Stoltzman plays Takemitsu with S.F. Symphony 

"We human beings relate to each other through tone," clarinetist Richard Stoltzman explains in a phone interview. "Our stories are in our timbres."

Stoltzman should know. In a career that spans 40 years, the glories of his full, round, glowing timbre, married to an impeccable technique and astounding intellect, have inspired composers to write at least 50 concertos for clarinet and orchestra, and perhaps 30 other smaller scaled works, for him.

In 1991, Tôru Takemitsu (1930-1996), whose unique sonic landscapes have earned him an honored reputation, conceived his Fantasma/Cantos for Stoltzman. Completed in 1991 in response to an open commission from the BBC, and played at a "200-year" project Stoltzman had been planning for Vienna to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, the 17-minute work uses the full range of the clarinet to convey the experience of moving through a formal Japanese garden in a meditative state.

"You enter the garden at a specific point," Stoltzman says, "and then begin to move around in a circle, seeing the garden from different angles, so that you’re ultimately able to observe the rock, tree, or flower from all angles through a 360-degree circle before returning to the starting point. When you return, theoretically everything is exactly the same, but the experiences inside of you and the consciousness you’ve achieved enable you to see the same thing from a new perspective because you understand it from all angles.

"This understanding is something you can bring to almost every point of your life. It’s the zen sort of beginner’s thing, starting again, but also being conscious of the fact that as you grow and continue revolving around the sun and begin anew your life each day, you begin to appreciate what you’d normally see every day with a new feeling and respect and understanding."

Stoltzman and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas first performed the work together in 1992, at the Pacific Music Festival that MTT started with Christoph Eschenbach in Sapporo. Thrilled that Michael likes Takemitsu’s music, to which he gives "its proper delicacy and force, because it requires both," the clarinetist is especially excited to play Fantasma/Cantos this week in the sonically superior ambience of Davies Symphony Hall.

The "magic" of the score, he feels, lies in its wonderfully exotic orchestration. Takemitsu’s attention to minute details even enlists a cymbal, placed upside down on the head of a timpani, which slowly vibrates while dropping in pitch. That singing cymbal introduces a marvelous passage when the entire orchestra resolves down to a single note — a single C — that starts as softly as possible and then builds up until the ensemble resounds with the single note.

"Takemitsu’s coloration is really more analogous to some marvelous painting you’d come to again and again," says Stoltzman. "You discover that what you initially thought was red is actually pink with a streak of purple and a dab of brown. It’s that kind of satisfying aural experience that’s so great in Takemitsu."


Richard Stoltzman joins the S.F. Symphony

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday

Tickets: $25 to $114

Contact: (415) 864-6000 or

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