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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the April 2, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

A Recipe for Good Music

Clarinetist Richard Stoltzman runs a tight schedule.

A familiar performer in classical, jazz, and crossover circles, it

comes to him that the ideal time for an interview is on his way home

from a rehearsal, while he drives on the Massachusetts Turnpike. He

gives me his cell phone number. By the initial indications, he is

on the cutting edge of electronic technology.

Stoltzman and the distinguished pianist Emanuel Ax, his good friend

of 30 years, are preparing for a recital at McCarter Theater on


April 7, at 8 p.m. Their program is in part a historical re-enactment.

It includes the two Johannes Brahms sonatas for clarinet and piano,

Op. 120, and Robert Schumann’s "Fantasiestucke," Op. 73,


played during a soiree at the home of Clara Schumann, Robert’s widow,

on November 13, 1894. At this first, informal, performance of the

sonatas, Brahms himself was at the piano. A performance with the


program introduced the public to the two new sonatas.

The McCarter concert goes beyond history and includes two contemporary

pieces by Boston-based composers, one of them a world premiere.


its first performance is Yehudi Wyner’s "Commedia." William

Thomas McKinley’s "Lamento," which Stoltzman describes as

a "short, beautiful, poignant piece," completes the program.

"The reason for doing the concert is the Brahms Sonatas,"

says Stoltzman, who has arrived home by the time we speak. "It’s

a cornerstone of the literature for the clarinet. Because Brahms had

already retired, it’s a miracle. Thank God for Richard Muhleld, who

made Brahms think that the clarinet is worthy of this kind of


After informing his publisher not to expect any more music from him,

Brahms heard clarinetist Muhlfeld and was captivated. Brahms invited

Muhlfeld to play the entire clarinet repertoire for him and showered

him with questions about the sonorities of the instrument and its

technique. Then, with Muhlfeld in mind, he wrote a trio, a quintet,

and the two sonatas. Muhlfeld, he said, was his nightingale. In 1897,

within three years of completing the sonatas, Brahms was dead, leaving

behind four treasures of the clarinet repertoire.

For Stoltzman and Ax playing the Brahms is a peak musical experience

steeped in the environment of a long friendship. "I wanted to

explore these pieces with a good friend," Stoltzman says.


always something about going back to a masterpiece. You’re older;

you have new experiences. Returning to a piece brings continuity to

your life. We’ve known each other for more than 30 years. We value

the friendship; the friendship can be enriched by the music. And I

have some nice dinners."

Stoltzman tries to dismiss his remark about good eating as a joke.

But I’m not convinced. In the early days of his career, Stoltzman

signed up for a course at the Cordon Bleu school in London and


to bake enthusiastically. In the early 1990s the New York Times


adaptations of his recipes for Linzer torte and cheesecake.

At any rate, the music is more important to him than

the food. "The whole thing is summarized by a tempo marking in

the last sonata, `allegro amabile,’" he says. "I never saw

that marking before. It’s very unusual: a tempo marking followed by

a feeling about the tempo. Brahms is saying you have to allow time

to let the music flow, and to let your life flow. The `amabile’ is

as important as the `allegro.’ It calls for a feeling of friendship

through the music and through time. I would use it as a slogan for

why we’re doing the concert."

Stoltzman won one of his two Grammys in 1983 for his recording of

the Brahms sonatas with pianist Richard Goode and I ask him about

the difference between playing with Goode and with Ax.

"The difference is between playing in 1983 and playing in


he says. "If I played with Richard now, the pieces wouldn’t be

the same either. That’s the great thing about being a musician. At

different times, pieces can mean different things to you. You


differently. It’s part of the wonder of music."

The wonder of music was part of Stoltzman’s life from childhood on.

Born in 1942 in Omaha, Nebraska, to a railway man, he grew up in San

Francisco and Cincinnati. He remembers that his father, an avid


saxophone player, loved big band music. "He would come home from

work, put on record, and say, `This is great music.’ He would play

Woody Herman, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. OK it’s not Mozart,

but it’s great. What we listened to in the 1940s was timeless. Why

not call it classical?"

Stoltzman started on clarinet when he was in elementary school in

San Francisco. "We had an itinerant teacher who said, `Next year

if you bring an instrument to school I’ll teach you how to use it.’

My dad kept a clarinet under the bed. He thought if you play in big

band, you have to double on another instrument." Stoltzman took

his father’s clarinet to school.

Both of Stoltzman’s parents belonged to a church choir; his father

played saxophone; his mother sang. Now 86, his mother still sings.

"The first times I ever played clarinet were in church,"


told a Tacoma, Washington, reporter. "I was too young to read

the notes, but I picked out the alto or tenor line by ear, to help

out the choir. I tried to breathe like they breathed and sound like

they sounded. I played like a singer."

As a clarinetist, Stoltzman advocates using vibrato, the controlled

fluctuations in pitch that singers and string players use generously

to warm up a sound. "There is an opinion in the clarinet world

that claims that a true clarinet tone has no vibrato," he says.

"But the idea of talking about no vibration is almost unmusical.

It’s not a hot issue to me. The idea of music without vibration is

impossible. The tone must vibrate for you to hear it."

"With a clarinet the tone starts by vibrating a piece of bamboo,

the reed, in your mouth. It’s not like plugging a clarinet into a

vacuum cleaner. There’s a very subtle vibration above and below the

exact pitch, a pitch vibrato. There’s also a pulse vibrato occasioned

by the beat as you move the air faster or slower." Stoltzman


by puffing at differing speeds. "With the reed inside your mouth,

as you move your tongue to change the vowel sound, you change the

resonance cavity in your mouth. All this is used in combination.


what makes a tone personal instead of machine-like."

Stoltzman graduated from Ohio State University in 1964

with a double major in music and mathematics. "There’s a little

kinship," he says. "Both math and music use symbols —

formulas or notes on page. Both are a kind of shorthand from the mind

to express something more profound. They’re both are after a kind

of unattainable perfection. Both have a hard-to-describe beauty that’s

not necessarily pretty."

After Ohio State, Stoltzman studied for a master’s degree at Yale

with Keith Wilson, and a doctoral degree at Columbia with Kalmen


"I thought I didn’t have the knowledge of chamber music that I

wanted," he says. "As you study you realize how much you don’t


"My real education was at Marlboro," Stoltzman says, referring

to the Vermont music festival founded by Rudolf Serkin where he spent

10 successive summers beginning in 1967.

"Degrees don’t mean anything for the performer. At Marlboro you

study and rehearse day and night. I was never immersed in music to

that extent before. I met Richard [Goode], Manny [Ax], and Peter


there. I met my wife there."

In 1973, along with other Marlboro alumni, Stoltzman founded Tashi

, the innovative chamber group devoted to contemporary music with

founding members violinist Ida Kavafian, cellist Fred Sherry, and

pianist Peter Serkin. The group, whose name means "good


in Tibetan, derived from the instrumentation required to play Olivier

Messiaen’s mystical "Quartet for the End of Time." The group

celebrated its 25th anniversary in the late ’90s with tours in Asia,

Europe, and the United States.

Stoltzman has been instrumental in promoting new music for clarinet.

He has premiered more than 40 new works. In the four-year period


he recorded 22 new concertos written for him. His discography of some

50 albums is laden with contemporary music.

Does Stoltzman consider himself a classical musician? "I think

of myself as a musician, period," he says. "I make a living

playing music. I play Mozart, Brahms, and Bartok. The word `classical’

is great to use if you’re talking about music that’s timeless and

transcends a period. Composers alive at any time must have said, `This

is contemporary. It’s not a period. It’s my life.’"

In the 1970s Stoltzman was the first to play jazz at Bayreuth. "We

weren’t trying to make a statement," he says. "We played


Brahms, and other classics. Thelonius Monk was on the program. Now

there’s a classical composer. His music has transcended periods of

time and is unique. We attracted many young people. There was a little

bit of tension in the audience. The uninitiated were happily


And the informed were elated. We had to do four or five encores."

Stoltzman’s performances include appearances with his family. His

wife, Lucy Chapman Stoltzman, is a violinist; son Peter, 25, is a

jazz pianist; and daughter Margaret, 19, is a pianist. "Everybody

in the family has their own life," he says. "It’s not easy

to get them together. At the New England Conservatory of Music, wife

Lucy is head of the String Department and the Chamber Music


Son Peter, who just finished a Midwest tour with his father, is


for a degree in composing at the New England Conservatory. Daughter

Margaret is unreachable in Patagonia at the moment, as part of a


offered by the National Outdoor Leadership School, which promotes

wilderness skills.

Though he solidly commands the cell phone, Stoltzman turns over


management to his wife. "I haven’t learned to use a computer."

He says. "I don’t want to use it. My wife knows it well. But

I see the horrible, suffering look on people’s faces when their


has crashed. I don’t think I could stand it. Besides I have to


— Elaine Strauss

Richard Stoltzman and Emanuel Ax, McCarter Theatre,

91 University Place, 609-258-2787. Clarinetist Richard Stoltzman with

six-time Grammy-winner Emanuel Ax on piano. $31 & $34. Monday,

April 7, 8 p.m.<

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