for various Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipients who will be attending the concert. This year, NECO will be awarding the Ellis Island Medal of Honor to Orange County philanthropist and Symphony supporter, S. Paul Musco. This marks only the fifth time NECO has held the ceremony outside of Ellis Island in New York.
The following day, the Symphony's Sunday Casual Connections returns to Boyer's compelling work with "Ellis Island: An American Dream," in an effort to dig even deeper beneath the surface of the multi-faceted work-on Sunday, April 9, at 3 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets are $25-$98.
Additionally, Chapman University joins forces with the Symphony to present Interplay, as part of an expanded festival of music, culture and ideas called "Golden Dreams." For more information on the events taking place March 8-April 9, visit
The National Endowment for the Arts generously supports the 2017 American Composers Festival. The concert sponsor for all performances is Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipient Charles Zhang and Ling Zhang. The corporate sponsor for the Saturday evening performance is Bank of America. Pacific Symphony's Classical Series is made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, and receives additional support from The Westin South Coast Plaza, KUSC, KPCC and PBS SoCal.

A co-production of Pacific Symphony and THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET in association with PBS SoCal, the PBS "Great Performances" broadcast of "Ellis Island: The Dream of America" is made possible through generous sponsorship from the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO). Major funding for GREAT PERFORMANCES is provided by The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, the Irene Diamond Fund, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, The Agnes Varis Trust, The Starr Foundation, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, The Abra Prentice Foundation and PBS.


"This American Composers Festival program is wonderfully diverse," says Maestro St.Clair. "For Boyer's work, narrators tell the stories of those who came to America through Ellis Island, and we celebrate the 70th birthday of one of America's preeminent composers with 'The Dharma at Big Sur,' a fantastic collision of East and West, with a thrilling violin jam to close. It has become one of John Adams' most beloved works and a showcase for violinist Tracy Silverman. It is definitely a cool concerto and one rarely heard in concert."
Considered Boyer's most ambitious work to date, "Ellis Island: The Dream of America" celebrates not only the historic American immigrant experience but also the American dream. This innovative work, written for actors (to be announced) and orchestra with projected historical images from the Ellis Island archives, presents first-person narrations of seven immigrants who entered the United States through Ellis Island during the first half of the 20th century. The spoken texts for the work come from the Ellis Island Oral History Project, an historic collection of interviews with more than 2,000 immigrants about their experiences immigrating to America, held at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. 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" is played in the acoustic wonder of the concert hall.

"I found myself deeply moved by the real stories of real people, which are included in 'Ellis Island,' spoken in their own words," says Boyer about his work. "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 added, "Since I composed 'Ellis Island' 15 years ago, it has been my dream to see the work produced for PBS' 'Great Performances,' America's preeminent performing arts television series, and it is thrilling to see that dream coming true with these performances by Pacific Symphony."
Boyer fashioned short monologues from the actual words of these immigrants, and wove them into an orchestral tapestry which frames and comments on their stories-by turns poignant, humorous, moving and inspiring. The work concludes with a reading of the Emma Lazarus poem "The New Colossus" ("Give me your tired, your poor..."), which is engraved on the Statue of Liberty, providing an emotionally powerful ending to this celebration of our nation of immigrants.
It's been called "a sweeping opus masterfully chronicling, in words and music, the disparate experiences of seven European immigrants..." by The Buffalo News, which also said: "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." The Los Angeles Times called "Ellis Island" "a work of rare authenticity and directness."

"Ellis Island: The Dream of America" was commissioned by The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, in celebration of the inaugural season of its Belding Theater. It was premiered by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the composer, with actors from the New York stage, directed by Martin Charnin, at The Bushnell in April 2002. Since its premiere, it has gone on to enjoy tremendous success, becoming one of the most performed American orchestral works composed in the last 15 years. The work has received over 160 live performances by more than 70 orchestras, a rare milestone for a contemporary orchestral work. More than 200,000 people have experienced the work live, and its performances have regularly been met with standing ovations. A recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra subsequently earned a Grammy nomination.


In addition to reaching Southern California audiences, the Symphony's "Ellis Island" performance will be broadcast around the nation on PBS' acclaimed "Great Performances," a series devoted to the performing arts since 1972. Produced by THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET in New York, "Great Performances" brings the best in the performing arts from across America and around the world to the U.S. television audience through its diverse programming portfolio of classical music, opera, popular song, musical theater, dance, drama and performance documentaries. It is the longest-running performing arts anthology on television, encompassing a wide-ranging mix of classical music, dance, opera, popular music, musical theater and classic drama. The series has been honored with numerous honors, with its program garnering 67 Emmy Awards and six George Foster Peabody awards.

Pacific Symphony's performance will be recorded at the April 7 and 8 concerts. David Horn is the executive producer and Bill O'Donnell is the series producer for "Great Performances." The producer of "Ellis Island" on "Great Performances" is John Walker, who has received 14 Emmy nominations and two Emmy wins for his distinguished body of work. The director is Matthew Diamond, whose directing credits range from The Metropolitan Opera HD Live to The Wiz Live. The recording engineer will be Shawn Murphy, renowned for his work for composers such as John Williams and James Newton Howard. The national broadcast debut will occur during the 2017-18 season, with subsequent broadcasts planned over the next three years.

NECO sponsors the Ellis Island Medals of Honor, which are presented annually to American citizens who have distinguished themselves within their own ethnic groups, while exemplifying the values of the American way of life. Concurrent with the Symphony's ACF concerts and PBS Broadcast, NECO will be hosting an induction dinner for new medalists, marking only the fifth time this ceremony has been held outside of Ellis Island. Past medalists include six U.S. presidents, one foreign president, Nobel Prize winners and leaders of industry, education, the arts, sports and government, along with everyday Americans who have made freedom, liberty and compassion a part of their life's work.
Receiving this year's Ellis Island Medal of Honor is philanthropist and Symphony supporter, S. Paul Musco, who joins 30 medalists from California in attendance for the ceremony and "Ellis Island" concert on Saturday, April 8. Profiled in The Orange County Register in 2015 as one of OC's most influential people, Musco was asked about the biggest influence in his life. He responded: "My parents were poor immigrants, and they worked hard

and always shared with others."

NECO was created on the conviction of its founders that the diversity of the American people is what makes this nation great. Its mission is to honor and preserve this diversity and to foster tolerance, respect and understanding among religious and ethnic groups. Additionally,

NECO continues its commitment to the restoration and maintenance of Ellis Island, a living tribute to the courage and hope of all immigrants.

Each year, the Symphony explores a different facet of American music through the American Composers Festival (ACF). Since 2000, the festival has featured composers from Aaron Copland to Ana Lara to Michael Daugherty and artists from Yo-Yo Ma to Stephen Scott's Bowed Piano Ensemble. By examining this diverse musical heritage, the Symphony points a microscope at who we are as a culture, where we've been, and where we are going-some of the most important questions that music can raise. More information and a complete history of the American Composers Festival is available at


Pacific Symphony, led by Music Director Carl St.Clair, celebrates its 38th anniversary this season. The largest orchestra formed in the United States in the last 50 years, it is widely recognized as an outstanding ensemble making strides on both the national and international scene, as well as in its own burgeoning cultural community. The Symphony has played a central role in the phenomenal growth of the performing arts in Orange County. Presenting more than 100 concerts and a rich array of education and community programs, the Symphony touches more than 300,000 Orange County residents each year-from school children to senior citizens.

(Photo Credit: Pacific Symphony)


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