"A Nation of Others," the latest work by Pulitzer Prize-winning University Professor Paul Moravec, DMA (left), explores the lives of refugees arriving at Ellis Island on a single day in 1921. It recently premiered at Carnegie Hall.
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec, DMA, often turns to America’s past for inspiration.
This November, Dr. Moravec, who is one of only three faculty members at Adelphi to be honored with the title of University Professor, premiered his third “American historical oratorio” when A Nation of Others took the stage at Carnegie Hall.
Written with his frequent librettist Mark Campbell, A Nation of Others dramatizes the experiences of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island on a single day in 1921. It tells the story of new arrivals from across Europe, refugees from impoverished and war-torn countries.
It is a story that has particular resonance for Dr. Moravec. “It was astounding to think that my grandfather came through there in 1907 on his own, when he was 16 years old and didn’t speak the language,” he said in a November 7, 2022, article published in Broadway World. “I tried to imagine myself, traveling alone and arriving in a country I knew nothing about. I couldn’t even begin to picture what it was like for him. He must have been terrified.”
It’s also a story that will resonate with almost everyone who hears it. “I chose to make this third oratorio about immigration, which is, of course, the story of most Americans,” Dr. Moravec told From My Desk.
Dr. Moravec’s American trilogy began in 2008 with The Blizzard Voices, based on firsthand accounts of survivors of the “children’s blizzard” of 1888, the storm in the northern plains that claimed an estimated 200 to 300 lives, including those of children caught in rural schoolhouses. The acclaimed Sanctuary Road, which premiered in 2018, is based on the writings of William Still, a conductor on the Underground Railroad who collected and published accounts of other conductors and the fugitives they helped escape to freedom. The recording of the oratorio, released by Naxos Records in 2020, received a 2021 Grammy nomination.
Dr. Moravec received his Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for Tempest Fantasy, a chamber work inspired not by a historical event but by William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
A Mainstay of Adelphi’s Vibrant Music Program
Since joining Adelphi’s faculty in 2004, Dr. Moravec has helped establish the University music program’s reputation for excellence. He works directly with composition students, recently guiding two students in setting poems by Walt Whitman to music. He has also taught courses on the history of Western music and first-year seminars on the study of song and the craft of songwriting.
The Adelphi Symphony Orchestra, which performs at the award-winning Adelphi University Performing Arts Center, was invited by the United Nations in 2021 to celebrate its 75th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of its Academic Impact program. The concert, which was livestreamed on the UN website, included Dr. Moravec’s Autumn Song, a concerto for flute and chamber orchestra.
Adelphi’s music program prepares young artists by offering majors in composition, jazz studies, and instrumental, piano and vocal performance. Recent graduates include Ani Djirdjirian ’16, the 2019 winner of the Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Visiting Musical Performer.
A Nation of “Other Nations”
The new, hour-long oratorio follows the imagined stories of immigrants from Sicily, Ukraine, Ireland, Croatia, Sweden, Poland, Armenia and Spain, showing struggles immigrants can face, while celebrating the fusion of diverse cultures that gives our country its identity. The work also includes a setting of the Walt Whitman poem “America.”
In a Facebook Live post, Kent Tritle, conductor of the Oratorio Society of New York, who gave the premieres of both A Nation of Others and Sanctuary Road, said, “The premiere of A Nation of Others is so deeply moving, so profound. … We commissioned this at a time when immigrants were, as they are even now, really being disparaged and treated badly here in these United States of America.”
Why did Dr. Moravec and his librettist name their work A Nation of Others?
“Ours is not just a nation of ‘other people’ that look different or act differently, but a nation of ‘other nations,'” he told Broadway World. “Clearly, the people in the story came here under duress. … [T]here was something compelling them to do it—many had nowhere else to go and were really desperate.”
But the oratorio doesn’t focus solely on the desperation—and hopes—of the immigrants. It illuminates a deeper truth.
“Another of the things we show in Nation is that the immigrants bring the old country with them,” Dr. Moravec told Broadway World. “There’s this great thing that William Faulkner said: ‘The past is never dead; it isn’t even past.’ And that’s the story of the people in Nation: They’re carrying the past with them.”
Dr. Moravec is already at work on his next historical oratorio, about the expansion of voting rights in America. Commissioned by the Oratorio Society of New York and called All Shall Rise, it will also premiere at Carnegie Hall.