Keith Clark, the embattled, brooding and ambitious conductor who founded Pacific Symphony 10 years ago, will step onto the podium for his last pair of classical concerts with the orchestra today and Thursday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Then he will step down, having lost a bitter battle that split the orchestra's board of directors and created a public controversy.
Clark, 43, has one more children's concert to conduct, at the Center on May 20, and officially his tenure extends through the end of the month. But in practical terms, today and Thursday signal the end of an era.
Since he started the orchestra with 30 musicians, a $2,000 budget and a two-concert season, it has grown into a full, 90-plus-member ensemble with a budget that approaches $4.7 million.
From performances at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, the Good Time Theatre at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park and Santa Ana High School Auditorium, the orchestra has moved into the Center, the premiere concert facility in the county. And it is about to start its second five-concert summer series at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.
"He was--and remains--a very good and charismatic organizer," one orchestra member said recently. "Somehow he enlisted the support of people who would just do anything for him. He seems to generate that kind of support."
Clark, who said he will stay in the area, plans to make recordings and conduct children's concerts with a new local orchestra if supporters succeed in forming one.
Clark is a composer and an arranger as well as a conductor. Considering himself a champion of Prokofiev, he devised his own suite from the music the composer had written for Sergei Eisenstein's film "Ivan the Terrible," which was performed by his Pacific Symphony in November, 1985, and January, 1988.
Most of the time, though, he did not use the orchestra as a forum for his own work. Instead, he was committed to programming works by American composers and by Europeans who became U.S. citizens. In his early days with the Pacific, these were part of Apple Pie Concerts, at which slices of apple pie were handed out at intermission. Clark continued the music at the Center (where real apple pie is forbidden for fear that it will stain the rug).
Such American works included the violin concertos of Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti (which he and the orchestra recorded with violinist Ruggiero Ricci for the Varese/Sarabande label); Roy Harris' Symphonies No. 3 and 5, and pieces by Donald Erb, Ernst Krenek, William Schmidt, Richard Nanes and Joseph Schwantner.
Clark also has a penchant for big works. Richard Strauss and Stravinsky appeared prominently on his programs, and he resurrected Schoenberg's rarely performed, enormously scaled "Gurrelieder" in May, 1988. He led a program of excerpts from Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen" in 1988 and will conduct Beethoven's "Choral" Symphony on his final Pacific concerts this week.
Clark also called himself "a Mahler freak," programming at least one of the composer's nine symphonies almost every year. The neurasthenic Viennese composer usually inspired Clark to his best work, intelligent and distinct.
Clark liked to experiment in programing. When he led Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" Fantasy-Overture in 1984, he chose the unfamiliar, original version Tchaikovsky submitted to composer Mily Balakirev, who urged him to make cuts.
That same year, he chose Leopold Stokowski's orchestration of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" over Ravel's more standard one. And when leading Bruckner's Ninth Symphony, also in 1984, he added William Carragan's rarely heard reconstruction of the last movement.
He offered premieres of William Houston's opera "The XTC of St. Teresa" (at Newport Harbor Art Museum in 1984) and Debussy's "Le Printemps" in 1985.
His most controversial--and audacious--programming choice was to insert Schoenberg's "A Survivor From Warsaw" between the third and fourth movements of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Clark said he wanted to "recapture that feeling of newness and surprise that the first audience felt when a bass soloist and then a chorus began singing for the first time in a symphony."
However, the juxtaposition of Beethoven's hymn to joy and Schoenberg's wrenching depiction of Nazis marching Jews into gas chambers took listeners past surprise and into shock.
These experiments, successful and not so successful alike, tended to disappear altogether when the orchestra moved into the 3,000-seat, expensive-to-rent Performing Arts Center in 1986; Clark found himself under greater pressure to draw and please crowds. But even there, Clark was not afraid to take a chance now and then.
In February, he offered the so-called Beethoven Tenth Symphony, as reconstructed by Scottish musicologist Barry Cooper. It proved to be a pale, inconsequential work, but Clark also gave premieres of more authentic, significant pieces, such as Karel Husa's "Entrata for Brass."