"Sometimes a piece gets a title before you write it,"says UC Irvine composer Zelman Bokser. "Sometimes it gets a title after you write it. Sometimes, it's in the middle. This is one of those pieces where the title came in the middle."
Bokser is referring to his "Behind the Gathering Clouds" for piano, violin and cello, one of his three works in the "Meet the Composer/California" series Friday at the Newport Harbor Art Museum.
"I had finished the first movement and was working on the second," Bokser continues, "when I realized the first had a stormy quality to it and the second had a kind of tearful quality. Both of those movements could be analogies for storms of various kinds--a literal storm outside and a psychological storm inside."
So it was inevitable, he says, that when he came to writing the third movement of the 1989 work, the music took on bright and sunny qualities. "It was like after the storm," he says.
"That turns out to have been my thought process in writing the piece," he adds. "Whether anyone else hears that is immaterial. Of course, a piece has to work on its own, despite any outside program information that composers had in mind."
His "Earth Winds" for flute, harp and viola, also on the program, similarly has pictorial associations. Bokser wrote the piece in 1983, while he was finishing a Mellon Post Doctoral Teaching Fellowship at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., where he had earned his Ph.D. in composition. (He came to UCI in 1986.)
"In Rochester, the arrival of spring is a big event psychologically," he says. "Near where I lived, there was a stand of willow trees. It was just at the very beginning of spring, when the trees were starting to leaf out. You couldn't tell where the trees ended and the sky began. That was the visual inspiration for the piece. The musical lines and textures begin and end in amorphous ways, one line blending into another."
The third work, "Three Studies for Cello and Percussion," lacks such associations, but Bokser says that since each section is scored for a different set of percussion instruments, the whole makes up "a kind of percussion orchestra, which transforms itself in terms of color over the course of the piece."
The 15-minute piece took a prize at the 1983 Chicago Composer's Society Competition.
Although the program is Bokser's first at the museum, it is not the first devoted solely to his music.
"To do a program of one composer's music is already a little bit self-indulgent," Bokser says. "Knowing that, I made as much effort as possible to pick works as different from each other as they could be, not only in terms of instrumentation but also in terms of the compositional process."
But Bokser is reluctant to talk too much about those processes.
"I don't want to be too evasive or too specific, either," he says. "In general, I'm very concerned with writing music that is lyrical in nature, expressive for the instruments and which speaks to a wide audience."
What: Meet the Composer/California Series: Zelman Bokser.
When: Friday, April 5, 8 p.m.
Where: Newport Harbor Art Museum, 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach.
Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to the Jamboree Road exit. Go south on Jamboree to Santa Barbara Drive, just north of the Coast Highway. San Clemente runs off Santa Barbara.
Where to call: (714) 759-1122.