The Golden Door
Speaker and SATB chorus with Flute (doubling alto flute), clarinet in Bb (doubling clarinet in A, bass clarinet, alto sax), violin, viola, cello, bass, piano, percussion
A cantata based on archives of interviews with immigrants who passed through Ellis Island in the early years of the 20th century. Commissioned by the New Amsterdam Singers.
Island of Hope: A collection of new American choral music. Includes Ronald Perera’s The Golden Door performed by the New Amsterdam Singers, Clara Longstreth, conductor. On Albany Records, Troy545.
1. What is your number?
2. America, I wish I was going
3. The fastest and securist transportation
5. The Lady with her hand up
6. Island of hope; island of tears
Island of Hope, the New Amsterdam Singers’ second compact disc recording, offers an eclectic array of contemporary choral music by American composers…. This recording highlights two works with chamber orchestra commissioned by the ensemble. The first of these, set in seven movements by Ronald Perera, is titled The Golden Door. The texts, though diverse in origin, focus on many perspectives regarding immigration. In the opening movement, an incessant agitation of sixteenth notes is used to symbolize the growing frustration of one poor immigrant as the long list of questions posed by the immigration officers takes its toll. In the final movement, a spoken roll call of the names and occupations of recent immigrants is interspersed with the singing of words from the famous Emma Lazarus poem, The New Colossus, found on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. The work, as a whole, humanizes for the listener many experiences of the people who have come to this country seeking a greater quality of life since the late eighteenth century. It is inspiring and powerful, and admirably performed.
Choral Journal (ACDA), Scott R. Buchanan
The Golden Door . . . is the inspiration for the disc’s title. It is the only substantial work (about 25 minutes) I’ve heard that seeks to evoke the varied experience of immigration to America. Ronald Perera (b. 1941) — whose rewarding music I have reviewed in concert — is a skilled and imaginative musical documenter of aspects of the American experience. He cobbled his own text together from first-hand accounts of immigrants, name-lists, and other “officialese” from Ellis Isalnd archives. It is by turns dramatic, poignant, whimsical, and horrifying — like the section dealing with ship passage in “steerage.” But the piece is finally celebratory and exultant, leaving the listener newly sensitive to — and proud of — our multicultural origins. A small instrumental ensemble offers imaginative support.
Lindsay Koob, American Record Guide
Ronald Perera’s seven-movement work, “The Golden Door,” is based on oral histories of immigrants who entered the United States through Ellis Island… Mr. Perera’s work, for choir and a small ensemble of strings, winds, piano and percussion, is an invitingly consonant and occasionally dramatic overview of the varied paths that the immigrants of several nationalities took to Ellis Island, and those immigrants’first moments here. One movement, essentially advertising copy for a German cruise ship, had a lilting, salon quality; it was offset by a starker, more lushly harmonized description of the sounds, smells and general discomfort of traveling in steerage.
New York Times 6/14/99
Sunday afternoon’s “American Voices” program by the Chatham Chorale Chamber Singers was just such a powerfully evocative program. Therex was probably not a dry eye in the house as, at the close of a seven-part cantata vividly depicting the arrival of immigrants at Ellis Island, the names and professions of their immigrant ancestors were read aloud by individual chorale members over a soft instrumental underscoring. Premiered in Manhattan just last year by the New Amsterdam Singers, “The Golden Door” was written by Yarmouthport summer resident Ronald Perera, whose “The Outermost House” (based on Henry Beston’s book about Cape Cod) was commissioned and presented by the Chatham Chorale in 1991…no matter if one felt Finch’s pleasing, alternatively thoughtful and playful settings, could have used some of the incisive dramatic touches Perera so skillfully weaves into his musical tapestries, or that “The Golden Door” perhaps needed a few more reflective (shall I say “lyrical” or “memorable”?) passages to balance its teeming, headlong forward momentum. It is enough if the concerted result stirs our imaginations and feelings, leaving us at once excited and teary-eyed, with plenty of food for after-thought.
Cape Cod Times 5/23/2000