An Interview With Richard Stoltzman

Clarinet virtuoso Richard Stoltzman called me at my home Sunday, June 17, prior to his scheduled performance of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony under the direction of Sir Neville Marriner, part of the summer Mozart Festival, June 20-30, 2001. Other than the occasional RCA recording showing up at stores, I had not kept up with Stoltzman's progress since the 'Tashi' days and the knowledge that several composers (like Kent Kennan and William Thomas McKinley) had written pieces for him. So, hearing that he was just returned from Hong Kong (and Hawaii, on vacation), I was eager to update myself on matters musical.

GL: Thanks for calling. You will be playing the Mozart Concerto, for the nth time; does it still have significance for you?

RS: Oh, yes. First, let me say that the Vienna Symphony Orchestra invited me, back in October, to perform the piece in honor of its 200th anniversary, having been given back in 1791 on October 16. So we (I and conductor Fruhbeck de Burgos) 'rebirthed' this wonderful piece; and given its extraordinary second movement, there is always a 'transcendent' experience there, waiting for the performers to bring it out.

GL: You are a veteran of the San Franscisco Symphony; how about working with Sir Neville Marriner?

RS: As you likely know, my wife, Lucy Chapman, was an associate concert-master with the San Francisco Symphony. She went on to become part of the Muir String Quartet. The San Francisco 'sound' (especially in the de Waart days) is something quite well defined in my musical recall, so we respond to each other out of musical familiarity. As for working with Neville Marriner, it is so natural; he breathes the music with you. His son is a clarinetist, so the affinities for the instrument, the setting of balances and musical interplay, just flow out, almost without the need to comment verbally.

GL: May I ask, when you were a youngster, growing up and hearing music, were the great clarinet virtuosos part of your idealization, like Reginald Kell, Leopold Vlach, and others?

RS: Frankly, my dad did not make much of a distinction among musicians. Listening to Woody Herman or to Artie Shaw, I was not stylistically aware of any 'level' of musical hierarchy: I did not distinguish between 'classical' and jazz or 'good' music and bad. Great playing appealed to me directly. The ability to 'cross over' (which is really contemporary, as a means of selling artists to new listeners) was not a clear demarcation. I always thought one's technique could serve music, whatever it is. But sure, I thought Kell was great. We both agree his Jamaican Rhumba by Benjamin could sell the clarinet to anybody.

GL: Is the Corigliano Concerto (whose premier I attended with Drucker and Bernstein back in 1977) a piece you admire?RS: Given the stylistic differences between me and Stanley, I must say I have seen a lot of mileage out of the Corigliano Concerto, for example, with the LSO and Leonard Slatkin. I've toured with it all over-it is always 'effective' in the largest sense; it simply involves-or provokes-many listeners to become engaged with it. But I also have played an arrangement of Prokofiev's Op. 94, the original flute sonata-turned-violin sonata (for Oistrakh), as a clarinet concerto, arranged by Kennan. I performed "Glass Canyons" at Yale with Lawrence Leighton Smith. The Copland Concerto and the Debussy Premier Rhapsody have become my 'signature' pieces. Lukas Foss occasionally writes me something; so does Takemitsu. I just recorded the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto, so the revaluation of old and new (or relatively new) pieces goes on indefinitely. Before, you said something about balancing the 'museum pieces' with the 'vital' contemporary world. For me, there is always something contemporary about the older pieces, since the musical imagination reinterprets them and re-negotiates their meaning.

GL: Sounds like advice well worth giving to the likes of Pierre Boulez and his critical ilk.

Anyway, thanks for your time, and I wish you well in the week-end Mozart.

RS: Thanks. And drop by if you can after the concert.

- Gary Lemco

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