Multi-Media Work to be featured on Orchestra Concert

ABERDEEN, S.D. – The Aberdeen University/Civic Symphony, conducted by Robert Vodnoy, will perform the second concert of its 98th season on Saturday, Feb. 17, in the Harvey and Cynthia Jewett Theater in the Johnson Fine Arts Center at NSU.

The featured work on the program will be “Ellis Island: Dream of America, for Seven Actors, Orchestra and Visual Projections” by the Grammy-nominated American composer Peter Boyer. In 2005, “Ellis Island: Dream of America” received a GRAMMY® Nomination for Best Classical Contemporary Composition at the 48th Annual GRAMMY® Awards. The performance, sponsored in part by the city of Aberdeen, begins at 7:30 p.m. There will be a pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. in Berggren Recital Hall and a post-concert reception for the entire audience.

“The work celebrates the historic American immigrant experience and the American dream through gorgeous and inspiring music, projected historical images from the Ellis Island archives, and the actual words of seven immigrants drawn from the Ellis Island Oral History Project, together with archival photos and video of the Statue of Liberty,” Vodnoy said. “The work has received nearly 200 performances. I first conducted it in 2005, four years after Mr. Boyer composed it. Mr. Boyer honored me and that orchestra by attending the performance, so I feel a special attachment to it, and have wanted to perform the work here in Aberdeen ever since I came to NSU later that year.”

To bring this piece to life, the AUCS is collaborating with NSU Theater. Seven actors who are well-known to and beloved by Aberdeen audiences will portray the real-life people whose stories unfold against a backdrop continuous music as follows:

Christine Powers        Helen Lansman Cohen (Polish)

Courtney Rott            James Apanomith (Greek)

Lori Harmel                 Lillian Galletta (Italian)

Josh Hinkemeyer        Lazarus Salamon (Hungarian)

Paulette Callen           Helen Rosenthal (Belgian)

Brian T. Schultz          Emmanuel "Manny" Steen (Irish)

Kris Wollman              Katherine Beychok (Russian)

NSU Theater Director Dan Yurgaitis will direct the actors, with lighting design by Trevor Carrier and costumes by Jordan Jaked Carrier.

According to Yurgaitis: “The work is a celebration of America because it is about the beauty and strength of our country, about all of us. It helps us remember who we are and where we came from. We’re proud and pleased to welcome the best of our community actors to join our students in this endeavor.”

The actors will be dressed in period costume, to help evoke their characters and life circumstances. Jordan Jaked Carrier said this about the process: “When I approach designing a show, the most exciting element of my work is research. Acquainting myself with the characters is essential in producing and crafting a design that meets the needs of the play. With this particular piece, these are real people with real stories. Getting to know each character and exploring who the person is through clothing allows me to engage in a very personal and fundamental portion of life.”

The work has received critical acclaim everywhere it has been performed. Eric Sean Weld of the Daily Hampshire Gazette (Massachusetts) summed it up best: “Boyer’s ‘Ellis Island’ and its narratives are a powerful testament to the experience of thousands of immigrants who entered America through that iconic portal. The piece is a timeless and timely tribute. It reminds us that, for so many who have come here, America has been a symbol of freedom and opportunity for new life.”

Museum to Feature ‘Immigrant’ Exhibit

Dacotah Prairie Museum and the Aberdeen Area Diversity Coalition are partnering with the Aberdeen University/Civic Symphony to enrich the community’s experience of the work. The museum is mounting an exhibit titled “Immigrants: in Search of Freedom.”

According to Lora Schaunaman, curator at The Dacotah Prairie Museum: “DPM is honored to be asked to partner with the Aberdeen University/Civic Symphony and the Northern State University Music Department for the performance of Boyer’s masterpiece. The museum’s exhibit is titled ‘Ellis Island: In Search of Freedom,’ and will adorn the reception area of the Johnson Fine Arts Center from Feb. 9- 22. The exhibit will include artifacts from numerous immigrants of Brown County, part of the museum collection containing over 40,000 pieces. In addition, there will be five large scale photographs of Ellis Island generously provided by the New York Public Library.”

Another related exhibit will be featured at the museum, 21 S. Main St., which will focus on the immigrant experience in Dakota Territory and South Dakota. It will run between Feb. 16 and the end of May 2018. Free admission – all are welcome!

The Aberdeen Area Diversity Coalition is collecting stories from people who have immigrated to the United States from all over the world and settled in Aberdeen.

According to Lou Whitmer, a member of the Aberdeen Area Diversity Coalition: “The AADC is thrilled to partner with the Aberdeen University/Civic Symphony as they share with the community a celebration of immigration stories through the venues of music, visuals and theater. We agree with their purpose in presenting this exciting work, which is about the diversity that has strengthened America’s story throughout the years! This concert provides AADC yet another opportunity to connect with the community on a wide basis.”

The Aberdeen Area Diversity Coalition and members of Dr. Vodnoy’s Arts Management class are available to talk with groups about the “Ellis Island” project.

Concerto/Aria Winners to Perform

The program will also feature the winners of the November 2017 Concerto/Aria Competition. The competition is a project of the orchestra, and provides an opportunity for an instrumentalist and vocalist to perform with the orchestra. Competitors must be enrolled as full-time students at NSU. This year’s winners are soprano Elsa Swanson and pianist Tierra Decker.

Swanson is a senior vocal major from Chaska, Minn., who currently studies voice with Dr. Darci Bultema and has studied piano and horn with Drs. Marcela Faflak and Grant Manhart, respectively. Swanson has seen success in other vocal competitions, including the South Dakota NATS competition, where she has been named the first place winner in her respective category for three years in a row. In October, she was named a winner of the 54th Annual North Dakota-Manitoba District auditions, sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera National Council.

She will perform “Song of the Moon” from Antonin Dvorak’s opera “Rusalka,” which is based on the same Hans Christian Anderson story as is Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” but which retains the tragic ending of Anderson’s story.

“Dvorak has always been one of my favorite composers, especially his works for orchestra. To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with ‘Song to the Moon’ until we studied Rusalka in music history last spring,” Swanson said. “Soon after, Dr. Bultema suggested it for me in a lesson and after singing it, I fell in love. The harmonies are so rich and the text of the piece is quite stunning. The piece truly embodies everything I love about Dvorak’s music. The entire opera is in Czech originally, a language I have never experienced, so learning how to properly pronounce everything was a lot of fun.”

Decker is a sophomore piano major and student of Faflak. She will perform the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor. Decker is from Huron, S.D. She won first place in the 2017 SDMTA Piano Competition, plays in the Symphonic Band, sings in Concert Choir and Chamber Choir, is a member of Sigma Alpha Iota, and is a student accompanist.

“Studying Beethoven’s third piano concerto has allowed me to explore new heights both in my playing and in my development as a student,” Decker said. “The story it tells, the emotion it conveys, and the structural intricacies are just a few things I appreciate about this work. I find myself learning new things each time I work on it. My favorite part would definitely be the cadenza into the coda, for that is when the highest dramatic point occurs!”

The concerto is a stunning example of Beethoven’s emerging power as a composer. Although it is generally believed that the concerto was composed in 1800, it was not premiered until 1803 and even then the piano part was not fully written out, according to Ignaz von Siegfried, who turned pages for Beethoven. By 1803, Beethoven had begun to experience the deafness from which he would not recover, and the struggle between darkness and light in this concerto reflects that life experience.

The program will open with Richard Wagner’s Third Act Suite from The Mastersingers of Nuremberg. The work is Wagner’s only comedy, and it is based on historical characters. A young, handsome knight named Walther has fallen in love with the daughter of the City’s goldsmith. The daughter, Eva, will be offered as the prize in a song-contest, which the pedantic town clerk believes he will win. Hans Sachs, a cobbler and head of the Mastersingers’ Guild that will sponsor the contest, secretly loves Eva, but steps aside and helps Walther win the contest and her hand in marriage. The suite includes a musical portrait of the noble Sachs, a little of the Prize Song, and the Procession of the Mastersingers.

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. The Dacotah Prairie Museum has created a satellite exhibit, which is on display in the Johnson Fine Arts Center. There will be a pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. in Berggren Recital Hall at which Vodnoy, Yurgaitis, and several members of the Ellis Island cast will talk about the program.

Ticket Information

Tickets for the concert are $18 for adults. All students are free with student I.D. (box office, only). Tickets are available online at or at the JFAC box office, which is open noon-4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and two hours before concert time. Call the box office at 605-626-2900 or email for ticket information.

For general concert information, call the School of Fine Arts Office at 605-606-2497, email, or go to The orchestra receives a grant from the South Dakota Arts Council. The 2017-18 season is sponsored by the American News.

Aberdeen University/Civic Symphony


Beth Neitzert#            Aberdeen

Iiris Säkkinen              Riihimäki, Finland

Xin Wang                    Aberdeen

Gregg Magera             Aberdeen

Leandro Fernandez Moutin   Rosario, Argentina

Allison Miller              Aberdeen

Kara Sinar                   Aberdeen

Ceylie Gergen             Aberdeen                                   

Violin II

Timothy Woods         Aberdeen

Qi An                           Jiayuguan, China

Gregory Lyon              Seattle, Wash.

Hannah Rovang          Aberdeen

Nancy Ohnstad           Aberdeen

Madison Holmes        Aberdeen


Isaac Seaton#             Aberdeen

Abe Wieland              Aberdeen

Ricky Faflak                 Aberdeen

Logan Jensen              Aberdeen


Stuart Davidson#       Crocker

Joseph Berns              Aberdeen

Sarah Jones                Aberdeen

Grant Duvall               Huron

Yuefeng Peng              Aberdeen


Tanner Chilson#         Watertown

Lucas Fredrick             Aberdeen

Christian Scarlett       Aberdeen

John Casey                  Sioux Falls

Flute and Piccolo*

Charity Ost#               Ashley, N.D.

Jennem Woolever      Grand Forks, N.D.

Annie Woodmansey* Pierre

Oboe and English horn*

Jamie Stadel#             Aberdeen

Debra Kogel*              Woonsocket

Brooke Thielbar         Hardwick, Minn.


Jamie Stadel               Aberdeen

Clarinet and Bass Clarinet*

Molly Royals#             Rapid City

Sarah Suko                  Aberdeen

Joni Willoughby*       Midland


Leah Walker#             Sioux Falls

Chris Haak                  Sioux Falls


Ginny Lewis#              Aberdeen

Elsa Swanson              Chaska, Minn.

Carleigh Klein             Rapid City

McKinley Hoselton     Richardton, N.D.

Gretchen Sharp          Bath


Colton Schaefer#        Wilmot

Patrick Calvillo            Walhalla, N.D.

Dylan Rausch              Yankton


Brady Vandevort#      Rapid City

Scott Glodt                 Hoven

Chris Allen                  Rapid City


Travis Netzer#            Aberdeen

Timpani and Percussion

Roger Frank#              Gregory

Kori Kerwin                 Chamberlain

Tabitha Schmidt         Huron

Grace Woodstead      Cooperstown, N.D.

Balie Albrecht             Rapid City      


Grace Gasperich         Aberdeen


Andrea Stern              Minneapolis, Minn.

About Northern State University

Northern State University is a regional university that offers outstanding academics and exceptional extracurricular activities at an affordable price on a safe, welcoming campus. Northern State recently announced its Educational Impact Campaign, with a goal of raising $45 million for a new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, new athletic and recreation fields, and an on-campus regional sports complex. Once the campaign is complete, NSU will be the recipient of more than $100 million in privately funded building projects and scholarships within a decade. To learn more, visit NSU Admissions