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BPO Celebrates Our Immigrant Heritage

This weekend, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will present “Journey to the New World” – a multimedia celebration of the immigrant experience and how it defines our nation’s history and our culture.

The performance, which takes place on Saturday, April 21 and Sunday, April 22, will feature a collaboration between the BPO and actors from Road Less Traveled Productions. The concert will pair Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World” with Peter Boyer’s recent project, “Ellis Island.”

Dvorak – an immigrant himself – wrote Symphony No. 9 after leaving his native land of Bohemia in 1892 to immigrate to America and assume the position of director of the new National Conservatory of Music in New York City. His piece reflects many important components of our nation’s cultural history, including Native American music, African-American spirituals, and European-American folk traditions.

Dvorak’s piece is paired with Peter Boyer’s multimedia exploration of the experience of the millions of immigrants who came to the United States between the years of 1892 and 1952.  The piece originally premiered in 2002 and features Boyer’s originally composed score paired with theatrical and video elements, serving as “performing documentary” of the immigrants’ experience as they pursued the American Dream. The piece incorporates individual memoirs of several individuals that were pulled from the immigration records and archives at Ellis Island.

“America is a nation of immigrants, and our immigrant history is a profound part of our American mythology,” said Boyer. “In the history of American immigration, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are icons of immense significance. In the years of its operation, from 1892 to 1954, more than twelve million immigrants, over 70% of all immigrants to the United States, passed through Ellis Island, the processing station which was ‘the gateway to America.’ Today, more than 40% of the U.S. population, over 100 million Americans, can trace their roots to an ancestor who came through Ellis Island. The stories of Ellis Island immigrants are in many ways our family stories: 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. This is what makes Ellis Island stories so fascinating, and it’s what drew me to this material as the basis of a major composition.”

Two immigrants featured in Boyer’s work are Helen Rosenthal of Belgium and Poland and Helen Lansman Cohen of Poland. Rosenthal, played by Cassie Gorniewicz, fled the Nazi occupation in Europe with her husband and shares her treacherous experience of traveling during the war. Cohen, played by Darleen Pickering-Hummert, came to the United States as a child and shares the crowded, chaotic experience of coming through Ellis Island and her feeling of freedom upon entering the country.

“Buffalo is a vibrant collage of immigrants from all over the world who have contributed to the extraordinary vibrancy, flavor and warmth of our city and made it their own,” said BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta. “I myself am very proud of my Italian heritage, and I know that so many of you cherish the culture and traditions of your parents and grandparents. What better way to celebrate the welcoming spirit of our region than with Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island, a dramatic multimedia presentation about those courageous ‘new Americans’ who entered our country through Ellis Island, bringing the talent, dedication and imagination that transformed our communities.”

The show will take place Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Kleinhans Music Hall, 3 Symphony Circle. Tickets can be purchased on the BPO website.

The BPO is featuring several other events in April, listed below:

Inner Voices of the Orchestra

BPO violist Janz Castelo shares his insights on the unique role of the viola in the orchestra’s sound.

Monday, April 23

Downtown Central Library – 12:00 p.m.

1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo

Orchard Park Library – 6:30 p.m.

S-4570 South Buffalo St.

Free admission


Side-By-Side with the Buffalo Academy for Visual & Performing Arts

BAVPA joins the BPO for a side-by-side experience for the music students, and a showcase for all the disciplines at BAVPA: visual arts, media arts, drama and dance.

Wednesday, April 25, 7:00 p.m.

Kleinhans Music Hall

3 Symphony Circle

Free admission


Fire and Rain with AJ Swearingen and Jayne Kelli

AJ Swearingen’s new show features 70s singer-songwriters like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young. Stefan Sanders leads this nostalgic trip to the days of rich harmonies and melodies.

Friday, April 27, 10:30 a.m.

Kleinhans Music Hall

3 Symphony Circle

Tickets: $33-$60


Saturday, April 28, 8:00 p.m.

Kleinhans Music Hall

3 Symphony Circle

Tickets: $36-$86


Runway Rhapsody: A fashion show to benefit the BPO

WGRZ’s Maryalice Demler is your host for this afternoon of fun and fashion to benefit the BPO, held at the beautiful Wanakah Country Club.

Sunday, April 29, 11:30 a.m.

Wanakah Country Club

5161 Lake Shore Road


Inner Voices of the Orchestra

BPO violist Janz Castelo shares his insights on the unique role of the viola in the orchestra’s sound.

Monday, April 30, 7:00 p.m.

Audubon Library – Amherst

350 John J. Audubon Parkway

Free Admission


For more information on upcoming events at the BPO, visit their website at


This content is part of a sponsored series in partnership with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.


Written by Sarah Maurer

Sarah Maurer

I moved to Buffalo to attend Canisius College in 2007 and began writing for Buffalo Rising as a journalism intern in 2010. Working with Newell and meeting numerous entrepreneurs, activists and everyday folks who were working to make their city better made a huge impact on my decision to stay here. After witnessing all the positive development and grassroots initiatives happening in neighborhoods throughout the city, I was inspired to pursue a term of service in AmeriCorps and a career in Buffalo's non-profit sector. I currently work in the housing department at the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY and am excited to be a part of their ongoing efforts to revitalize the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood. I also volunteer as the project coordinator for Artfarms Buffalo. I continue to write for Buffalo Rising because I love having the opportunity to stay connected to those working toward positive changes for the Queen City.

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