August 2005

Boyer - Ellis Island: The Dream of America
Barry Bostwick, Blair Brown, Olympia Dukakis, Anne Jackson, Bebe Neuwirth, Eli Wallach, Louis Zorich
Philharmonia Orchestra; Peter Boyer conductor
Naxos 8.559246
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

Always at the forefront in presenting new music to listeners, Naxos has released Ellis Island: The Dream of America by Peter Boyer just three years after its 2002 premiere. It is a tone poem for seven actors and orchestra. The actors read texts from the Ellis Island Oral History Project, the thoughts and hopes of immigrants whose first landing in the United States was at Ellis Island. Their greeter was the Statue of Liberty.

Most of the words here tell of bad times before leaving for American shores, some talk of the voyage over, most are full of hope for freedom. Some might dismiss the music that surrounds and supports the narration as "movie music," but I feel it is singularly well suited to the task at hand and perfectly integrated with the texts. This work is thoroughly American, and totally accessible to any listener. There is surely nothing wrong with that! Moreover, it could serve as a focal point for a town celebration. The local orchestra could get together with the resident amateur theater group for a presentation that would have real meaning to an entire community.

On this recording, famous actors take the "roles" of the immigrants, and all of them are first-rate. Martin Charmin directed and strikes just the right balance between narration and acting. There is drama and sincerity, but no one goes over the top. The orchestra plays with passion and precision for composer Boyer, who turns out to be a good maestro. Considering that the voices and orchestra were recorded on separate sides of the Atlantic, the recording sounds amazingly integrated and well balanced.