- Ellis Island: The Dream of America, for narrators & orchestra
Peter Boyer's Ellis Island is a sort of musical docudrama, paying tribute to the experiences of American immigrants by using their own words, spoken here by seven stars of stage and screen. Boyer selected these texts -- the recollections of three men and four women who emigrated from various European countries between 1911 and 1940 -- from interviews collected by the Ellis Island Oral History Project, and he accompanies the dramatic monologues with an orchestral score that provides both subtle mood setting and vivid evocation. It comes as no surprise to learn that this young composer (born in 1970) has worked a great deal in the movies, for his music carries a distinct cinematic charge. It also seems indebted to touchstone figures in musical Americana like Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein; Boyer has learned well how to conjure sonic images of America's wide-open spaces and bustling cities. As for the seven first-person narratives, they relate diverse personal stories within familiar archetypes: escape from hard times, difficult sea crossings, and joy at arriving in New York. The two most memorable -- as stories and performances alike -- are also the most starkly contrasting: Bebe Neuwirth as a woman fleeing the Holocaust and Barry Bostwick's comic turn as a sly young Irishman. 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 skilful way the two are woven together.