Dick Clark: Don’t R.I.P.

by Sedgwick Clark

The media were consumed last week by the death at age 82 of Dick Clark (need I say, no relation?). I was never a fan of American Bandstand. I came home from school when I was a tot and twisted to Hollywood on Indianapolis TV’s late-afternoon Frances Farmer Presents instead of Chubby Checker. There, in her world-weary voice, the aging actress introduced the film of the afternoon with anecdotes about the stars. I was too young to appreciate what she had to say, but I recall that her show was interlarded with so many commercials that often I didn’t reach the denouement before my mother called me to dinner. It was many years before I learned who got the girl in Casablanca.

Anyway, while America was mourning, I had less charitable thoughts about Dick Clark. In 1972 the New York Daily News ran a short interview with him saying that classical music would die because no one wanted to listen to it. “What a moron,” I thought, and skewered the piece on the wall of my office at Philips and Mercury Records. For some reason I never forgot that little news piece. It perished in the electrical fire that ignited in the ceiling months later, a little after 6 one evening when I would have been at my desk. Fortunately, I was at dinner with Bernard Haitink that night in Boston, where he was conducting Mahler’s First—else my ashes would have forever commingled with Dick Clark’s thoughtless words.

Van Zweden’s Galvanic Mahler    

And speaking of Mahler’s First, it was the major work led by Musical America’s current Conductor of the Year, Jaap van Zweden, in his New York Philharmonic debut on April 12. Talk about intensity! I don’t recall ever seeing a more tightly wound podium demeanor. He cued every last entrance, and the New Yorkers responded with coiled-spring precision. Interpretively, the Dutch conductor fell somewhere between Bernstein’s emotionalism and Haitink’s objectivity, with dynamism in spades. You can’t lose with Mahler’s Triumphal conclusion—the horns standing suddenly to pour out their golden tone fff—and the audience went predictably wild. What was not predictable was that the orchestra stayed seated, applauding van Zweden as he came out for his first bow—a remarkable gesture of respect from these difficult-to-please musicians. He’ll be back soon, no doubt.

In the first half, he accompanied the volatile 25-year-old Chinese pianist Yuja Wang in Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto. She kept pushing ahead, but van Zweden and his players kept up respectably. The concluding allegro, beginning with the pizz. strings at 131, was dispatched with a breathless edge-of-seat unanimity that I’ve heard equaled only by the mercurial Martha Argerich, Charles Dutoit, and the Orchestre National de France at Avery Fisher Hall on March 18, 1994—the best performance I’ve ever heard live. Message to Yuja: A bit more poise can yield a more satisfying performance overall.

Looking forward

My week’s scheduled concerts:

4/26 Metropolitan Opera. Wagner: Das Rheingold. Fabio Luisi (cond.). Wendy Bryn Harmer, soprano; Stephanie Blythe, mezzo; Patricia Bardon, mezzo; Adam Klein, tenor; Gerhard Siegel, tenor; Bryn Terfel, baritone; Eric Owens, bass-baritone; Franz-Josef Selig, bass; Hans-Peter König, bass.

4/27 New Jersey Performing Arts Center (Newark). New Jersey Symphony/Jacques Lacombe; Gil Shaham, violin. Mozart: Masonic Funeral Music. Berg: Violin Concerto. Danielpour: Kaddish for Violin and Orchestra (world premiere). Prokofiev: Symphony No. 3.

4/28 Metropolitan Opera (broadcast). Wagner: Die Walküre. Fabio Luisi (cond.). Katarina Dalayman, soprano; Eva-Maria Westbroek, soprano; Stephanie Blythe, mezzo; Jonas Kaufmann, tenor; Bryn Terfel, baritone; Hans-Peter König, bass.

4/30 Metropolitan Opera. Wagner: Siegfried. Fabio Luisi (cond.). Katarina Dalayman, soprano; Patricia Bardon, mezzo; Jay Hunter Morris, tenor; Gerhard Siegel, tenor, Bryn Terfel, baritone; Eric Owens, bass-baritone.

5/1 Carnegie Hall. Mathias Goerne, baritone; Lief Ove Andsnes, piano. Songs by Shostakovich and Mahler.

5/2 Carnegie Hall. New York Phiharmonic/Alan Gilbert. Mahler: Symphony No. 6 (“Tragic”).

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