A sweeping symphonic, theatrical and multimedia journey through the immigrant experience will highlight the next Salina Symphony concert.
Featured on the program will be composer Peter Boyer’s “Ellis Island: The Dream of America,” a contemporary work that celebrates the powerful and inspiring stories of European immigrants who left their homelands in search of a better life.
Innovative in its format, “Ellis Island” incorporates elements of theater, using actors reading from actual written testimonies of immigrants, while historical images from the Ellis Island archives are projected on a screen above the orchestra.
“It’s such an effective piece on an important topic,” said Yaniv Segal, music director and conductor of the Salina Symphony. “It always seems to be a relevant subject because this country was built by immigrants.”
The Salina Symphony’s “Journey” concert will be at 4 p.m. thus Sunday at the Stiefel Theatre for the Performing Arts, 151 S. Santa Fe.
The Salina Symphony also will perform “Symphony No. 3” by Grazyna Bacewicz, a Polish composer who wrote under the terror of Soviet rule, another powerful illustration of why oppressed people sought freedom and refuge in the U.S., Segal said.
“This piece premiered in 1952, during the time of Soviet oppression, and was censored and forbidden to be performed,” Segal said. “You can never feel comfortable under oppression because terror is always around the corner, and this sense of violence is in the music.”
The “Ellis Island” portion of the “Journey” concert is a collaboration with Theatre Salina, which will highlight four actors selected by TS executive director Michael Spicer to tell the true stories of seven immigrants who passed through the gates of New York City’s Ellis Island.
“Theatre Salina is pleased to partner with the Salina Symphony to present this meaningful work to our community and region,” Spicer said.
A pre-concert talk featuring Segal and Spicer will be at 3 p.m. in the Stiefel Theatre’s Watson Room. Doors will open at 2:30 p.m., and those attending are instructed to enter through the main theater doors.
Segal said that cultivating partnerships with other art organizations in Salina has helped enrich the cultural landscape of the community.
“When you have a partnership like this, one art form can elevate the other, so you get the benefit of both,” he said. “I’m glad this collaboration was built into the season.”
Prior to the Jan. 29 concert, Segal said, excerpts of “Ellis Island” will be performed for elementary school students at the Stiefel Theatre.
“Teaching kids can be more effective when they don’t know they’re being taught,” he said. “They’re coming in to see both music and theatre and learning about history, so hopefully they’ll be going away with some important messages.”
The spoken text from “Ellis Island” comes from the Ellis Island Oral History Project, an historic collection of interviews with actual immigrants about their experiences emigrating to America.
In the years of its operation from 1892 to 1954, Boyer wrote in his composer’s notes on the piece, more than 12 million immigrants – about 70 percent of all immigrants to the U.S. – passed through Ellis Island.
“The stories of Ellis Island immigrants are in many ways our family stories,” Boyer said. “Whether they are the tales of our grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins or friends, so many Americans can relate to these experiences as part of our collective history.”
After reading more than 100 interviews from the thousands collected in the oral history archive, Boyer chose the stories of seven immigrants from disparate nations who entered Ellis Island between 1910 and 1940. From these stories, Boyer fashioned short monologues from the words of these immigrants.
“Ultimately, I settled on a structure which included seven stories, four female and three male, of immigrants who came through Ellis Island from seven countries between 1910 and 1940,” he said.
Boyer then proceeded to weave these stories into an orchestral tapestry which frames and comments on their poignant, humorous, moving and inspiring testimonies.
“As an orchestral composer, I’m intrigued by the potential of the orchestra as a storytelling medium,” Boyer said. “Of course, orchestral music cannot tell stories in a literal way, but its ability to suggest scenes and emotions and evoke responses in listeners has challenged and stimulated composers for centuries.”
A sense of drama
Segal said that Boyer used his background as a film composer to create a powerful musical accompaniment to these stories.
“He has collaborated on a lot of film scores and has a sense of drama and pacing,” Segal said. “There are times when the music is setting the mood for the images or the text narration.”
A first-generation American son of immigrants himself, Segal said “Journey” promises to be an intense musical experience for Salina Symphony audiences.
“It’s not a walk in the park,” he said. “It’s one of the most intense, profound types of programs that we put on. It’s searching and thought provoking.
“I don’t always like putting titles to concerts, but in this case ‘Journey’ is an apt title.”
Tickets for the Salina Symphony “Journey” concert are $29 and $39 for adults or $19 for students and may be purchased at the Stiefel Theatre box office, by calling 785-827-1998 or online at www.salinasymphony.org.