The Hippo


Jun 3, 2020








The New Hampshire Master Chorale during its spring 2016 concert. Courtesy photo.

“Eve, Absinthe, Alice”

Eagle Square: Saturday, Nov. 19, at 8 p.m., at the Eagle Square Atrium, Concord; cocktail reception at 7 p.m., during which the poet and composer will be available to talk informally about their work and process
Plymouth Congregational Church: 4 Post Office Square, Plymouth, Sunday, Nov. 20, at 4 p.m.
Admission: $30, free for students

Pushing boundaries
Master Chorale’s “Eve, Absinthe, Alice” celebrates women

By Kelly Sennott

 It’s all about women in the New Hampshire Master Chorale’s upcoming program, “Eve, Absinthe, Alice,” with events this weekend in Concord and Plymouth.

The title comes from the concert’s centerpiece, a world premiere commissioned by the Master Chorale, with music by Boston composer and Dartmouth alum Oliver Caplan and lyrics by poet Ruth Kessler.
Caplan, who sang under Master Chorale Music Director Dan Perkins as part of Dartmouth College’s Handel Society years back, pitched “Eve, Absinthe, Alice” for the chorale last spring. He’d been tinkering with the idea of setting three of Kessler’s poems — “Eve to Posterity,” “The Absinthe Drinker” and “My name is” — to music since 2013, when he met Kessler during a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
At the time, she was working on a collection featuring 17 poems that give voice to women in myths and the arts. Three of these women stuck out to him: Eve from the Bible; the woman featured in French artist Edgar Degas’s painting “The Absinthe Drinker”; and Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. 
“They’re all stories about women pushing the boundaries and reaching further, which I think is this very human thing to do. There are lots of themes of curiosity and temptation,” Caplan said during a phone interview last week. “I think one of [Perkins’] strengths as a chorale director is he does a good job of getting inside characters and the voices behind the singers — it makes him a good fit for this piece.”
Perkins loved the idea. At the time, he had dates for the chorale’s winter concerts but was still narrowing in on a theme. One of his ideas, actually, was to commemorate how far women have come this election season.
“After reading the texts through, I thought it was a fantastic concept,” Perkins said. “I had thought about the theme of celebrating women, but I hadn’t chosen all the repertoire. When [Caplan] came forward, he just solidified the plans, and this piece became the centerpiece for the entire concert.”
Caplan wrote the music last summer during residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Brush Creek Ranch in Wyoming. He presented the finished product to Perkins in September, in time for the chorale’s first rehearsal later that month.
The concurrent worlds in each tale also intrigued Caplan. In “Eve to Posterity,” Eve ponders the dilemma of free choice after her fateful act and enters into a new world of knowledge. For her movement, Caplan used a Phrygian scale, which has Eastern roots, to give the piece inflections of Mesopotamia and inspire images of the Garden of Eden. 
“The first poem about Eve — it really is her questioning her choice to eat the apple and take on the knowledge of the world, and then be saddled for eternity with blame,” Perkins said. “But she keeps asking herself, ‘Would I do this again? Would I make that choice?’”
In the second movement, set to “The Absinthe Drinker,” the subject escapes her world of lost opportunities by tasting the infamous hallucinogenic — and to put the listener there, Caplan added hints of jazz and Asian sounds, traditional to lots of French music. 
The last movement, set to “My name is,” contains romantic notes to bring concert-goers to Wonderland. 
All poems are presented in their entirety, though Caplan tinkered with order and repetition for a better translation to music. 
Other pieces include a lyrical setting of words by Ruth from the Bible (“Entreat me not to leave you … Where you go, I will go”) composed by Dan Forrest; “A Heart in Hiding,” with six Emily Dickinson poems, set by Vermont composer Gwyneth Walker; two poems by Sara Teasdale, “There Will Be Rest” and “To See  the Sky,” set by Frank Ticheli and Jocelyn Hagen, respectively; a setting of Emma Lazarus’ words (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”) set by Joshua Fishbein; and “Wonders Unfold,” by Master Chorale baritone Andrew Morrissey.
Perkins said he’s pleased with Caplan’s music and the program. 
“It’s really great music, accessible to the listener,” Perkins said. 

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