A Perusal of Paris Windows Leads UCI Composer to a Work for Flute

Times Staff Writer

Genius makes musical creations endure; titles just help make them more popular. Would as many people be familiar with Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata or Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony if they were known only as Sonata No. 14, Opus 27, No. 2; or Symphony No. 8, Deutsch 759?

Maybe. Then again, maybe not.

Actually, very few classical pieces have descriptive titles. Most are known by numbers--Symphony No. 1 or 2; publication order (the opus number), or a number assigned in a catalogue that someone has put together, as Otto Erich Deutsch did for the works of Schubert. And in many famous instances, titles were appended later, not by the composers, but by publishers or relatives anxious to make the works more marketable.

But one composer who does prefer titles is Zelman Bokser, whose new mini-concerto for flute "Elaborate Windows" will receive its premiere on Sunday at South Coast Community Church in Irvine.

"I like titles," said Bokser, a UCI professor of music since 1986. "We take it for granted that authors give titles to books. They don't call them 'Book No. 1,' 'Book No. 2.'

"Titles are enjoyable when there is a clear relationship between the title and the work, either in terms of a commission or in terms of its character."

The relationship in "Elaborate Windows" goes back to last summer when Bokser became fascinated with the wrought iron around windows he saw in Paris.

"They seemed endlessly varied," he said. "Every one seemed to have its own design. We don't have anything like that, and because all those buildings are from different centuries, the wrought-iron work is of very rich and contrasting character. It was a good idea for a piece."

The idea, Bokser explained, was to write "a series of highly decorated episodes."

"It's like a miniature concerto in nature," Bokser said. "Basically, the flute plays a kind of elaborate decorative line over a relatively plain orchestral arrangement. . . . The demands on the flutist become more and more virtuosic as the work goes on. . . . It is a very gymnastic work for the flutist."

All the harmonic and melodic material is derived from five notes--C, E, F-sharp, A and B, according to the composer. But Bokser declined to label it a serial--or rigorously organized 12-tone--piece. "None of my music is serial in nature," he said.

"I don't know how I arrived at that (five-note line). It just turned out as I started to write."

He added: "I don't believe too much in the 'lightning-bolt' theory of composition. I'm sure it happens that way. But I just go about working, and eventually I find material that seems worth developing."

Bokser wrote the work, which lasts about 12 minutes, in December and January. It is scored for chamber orchestra--strings and woodwinds in pairs--and is dedicated to David Shostac, principal flutist with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, who will give the work its premiere.

After a recent rehearsal of the work, Shostac described it in enthusiastic terms, calling it a "colorful and imaginative piece."

"There is a building of excitement that really makes it hang together well," Shostac said. "One thing derives from the previous thing, and it expands. It drives to a brilliant conclusion, without question."

Shostac added that he, too, is fond of the title. "It's good because it has a kind of evocative quality, and that's what this piece is."

Bokser hopes that no one will spend too much time trying to see any particular "windows" that he had in mind, however.

"There is a danger (in giving titles to works)," Bokser said. "If you play Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique for 10 different people, you're going to get 10 different stories--none matching Berlioz's.

"But the fact that composers respond to a stimulus--which might be visual or extramusical--that leads them to create something does not imply that the listener has to know exactly what that stimulus is in order to enjoy the work."

Zelman Bokser's "Elaborate Windows" will receive its premiere at 3 p.m. on Sunday at South Coast Community Church, 5120 Bonita Canyon Road, in Irvine. Featured soloist is flutist David Shostac, to whom the work is dedicated. Bokser also will conduct the UCI Symphony in Bach's Suite in B minor and Mahler's Symphony No. 1. Tickets: $7, general; $6, seniors and students. Information: (714) 856-6616.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World