Oliver Caplan (b. 1982) is a Boston-based composer of romantically-tinged music for all combinations of instruments and voices. He grew up in the Bronx, attending Stuyvesant high school, where he played piccolo in the band. He left in New York in 2000 for Dartmouth College (he and I met and became friends there) where the rich outdoor environment and mix of musical personalities (like the Dartmouth College Marching Band) inspired his interest in composition. He went on to study at the Boston Conservatory. Caplan’s music has been performed all over the United States. He has received commissions from the Columbia University Wind Ensemble, the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College, the Juventas New Music Ensemble, and the Sinfonietta of Riverdale, among many others. He has received numerous awards, having most recently been named as a Finalist for the American Prize in Composition.
Caplan wrote Reason for Hope in a Complex World in 2007 on a commission from the Columbia University Wind Ensemble. He writes:
Commissioned by the Columbia University Wind Ensemble, Reason for Hope in a Complex World was inspired by the work and words of Jane Goodall. In Spring 2007 Dr. Goodall spoke in Boston, addressing the question: Is there hope for the future? Hope, she responded, stems from the incredible nature of the human spirit, but there is only hope if we all come together as a global community – we must each be a part of compassionate change.
The piece draws from this idea of binding together to become greater than the sum of our parts. Contrasting passages derive from a fanfare theme, presented in its entirety only at the work’s finale. The structure loosely resembles a theme and variations in reverse. The fanfare serves as a point of arrival that unifies the work’s various threads. In a sense, this mirrors Dr. Goodall’s idea of disparate people coming together to realize their common humanity.
The composition opens with chords meant to evoke the tolling of bell towers, focal points of community that mark the passage of time and call people together. Meanwhile, members of the ensemble murmur words of Walt Whitman about the busy egotism of society. The music proceeds through several sections – from urban-inspired reflections on constant sensory input to contemplations of spaces lonely and longing. The bell chords return, and finally the brass section presents a fanfare theme of hope.
You can listen to Reason for Hope in a Complex World on Caplan’s website (scroll all the way to the bottom and you’ll see it). The performance is the Columbia University Wind Ensemble premiere at Dartmouth College in February, 2008. You’ll hear some text in there – that’s from Walt Whitman, and reads as follows:
This is the city… and I am on of the
citizens. Whatever interests the rest
interests me… politics, churches, schools, benevolent
societies, improvements, banks, tariffs, factories,
markets, stocks and stores and real estate and
personal estate. They who piddle and patter here
in collars and tailed coats… I am aware who
they are… I acknowledge the duplicates
of myself under all the scrape-lipped and
pipe-legged concealments. I know perfectly
well my own egotism.
Quicksand years that whirl me I know not whither.
Your schemes, politics, fail, lines give way,
substances mock and elude me. Out of politics,
triumphs, battles, life, what at last finally remains?
Everyone loves videos, so here’s a behind the scenes look at the making of Caplan’s album: