Ellis Island: The Dream of America is a multi-media concert piece that features the stories of seven immigrants from the first half of the 20th century.
This concert is presented in partnership with Syracuse Stage.
Join Symphoria and Interfaith Works on Friday, February 14, 2020 for a Community Conversation and Breakfast celebrating Ellis Island: The Dream of America and Syracuse’s New American and Refugee Communities.
This event is FREE, and includes a light breakfast and coffee. No RSVP required.
7:45 AM breakfast and mingling
8:00 – 9:15 AM presentation with guest speakers from InterFaith Works’ Spirit of America and Symphoria
Only after writing (or, more accurately, editing) the words did he start to write the music—which means that the score, direct and powerful as it is on its own, always serves to enrich the text. After a substantial orchestral prologue, the seven stories are told (elucidated by what the composer describes as more lightly orchestrated musical commentary), with fuller orchestral interludes between them, ending with a recitation of “The New Colossus,” the Emma Lazarus poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Boyer skillfully provides different types of music appropriate to each individual (thus, mirroring musically what he calls the “American tapestry” of our heritage), but there is also a great deal of recurring thematic material which gives the work an overall unity.
Ellis Island was intended as an artistic celebration of historical immigration, rather than as a political manifesto. Even so, it has gotten entwined in the political upheavals of the 21st century. While he was composing it, the country was shaken by the events of 9/11; in the nearly two decades since then, with the immigration debates, “the piece has taken on a political dimension that was not what I intended for it.” You might think that the increasing national fractures would have made the work increasingly controversial; in fact, it seems that the power of Boyer’s creation based on these stories has transcended our national rifts. “Ellis Island wasn’t meant to be a commentary [on our current situation], but as we look back on these stories, it can say something that’s relevant: this is our history. What’s interesting is that in this very divided time in the United States, when our society is so polarized, the piece seems to resonate more strongly than ever, and it appears to appeal to people of all political persuasions.” There’s solid statistical evidence for his belief, since by the time of this performance, Ellis Island will have been performed over 230 times—something unheard of for a large-scale 21st-century piece. But we suspect that after hearing it tonight, you’ll have personal evidence as well. The composer admits that he still tears up at the stories, because they are so “powerful and moving.” And we are convinced that you too will be stirred.
Igor Stravinsky did not enter through Ellis Island; but like the immigrants who speak in Boyer’s piece, he was thankful to arrive in the United States in 1939, away from the looming war in Europe. In 1941 he offered a gift to show his gratitude, an orchestration—and slight reharmonization—of The Star-Spangled Banner. It was intended as a war-time morale-booster; in a letter to President Roosevelt, he noted that “It is a desire to do my bit in these grievous times toward fostering and preserving the spirit of patriotism.” But early listeners were taken aback, and it was briefly banned in Boston (there’s even an urban legend, entirely false, that the composer was arrested). Over the years, whatever shock value it had then has been muted, and it now stands as a personal, yet respectful, illumination of a cultural monument.
Between these two pieces, both looking optimistically forward to a better future, we have a work looking regretfully backward: the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra composed in 1918-19 by Sir Edward Elgar (1857–1934). The regret is easy to understand. First, it was nourished by Elgar’s recognition of personal mortality: he had just gotten out of the hospital when he began it, and his beloved wife Alice was dying of lung cancer as he wrote it. Second, there was his growing realization that, having briefly been the standard-bearer for modern English music, his renown was fleeting—that in the wake of the radical works of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and others, his Edwardian idiom was increasingly scorned as old-fashioned. Most important, the First World War had destroyed the Europe—indeed, the world—that he knew. Whether it was a conscious intention or not, the Cello Concerto turned out to be his farewell to composing; although he wrote a few snippets afterwards, this was his last substantial work.
Elgar was right that the Europe he knew was gone, but he was wrong about his own place in the musical pantheon. Fame operates in pendulum swings, and Elgar’s world-wide reputation is now, perhaps, even greater than at any point during his life. And in the century since its premiere (a disaster, like the first performances of so many masterpieces), the Cello Concerto has become a staple of the repertoire. It’s written in four movements (two sections of two movements each). And from the very opening—a plaintive recitative by the soloist with barely any orchestral support, followed by a theme introduced by the darkly tinted orchestral violas—it’s got, in conductor Larry Loh’s words, “what we love about Elgar, his ability to write heart-wrenchingly beautiful melodies.” As it follows its course, the concerto goes through a wide gamut of emotions (most profound in the third-movement Adagio); and it gives the soloist, especially in the rapid-fire second movement, plenty of room for virtuoso display. But even in the heroic affirmation of the final pages, ushered in by a return of that opening recitative, the nostalgia lingers in the air. In the aftermath, it’s easy to understand why it has come to be seen as perhaps the great 20th-century cello concerto.
Peter J. Rabinowitz
Have any comments or questions? Please write to me at prabinowitz@ExperienceSymphoria.org
Mr. Schwarz made his orchestral debut at the age of 11 playing the Saint-Saens Concerto No. 1 with the Seattle Symphony with his ...
Mr. Schwarz made his orchestral debut at the age of 11 playing the Saint-Saens Concerto No. 1 with the Seattle Symphony with his father, Gerard Schwarz, on the podium. Since then, he has appeared with the Seattle, San Diego, Puerto Rico, Hartford, Charlotte, Columbus (OH), Sarasota, Grand Rapids and Wichita symphonies, as well as with the Louisville Orchestra, Chicago Camerata and the Symphony Silicon Valley among others.
Internationally, he made his Australian debut with the Queensland Symphony in Brisbane as well as his debut in Hong Kong at the Intimacy of Creativity Festival. He has also made two appearances with the Boca del Rio Orchestra in Veracruz, Mexico and made his debut with the Mexico City Philharmonic in May 2016. In August 2013, Mr. Schwarz was awarded first prize in the professional cello division of the inaugural Alice and Eleonore Schoenfeld International String Competition in Hong Kong.
Equally active as a recitalist and chamber musician, Mr. Schwarz has performed recitals at the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico, Palm Springs, Washington DC and Halifax, Nova Scotia. He also appears regularly on the stage of Bargemusic in New York City playing chamber music and recitals with his regular collaborative partner, pianist Marika Bournaki, and on chamber music series such as Frankly Music in Milwaukee. He is a member of the ensemble Frisson, a nonet for strings and winds, and has his own piano trio, Mile-End Trio, with violinist Jeff Multer and Ms. Bournaki. In November 2016, he and Ms. Bournaki were awarded First Prize in the Boulder International Chamber Music Competition’s “The Art of the Duo” and in March 2017, the duo traveled to China for a ten concert recital tour.
During the 17/18 season, Julian Schwarz gave the world premiere of a new cello concerto written for him by Lowell Liebermann, which was premiered with the Toledo Symphony and had subsequent performances with four other orchestras. Additional recent and upcoming performance highlights include his debuts with the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Jacksonville, Winston-Salem, Galveston, Springfield, OH, Springfield MA and Tucson symphonies; re-engagements with the Virginia and Des Moines symphonies, Symphoria in Syracuse and the Boca Symphoria in Boca Raton; and recitals in Hartford, Boulder and New York City.
No stranger to summer music festivals, Julian Schwarz has attended and performed at the Aspen, Cape Cod and Eastern festivals and was chosen to study and perform at the prestigious Verbier Festival in Switzerland. Now a member of the cello faculty at the Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina, he has performed the Brahms Double, the Dvorak Cello Concerto and the premiere of a concerto by Richard Danielpour, “A Prayer For Our Time,” with the festival orchestra.
Mr. Schwarz’s recordings for Naxos include the Saint-Saens No. 1 and Haydn C Major cello concertos with the Seattle Symphony, “In Memoriam” for the Music of Remembrance series, and the Samuel Jones Cello Concerto with the All Star Orchestra, founded by Gerard Schwarz. His most recent recording is the six Rossini String Quartets, which was recording in Nova Scotia in November 2017.
Julian Schwarz started piano lessons at the age of five and began his cello studies the following year with the late David Tonkonogui; subsequent teachers include Toby Saks, Lynn Harrell, Neal Cary and Ronald Leonard. He received his Bachelor of Music degree from The Juilliard School in New York City in May 2014 where he studied with Joel Krosnick, and his Master of Music degree, also at Juilliard, in May 2016. During the 16/17 season, he served as Mr. Krosnick’s teaching assistant. He also served as Artist-In-Residence at the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance and since September 2017 has been an Assistant Professor of Cello at Shenandoah Conservatory of Shenandoah University in Virginia.
Julian Schwarz currently performs on a cello made in Naples by Gennaro Gagliano in 1743. He is a Pirastro artist and uses the “Perpetual mittel” set of cello strings exclusively.
Mr. Loh’s previous positions include: Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Syracuse Opera; Resident Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Music Director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra; Associate Conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra; Associate Conductor of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Denver Young Artists Orchestra.
Having a particular affinity for pops programming, Mr. Loh has been engaged for repeat performances with Chris Botti, Idina Menzel, Ann Hampton Callaway, the Texas Tenors and more. He has assisted John Williams on multiple occasions and conducted numerous sold-out John Williams tribute concerts. He is particularly adept at conducting concerts synchronizing live orchestral music with film, and he has lead Star Wars, Jaws, Jurassic Park, Pixar in Concert, Disney in Concert, The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain, among other concert productions.
Mr. Loh is active as a guest conductor, both in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to annual concerts in Pittsburgh and Dallas, his recent engagements include the Boston Pops (Tanglewood); Detroit Symphony; San Diego Symphony; Seattle Symphony; Buffalo Philharmonic; and the Cathedral Choral Society at the Washington National Cathedral. Past engagements include the National (Washington D.C.), Indianapolis, Tacoma, Utah, Naples, Knoxville, Florida, El Paso, San Luis Obispo, Edmonton, Colorado, Charleston (SC), Malaysia, Daejeon (South Korea) and Greater Bridgeport Orchestras. His summer appearances include the festivals of Sun Valley, Bravo Vail Valley, Aspen (CO), Mann Center in Philadelphia, Breckenridge, Las Vegas, Hot Springs (AR), the Kinhaven Music School (VT) and the Performing Arts Institute (PA). In the summer of 2016, he made his debut at Tanglewood, conducting Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony with the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Young Artists Orchestra and returned in 2017 to conduct the Boston Pops.
Mr. Loh received his Artist Diploma in Orchestral Conducting from Yale, his Masters in Choral Conducting from Indiana University and his BA, and Certificate of Management Studies, from the University of Rochester. Lawrence Loh was born in southern California of Korean parentage and raised in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He and his wife Jennifer have a son, Charlie, and a daughter, Hilary. Follow him on instagram @conductorlarryloh or twitter @lawrenceloh or visit his website, www.lawrenceloh.com.