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Behind the Scenes with Composer Peter Boyer


In this behind-the-scenes clip, Peter Boyer gives insight into how the orchestration, dramatic readings and historic visuals work in tandem to make his Grammy-nominated composition Ellis Island: The Dream of America, a moving musical experience.


Part of what really attracted me to the piece is I love the idea of the narrative power of a symphony orchestra, the story-telling power of a symphony orchestra.

Composers have sought to use the story-telling power of the orchestra for centuries, obviously.

So it's a kind of undiminished resource, it's a remarkable resource for a composer to have all the colors that are possible between winds and brass and percussion and strings, and the emotive qualities that they have and the way that they can tell stories.

So for me the great challenge was to blend the narrations, spoken by actors, with the symphony orchestra.

That really was the great challenge in the piece because it's very easy for the orchestra to step on an actor.

The orchestra has 90 people in it and the actor is but a single person.

And some of these stories have very intimate moments that require very intimate textures and colors with the orchestra.

So that's why for most of the stories, the orchestra plays in an understated way.

They provide emotional support.

They provide coloration.

They provide transitions.

They amplify emotions.

But the orchestra only gets to fully speak up at a full volume in the six minute prologue, when it gets to be an orchestra and do what orchestras do so well, moments in the interludes in between the stories, and then finally at the end of the epilogue, to really give the full grandeur and a great peroration of what a great orchestra can do.

So, that's the essential elements between spoken word and orchestra, and then there are the visuals.

It's very exciting that for these performances by Pacific Symphony being recorded for Great Performances that a completely new, full-length, set of marvelous visuals was commissioned.

And these visuals really fulfill the vision that I've always had for the piece all these years.

To have a team of great talented people and the resources to put this up in front of an orchestra and to add this visual dimension, it's far beyond what the piece has ever had visually and extremely exciting.

Exciting for the audience and exciting for me as its composer.


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