Music: The Talented Mr.Stoltzman

Classical and Jazz clarinetist juggles genres

Jan 20, 2000 at 2:06 pm
Woodrow J. Hinton

Richard Stoltzman

When a 13-year-old Richard Stoltzman and his family moved to Cincinnati from San Francisco in 1956, the Classical and Jazz clarinetist says the first thing he recalled was the seasons.

Then came the music.

"The striking thing was there was snow here," Stoltzman says from his Boston home.

"The heat and the snow were a surprise to me. In retrospect, I started to realize there was a great love of music, and there were many opportunities to be part of music there."

There were the Big Band concerts in Eden Park. Stoltzman, a 1960 graduate of Woodward High School, attended with his father, a railway worker and Jazz musician.

"That was one of our big things, going to Eden Park on Sundays and hearing Stan Kenton, Count Basie and Woody Herman. I remember all these guys coming off the buses in full sunlight with their shades on. They looked pretty wrinkled. They all looked pretty weary.

The bandleader would get on the stand and start counting, 'mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm' and pow! They'd start playing! It was such electricity."

That a musician known primarily for his Classical prowess — Stoltzman was awarded a Grammy award for his recording of Brahms with pianist Richard Goode and another for trio recordings of Mozart and Beethoven with Yo-Yo Ma and Emmanuel Ax — has such vivid Jazz memories speaks to Stoltzman's musical agility and his ability to literally straddle both genres.

Stoltzman has recorded with Jazz artists Gary Burton, Chick Corea, George Shearing, Wayne Shearing and Mel Tormé. Recently, he released the Brahms and Weber Clarinet Quintets with the Tokyo Quartet, some of the greatest chamber works ever written.

Cincinnati audiences can experience Stoltzman's balancing act in two different settings. On Friday and Saturday, Stoltzman appears with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra as the soloist for Copland's Clarinet Concerto. The balance of the program includes Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, Barber's Adagio for Strings, Bernstein's Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier Suite and Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé, Suites Nos. 1 and 2.

On Monday, Stoltzman performs on the Encore Linton Series at Congregation Ohav Shalom in Symmes Township. He'll be joined by his wife, violinist Lucy Stoltzman, and his son, 22-year-old pianist Peter John Stoltzman, along with other musicians. The program will include a Jazz set featuring "My Funny Valentine," Gershwin's Suite from Porgy & Bess and "Monk's Dream," an homage to Jazz pianist/composer Thelonious Monk.

When does Stoltzman know it's time to play or record Jazz or Classical?

"The music tells you," he says. "In this Copland Concerto, the beginning is almost a dream-like waltz, almost in a Classical tradition. And then there's a cadenza and you turn around the corner, and that's where Copland basically says, 'Kick it up a notch.'

"That changes how you're going to play as a clarinet player, how you're going to use your tongue, your breath, your bravado," he says. "What I like to feel is that I don't switch from a so-called Classical person to a Jazz person, but that I listen to what the composer is saying."

Further, he eschews the rock-solid categorizations that once dogged him at the outset of his career.

"I'm old now so I don't have to worry about that," jokes Stoltzman, 57. "When I was younger, RCA would say, 'We have to figure out what bin you're in.' "

More pointedly, he was told he couldn't mix genres on a single recording. However, Stoltzman proved to be the clarinetist who could leap tall genres in a single bound.

"These things were a headache for a while, so when I play for an audience, they're not putting me in any category," he says. "Mozart didn't sit around thinking, 'I'm a Classical composer.' At this point, it's too late."

More simply, Stoltzman says there are more similarities than dissimilarities between Jazz and Classical techniques. "People have had the same souls for millenniums," he says. "Each era brings its own ears."

Speaking of ears, Stoltzman says he's had to learn to respect those of his son, Peter John, as the two delve deeper into their collaborations. Sharing domestic intimacy with someone is altogether different from the intimacy shared on a concert stage.

"My dad died before I got married and before the kids," Stoltzman explains. "I'd like to show (Peter John) where I heard the Big Bands for the first time. (My father) would flip out to know my son's involved in music," he says.

"It's tricky," he continues. "When my wife and I play together, we have so many ways to embrace the music and each other. When we look at each other when we're playing, there's so many levels.

"If you have any passion for music, you have some idea of what you feel the music should be. So, like marriage, it's a compromise. Kids are different: They're supposed to do what you tell them. As Peter got older and taller, I hate to say it, he got good ideas of his own that I'd have to say, 'OK, that sounds pretty good. I'll try that.' "

As for Stoltzman's take on the city that greatly helped nurture and solidify his future as a world-renowned musician, he says despite its gifts, he's aware it can be musically conservative.

No matter.

He works for acceptance from the audience because that is what virtuosos do.

"The music wins people over, but they have to be open to it," he says. "I believe in trying to reach the audience whichever way I can. If the audience isn't ready for a certain piece, I'll change the program around. At the same time, the audience wants to be taken by the shoulders and shaken a little. They want to be told something.

"The last time I was in Cincinnati I played a piece that I could tell was a stretch for them. Not everybody was ready for it. You see different stratas of humanity there, and people who aren't getting it are close to the people who are. So it rubs off."

RICHARD STOLTZMAN plays with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at Music Hall on Friday morning and Saturday evening. His Encore Linton Series program is at Congregation Ohav Shalom on Monday evening in Symmes Township.