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.
His father was a railroad man who also played jazz on the alto saxophone. Richard started taking clarinet lessons when he was eight, and soon joined his father playing in local jazz clubs. 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.
Stoltzman studied mathematics and music at Ohio State University (B. Mus., 1964), then graduate music studies at Yale (M. Mus., 1967). He also studied with Robert Marseilles, Harold Wright (at the Marlboro Music School) and Kaman Opperman. 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.