His Future With Orchestra Uncertain : Conductor Clark Gets 'a Couple of Options'

Times Staff Writers

Keith Clark, founding music director of the Pacific Symphony, has been given "a couple of options" affecting his future with the orchestra, according to a member of the board of directors.

The board held a long, closed meeting Monday night at which "votes were taken" involving its continuing relationship with Clark, board member Stewart Woodard said Tuesday.

Clark's leadership has long divided the board because many feel that the orchestra has outgrown him. Tuesday, Clark denied that he had been fired and said he was "considering various options" and that "nothing has been concluded." Woodard concurred.

Clark and Woodard denied that a search for a new conductor is in progress.

"Next season is already fixed," Clark added, "and I will be in charge of that."

"Issues were not totally resolved," Woodard said, refusing to identify or discuss the issues specifically. "I believe they will be (resolved) in a way that is positive for Keith, the orchestra and the county," he added.

Board president John Evans issued a prepared statement Tuesday: "The board has made certain options (available) to the music director. He has not responded to the options." He refused to answer any questions or to elaborate in any way, though he did say that he had discussed the matter with Clark and a lawyer.

Evans said he hopes to talk further with other members of the board today and to issue a statement this afternoon.

Executive director Louis G. Spisto said he knew nothing about the matter. Board chairman Michael Gilano could not be reached.

Clark said he was leaving Tuesday night for previously announced recording sessions with the Czechoslovak Radio Symphony in Europe.

Clark, 42, founded the Pacific Symphony nine years ago as an outgrowth of the Pacific Chamber Orchestra that he had created at Cal State Fullerton during his stint as an associate music professor there. The Pacific Chamber Orchestra was a part-professional, part-graduate student, part-community group.

Pacific Symphony began, Clark said in an October interview, with "a grant of $2,000 and plans on my kitchen table." Now, the budget has reached $3 million and the orchestra plays regularly at the $73-million Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Though praised by his supporters as a tireless promoter of music in Orange County, Clark was sometimes criticized for trying to handle both administrative and musical duties. The time he spent on administrative tasks sometimes left him unprepared at rehearsals and performances, musicians have said.

At a concert-planning meeting with a guest soloist, Clark reportedly showed up armed with the wrong music.

His autocratic control over the orchestra alienated co-workers and has been cited by many former officials as the reason for the orchestra's high turnover of administrators.

"People work there just long enough to get to know Keith, and then move on," said one former Pacific Symphony executive.

The first sign of major changes in the orchestra's administrative structure was the hiring in June of Spisto, who was placed on an adminstrative par with Clark, rather than under him as previous executive directors had been. In the fall, Clark signed his first contract with the orchestra's board of directors, and some insiders suggested that it was the first concrete step toward removing him. "If he has a contract," said a source who asked not to be identified, "then the board could choose not to renew it."

Before forming Pacific Symphony, Clark was involved as principal guest conductor with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra and acting assistant conductor of the San Francisco Symphony. In August, 1986, he was named music director of the Cathedral Concert Orchestra in New Jersey, where his duties involve a handful of concerts a year. In addition, he has been guest conducting and recording with the London Philharmonic, the Czechoslovak Radio Symphony and the Seoul Philharmonic, among other orchestras.

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