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Clarinetist Richard Stoltzman shows how it's really done. 

Tooting His Horn

Richard Stoltzman has been described as the greatest clarinetist of the century and could easily contend with Wynton Marsalis or James Galway for the "Greatest Living Wind Player" title. With technical perfection, exquisite, melting tone colors, and an informed, intelligent musicianship, Stoltzman has elevated the clarinet to a full-blown solo instrument. His was the first solo clarinet recital concert at Carnegie Hall. Ever. He was the first clarinet player anointed with the Avery Fisher Prize in 1986, the classical music equivalent of being invested as Prince of Wales.

Stoltzman has recorded more than 40 albums, ranging from the standard classical repertoire to jazz to works by contemporary composers. His discography is almost tongue-in cheek, including music originally written for film, the obligatory Christmas albums, the equally requisite homage to Celtic culture, and most recently, a Latin dance album. But his artistic collaborators are no joke; the list of musicians he has performed with includes Yo-Yo Ma, Richard Goode, the Tokyo String Quartet, pianist Emanuel Ax and the legendary Rudolf Serkin, and such luminaries from the jazz world as Bill Douglas and Woody Herman's Thundering Herd. His most recent classical release features the Richmond Symphony's former conductor, George Manahan. Stoltzman's recordings have earned him multiple Grammy nominations and two wins.

Stoltzman's reputation has been built on an ability to integrate a flawless classical technique and eclectic, forward-thinking programming. His playing is flexible enough to accommodate the gnarly demands of contemporary composers, and his list of hobbies seems to indicate an eclectic life as well — he studied the craft of pastry making at Le Cordon Bleu, majored in both music and math while attending Ohio State, and is an avid fan of the Boston Red Sox.

On Dec. 1, Stoltzman performs with accompanist David Deveau at VCU's Performing Arts Center as part of the Mary Anne Rennolds Chamber Concert series. The program includes works by Witold Lutoslawski, Elliott Carter, Prokofiev, Schumann and Brahms. Most of us are familiar, if vaguely, with the works of the latter three. But as is typical of Stoltzman, he has included compositions that are challenging to both performer and listener. In David E. Walden's "How to Listen to Modern Music Without Earplugs," Carter falls under the dubious category "Way-out," while the dignified Lutoslawski is accorded the lesser title of "Wacky." But what does "way out" mean? Carter, a singularly American voice, is one of the few contemporary composers who has forged what many believe to be an original language of sounds. His music has been called complex and dense; critic and music historian Norman Lebrecht points to how Carter "disrupted the basic components of musical sound."

What all this means is that a member of the audience will be exposed to a mind-expanding range of aural possibilities. Music teachers, parents and anyone who has ever endured the honking of a child's clarinet practice must avail themselves of the opportunity to hear what it is supposed to sound like. This is also a lucky opportunity to enjoy Stoltzman's performance style, which can only be described as merry. When I last saw him perform, his rapport with the audience was more cheerful and natural than any classical performer I have ever
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