The American clarinetist, Richard Leslie Stoltzman, was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and spent his early years in San Francisco, California, and Cincinnati, Ohio, graduating from Woodward High School in 1960. His father worked for the Western Pacific Railroad and moved his family to San Francisco, California, soon after Richard was born. Stoltzman's first exposure to music came through his father, an avid fan of big band music. Stoltzman's father played the big band music of the 1940’s at home on the radio and performed in a dance band during his spare time, playing jazz on the alto saxophone. Stoltzman began studying the clarinet at the age of 8 with a teacher at a local school, and he began playing with his father in the Stewart Memorial United Presbyterian Sunday School Orchestra and at community functions and in local jazz clubs within a few years. When Stoltzman was in junior high school, he began developing the jazz techniques of improvisation and enjoyed jamming with his father at home. Benny Goodman was his earliest musical mentor, and remained a strong influence throughout his career. Stoltzman told Allan Kozinn of the New York Times, "(When) I was seven years old ... I found these wonderful cylindrical objects in a nice leather case. I enjoyed playing with them ... and I vaguely remember dangling them from the second-story window of our house. That caused quite a stir, because they turned out to be my father's clarinets. But instead of punishing me, he decided that I had an interest in the instrument and rented an indestructible metal clarinet for me to start on." While Richard was learning clarinet, he and his family sang in a choir whose inner voices were insecure. Richard would sit among the altos and tenors, playing the clarinet to give a steady pitch to the singers, and learning how to make the instrument sound like a voice. He credits this experience for his approach to tone. He does not like the standard tone-quality of the classical clarinet, having heard through his father's recordings the rich, flexible sound of the jazz greats. In addition, one of his early teachers was from India, and taught that all instrumental music should aspire to a vocal quality. He taught Richard to sing the music first, in the tone of the instrument.
Richard Stoltzman studied mathematics and music at Ohio State University (B. Mus., 1964). He then studied with Professor Keith Wilson at the Yale School of Music, where he received the Master of Music degree in 1967. He worked toward a doctoral degree at Columbia University. He has been a longtime student of master clarinet pedagogue Kalmen Opperman of New York. Together, they founded the Clarinet Summit, a semi-regular international gathering of clarinetists which has taken place since the 1990s. He has also recorded with the Kalmen Opperman Clarinet Choir. He also studied with Robert Marseilles, and Harold Wright (at the Marlboro Music School). His studies at Marlboro began a ten-year association that included frequent association with master musicians Rudolf Serkin, Marcel Moyse, and Pablo Casals, who deeply affected his outlook on music. Other colleagues from Marlboro, including pianist Peter Serkin, violinist Ida Kavafian, and cellist Fred Sherry joined him in founding the chamber group TASHI in 1973 (Tashi" is a Tibetan name meaning "good fortune"). Stoltzman also taught at the California Institute of the Arts (1970-1971). He made his New York debut in 1974, and was the first clarinetist to ever give a solo recital in New York's Carnegie Hall. He has won both the Avery Fisher Prize in 1977 for career development, and in 1986 the Avery Fisher Artist Award, the first wind player to earn it.
Richard Stoltzman is among the world's leading clarinetists, known for his wide classical repertory and for an interest in world, jazz, and popular music that prompted him to begin making "crossover" recordings long before they became a marketing trend. Stoltzman is perhaps the best-known clarinetist who primarily plays classical music. In his career he has frequently played and recorded both jazz and classical music. Stoltzman is noted for his double lip embouchure, wide vibrato, and ability to mimic the sound of a human voice on the clarinet. He combines traditional and contemporary classical and jazz material with his own unorthodox style. His virtuosity and musicianship have made him a highly sought-after concert artist.
Richard Stoltzman has appeared as soloist with many of the major symphony orchestras (over 100 orchestras) and conductors of the world. He plays also with chamber ensembles such as the Beaux Arts Trio and the Emerson Quartet, and in many solo recitals. He has appeared in many major music festivals on four continents. He has appeared with many widely recognized classical musicians, including Emanuel Ax, Richard Goode, Yo-Yo Ma, Raymond Leppard and the English Chamber Orchestra, Christoph Eschenbach, James Levine and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition, he has performed or recorded with popular and jazz artists Eddie Gomez, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Woody Herman's Thundering Herd, Judy Collins, Mel Tormé, Gary Burton, George Shearing, Joe Williams, Claude Bolling and others. He was the Guest artist with The Children's Orchestra Society at Alice Tully Hall of Lincoln Center in 2004. He has also given important recitals at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl.
He has made an effort to play new music for the clarinet, and has had several works composed for him. Composers include: Toru Takemitsu (Waves and a concerto for clarinet and orchestra), Steve Reich (New York Counterpoint), Lukas Foss, Roberto Carnevale, Einar Englund (clarinet concertos) and Yehudi Wyner (Commedia for clarinet and piano, 2002; clarinet trio, 2010).. Stoltzman is known for his longtime collaboration with composer William Thomas McKinley, and his work has been featured frequently in recent years on Navona Records and MMC Recordings, labels owned by Parma Recordings and producer Bob Lord. In 1983, Stoltzman commissioned composer/arranger Clare Fischer to write a symphonic work using Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn themes. The result was "The Duke, Swee'pea and Me", an eleven-minute orchestral work which Stoltzman performed worldwide.
Richard Stoltzman has produced an extensive discography, which includes well over 60 releases, several of them with TASHI. Some of his recordings, such as his album "New York Counterpoint," feature both jazz and modern music. In August 1993, Stoltzman was featured in "Concerto!", a six-part television series featuring host Dudley Moore, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony Orchestra. "Concerto!", created by the producers of the widely-acclaimed "Orchestra" series featuring Moore and Sir Georg Solti, was aired on The Learning Channel and on England's Channel Four, and continues to be broadcast worldwide. The program featuring Stoltzman has been praised by critics and audiences alike and was the recipient of an Emmy Award in the International Performing Arts category.
Awards and recognitions include: Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance: Emanuel Ax, Yo-Yo Ma & Richard Stoltzman for Johannes Brahms/L.v. Beethoven/Mozart: Clarinet Trios (1996); Richard Goode & Richard Stoltzman for J. Brahms: The Sonatas for Clarinet & Piano, Op. 120 (1983). On September 1, 2005, he was presented with the Yale School of Music's Sanford Medal. In 1986 he was the first wind player to be awarded the Avery Fisher Prize.
Today, Richard Stoltzman is part of the faculty list at the New England Conservatory. His notable students include Bharat Chandra and Michael Norsworthy. His ex-wife, Lucy Stoltzman, is a violinist, a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with Arnold Steinhardt of the Guarneri Quartet. They have two children, a son Peter and a daughter Meggie.