I just want to be sure that everyone who buys the 40-CD box realizes that the cover of CD#6, "Tashi plays Takemitsu," doesn't reveal that Toru's concerto for clarinet and orchestra, "Fantasma/Cantos," is a very special bonus addition. I recorded this profoundly beautiful music 10 years later with Tadaaki Otaka and the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra.
Toru imagined the orchestra as a Japanese garden designed in the "go- round" style. As you enter the garden, you experience the stones, trees, water, and foliage from an initial vantage point. Moving along the circular path, you begin to glimpse the same elements of the garden from different angles until reaching a kind of halfway moment of calm and balance before proceeding again round the garden, ending at the very same starting point which is exactly the beginning yet now, seen again with the experience of the circular path, feels suddenly changed. So Toru, after opening the garden with three breathing chords, starts the clarinetist on this journey using the tritone interval, linked to an upper 1/2 step which then moves chromatically downward to a perfect fourth. Immediately the orchestral garden reflects, refracts, and marvelously colors this view as the clarinetist begins to explore transpositions and embellishments. As we follow the clarinetist to that point midway round the garden, he experiences a moment which Toru marks "calm and ecstatic." Forward motion stops and the clarinet ascends a simple, single scale floating on an exquisitely orchestrated sustained chord in woodwinds and strings. This magic moment divined by Toru is like nothing else I've ever experienced.
While I was studying the manuscript of the score, which Toru sent to me before it had been published, he asked me if I thought the description he gave to the clarinet solo at that point was somehow not right. I told him it was wonderful, inspiring. But unfortunately, according to Toru, someone in charge of proofreading the music for publication had told him that he had mistakenly linked two English words which had opposite meanings and therefore the printed score would be "corrected" and the word ecstatic would not be included!
All I can say is that I am so happy I had the good fortune to be the first clarinetist to see the manuscript. When I copied out my clarinet part by hand (because I couldn't wait for a printed solo part) "calm and ecstatic" entered my consciousness forever and whenever I arrive at that precious moment in a performance I am lifted up by that quietly ascending scale blissfully aware of the impossible made musically manifest.
Click here for a video of Toru Takemitsu discussing "Fantasma/Cantos" at a performance of it by Richard Stoltzman with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos.
Recordings: New York City, RCA Studio A, October 16-18, 1978 [1-3]; May 10-12, 1977 [5/6]; Wales, Swansea, Brangwyn Hall, June 2, 1992  Producers: Max Wilcox; Peter Serkin [1-3, 5/6] Recording Engineers: Max Wilcox; Ray Hall [1-3, 5/6]; Simon Rhodes  Publishers: G. Schirmer / Éditions Salabert [1-3]; Schott Music / European American ; Universal Edition [5/6] ℗ 1980 [1-3]; 1983 [5/6], 1994  Sony Music Entertainment
Mika Stoltzman, marimbaist, and I are recording a new album! Steven Epstein, winner of 17 Grammys, is in charge of the sessions as producer and master of the most beautiful sound you can imagine. Hector Del Curto joins us on bandoneon and Pedro Giraudo joins on bass. The four days of recording include Bach's Chaconne arranged by Mika; Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue arranged by Mika and me for clarinet, marimba, and bandoneon; four more of Tom McKinley's Mostly Blues; John Zorn's Palimpsest written for Mika and me; and Piazzolla's Etude 5 and Fugue y Misterio.
The incredibly gifted Puerto Rican pianist, Irma Vallecillo (“Ear-ma Vaiya-seeyo”), got on my radar with the insistence of Max Wilcox. “Dick, you are going to be crazy about this musician, trust me.” As usual, he was right. I soon began asking her to join me on recital tours. She was not only brilliant. She was also fearless. She took on new music both ferocious in technique and friendly in jazz style. She confessed that Benny Goodman had asked her to join him in exploratory readings at his home in Connecticut. She joined me for my first Carnegie Hall recital. Amber Waves (CD #33 in the boxed set) probably would not have happened without Irma’s consummate authority in the disparate stylistic challenges I handed her.
One interesting aspect of having a box of 40 cds representing about 40 years or so of my life is that I can compare myself as I have played certain parts of the clarinet repertoire at different times in my life. For instance, I was contemplating Mozart’s K.622. This music has been part of my life as a clarinetist since high school days when I listened to an LP of Robert Marcellus with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. That would have been in the late 1950s, early ‘60s. The first recording I made of the concerto was with the English Chamber Orchestra Orchestra conducted by Alexander Schneider in the early ‘80s.
Sasha was not happy because the usual concertmaster was not available for the recording and Max Wilcox, the producer of most of my RCA classical recordings, warned me that I would be recording not in a concert hall but in a studio in London not known for its acoustic warmth. So, a lot of negatives but, at the time, I didn’t know if I would ever have another opportunity to record with orchestra. As time has gone by of course, I have been blessed with many memorable recordings and orchestras such as Berlin Radio, Warsaw Phil, Mostly Mozart, London Symphony, Vienna, BBC Wales, Guildhall, and Helsinki.
But as I contemplate yet another Mozart, this time in Japan, I went back to the “Box” to check out a 1990s version —this time without a conductor! Of course, it was a different time in my life. I had changed since 1980 but I thought Mozart would still be immutable. Yet though his music can be said to be timeless, I was surprised in comparing the timings of the two cds that the 1st movements of each recording were approximately the same length. However, there was a difference of more than a minute in the Adagio and almost a minute in the Rondo!
I guess the greatness of so called “timeless” pieces of music like Mozart is that they never stop growing. They become timeless in each moment that we recreate them.
Pianists always complained about the Bernstein Sonata: “God, this is not a very good piano part, the left hand is like a boogie-woogie thing, and it’s not easy to play…” One of my pianists said, “You should have it arranged for orchestra.” I called Michael Tilson Thomas because he was one of the executors of the Bernstein Estate, and he said, “Well, you can’t do it, you’re not allowed to do it. The only way would be if you could find Sid Ramin” – who did all the Bernstein orchestrations – “and, if he agrees to do it, then I think it would be OK with the Estate.” So I found him – he was retired in Florida. He said, “I would do it with just strings.” I said, “That’s perfect, I could play it with the Copland Concerto.” Then he said, “I think I’d have a piano too.” And I said, “Yes, piano, that’s so perfect.” And then he said, “And a touch of percussion.” “Anything!” So that’s what he came up with and we recorded it with the London Symphony.
As told to Ryusuke Kozawa, November 2016 in Tokyo.
Recordings: London, Abbey Road, EMI Studio 1, November 18, 1992, [1/2]; May 8/9, 1993 [3-11] Producer: Max Wilcox Recording Engineers: Max Wilcox, Simon Rhodes & Mark Vigars Publishers: Boosey & Hawkes ; MCA ; Warner Bros. [3/4/7-11]; Boosey & Hawkes / Chappell & Co. ; George Gershwin Music c/0 WB Music  ℗ 1993 Sony Music Entertainment
I first met Woody Herman at a jazz club on W. 52nd St. in NYC. It was dark in this basement lair though it was still late afternoon on the street. I’d been invited to “sit in” by the writer/critic/ drummer, George Simon. The band struck up “Bye, Bye Blackbird” and after I played George said, “There’s somebody I want you to meet.” We walked over to a table in the back and a dapper gentleman, well-dressed with a silk ascot, shook my hand and said, “I’m Woody Herman.” Oh, my god I thought, I just played a mediocre chorus on my clarinet for the leader of the Thundering Herd—one of the greatest big bands in the world!
Ignoring my effusive enthusiasm and my bumbling apologies for my solo, Woody just went straight ahead to address the reason he was here. The 50th anniversary of his band was coming up the next year with celebrations at the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall and he wanted me to take his part on Igor Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto, which he had commissioned in the '40s! Oh wow, if only my Dad had lived to see this day. He had collected all the great Herd recordings (Woodchopper’s Ball, Blue Flame, Four Brothers, Apple Honey, Caledonia, etc., etc.). And of course my poor Dad couldn’t believe I had given up on his hope that I would become a rich dentist, instead playing classical clarinet. Teaming up with Woody—Dad would be singing in heaven.
Whenever we performed the Ebony Concerto, Woody would tell this special story…
The band was playing a stint at the Paramount movie theater where they would take over as soon as the feature film finished. “The Herd Live” was a spectacular draw for the theater and the giant reels of film could be rewound for the next show. The band then ascended to a fifth floor rehearsal room high above the stage to prepare for the imminent arrival of "the Maestro,” Igor Stravinsky himself, who had agreed to hear a private performance by the musicians. Woody said, “All the guys in the band were nervous wrecks.” They of course were well aware of the stature of this greatest modern composer of the century and they had all dressed in their best suits for the audition. In walked Stravinsky in a sweatshirt, a towel around his neck, and ready to get down to work. Well, they played for the maestro in a sweat. When, somehow, they got through it, Woody remembers Stravinsky putting his arm around his shoulder and telling him, “Voody, you have a grrreat family!”
Dark, dark night. The trees. The river. One more day; For so slow goes the day. Before the end the world goes round once more. The world begins the day. | The night has gone. The day for the end of the world once more begins. Once more begins the sun Slow, so slow. Go on, world, live. Begin, sweet sun. Begin, sweet world. The people live and die. people die alive alive alive. Lynette Joass, age 12, New Zealand*
I made this, my first departure from the accepted norms of classical music, almost as if I was in a dream. I loved every piece of music I was recording and at the same time thought this might very well destroy my career and reputation. What “serious” classical artist would venture to make such a thing— fitting into no category, no bin, no place in music history? Performing Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de lin with electronic sounds infiltrating its purity? Placing Bach and Fauré next to Thelonious Monk and Bill Douglas?
What were all these disparate pieces doing on the same record? What was going on? What was I thinking?
Well, turn over the miniature replica of the LP album to the back and read the names to whom the music is dedicated:
John Pearson, master photographer, whose vision literally made me leave notes and leap into the light. Tom Shepard, president of RCA Red Seal, whose willingness let me fly with the greatest of ease. Meggie and Peter John, using the music as children to leave earth and enter their dreams. Mom, who finally had music which needed no explanation for enjoyment and understanding. Dad, to play the blues in his memory with Eddie. Bill, who translated my moods into modes. Jeremy, who brought his new ears and young age to guide me, reassure me, and provide, along with the genius of Larry Swist’s sound engineering, the space where I could trust myself.
Eddie Gomez appears courtesy of Stretch / GRP Records Recording: New York, Suffern, BearTracks Recording Studio, July 1985 Producer: Jeremy Wall Recording Engineer: Larry Swist Publishers: Ziji Music [1/2/4/9/11/12]; Thelonious Music ; Galadriel Music  ℗ 1986 Sony Music Entertainment
I remember thinking at the time that to record the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115 represented the apex of my life. I still distinctly recall the summer of 1964 when I heard this masterpiece for the first time sitting in the audience as a student at the Yale Music School. Sunlight streamed through the fabulous acoustic space of the historic Shed in Norfolk, Connecticut. As my soon-to-be teacher, Keith Wilson, came on stage with the Yale String Quartet, I closed my eyes to concentrate on the music. But as I listened, waiting to hear the sound of clarinet, all I heard was this glorious sound of perfectly balanced chamber music. I opened my eyes to see what had happened to Mr. Wilson and to my astonishment he was playing -- his beautiful, full sound blending impeccably and imperceptibly with the strings -- a revelation. Violins, viola, cello, and clarinet all becoming Brahms Quintet.
My mom and dad held misgivings about my decision to stay with music. My father loved music and still kept his tenor and alto saxophones from college days. Yet his hope for me was to use school to establish myself in some sort of secure profession ("Why not dentistry, with clarinet as a fine hobby?").
So it was this star-crossed collaboration with the Cleveland, including Peter Salaff who had been my roommate in the Yale graduate school, which ultimately won over my loving mom and dad. A decade after my apotheosis with Brahms in the Shed, my parents made the journey from home in Cincinnati to the art museum concert hall in Cleveland to hear their son and the Cleveland Quartet perform Brahms to a very appreciative, attentive, and mature audience. Back stage, after this successful evening, it was the young Cleveland Quartet, and good old Johannes, who finally convinced my parents--though my dad still worried about that "security."
By the way, the autumnal scene on the cover of the LP (CD #2 in the boxed set) was captured by Dorothea V. Haeften, whose husband's quartet had been a great inspiration for the Cleveland: Arnold Steinhardt of the famed Guarneri.
What a surprise! Out of the blue, on tour in Japan, my phone message says, “SONY has decided to make a 40-CD box set* from your recordings on the RCA, BMG, and SONY labels over the last 40 years.” What?
with Mika Stoltzman, marimba, after our concert in Tokyo
Already a bit spaced out in Japan, performing on a hillside lit by 1,500 bamboo candles, in a Buddhist temple, with a monk wailing “Amazing Grace” in Japanese, in a geisha bar, a hospital, in perfect acoustical classical concert halls in Tokyo, Nagoya, my mind begins spinning into time zones from the 1970s…
Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps with Peter Serkin, Ida Kavafian and Fred Sherry. Max Wilcox producing in RCA Studio A and Tokyo. Remind me to tell you the story of our historic coaching with the master in an East side New York apartment and Toru Takemitsu quietly absorbing everything for his music of the future.
First classical concerti recording with the English Chamber Orchestra in London of Mozart’s K622 plus his bassoon concerto rewritten by me for clarinet. A bit conscious of my back being turned to the bassoon section with their reed knives ready to reap vengeance.
Begin Sweet World was my first “crossover” album made before the category was coined. Producer Jeremy Wall taking that first step of using touches of synthesizer sounds to infuse Debussy’s “La fille au cheveux de lin” with subtle newness. RCA’s wariness of a Red Seal classical artist sailing into unchartered waters turns into a forty-year voyage rich in discovery and delight. Crossing supposed boundaries which disappear in the waves of a clear clarinet tone.
I must admit I wasn't quite sure how to react to the news that a San Francisco Bay area critic had chosen CD #20 in the boxed set -- the Finzi Concerto -- as "Best Music to Drive By" back in 1990. But I will say the recording sessions purred along with the perfect Guildhall String Ensemble for an exhilarating sense of the road (Abbey Road actually!). Without a conductor, we were able to sit back and enjoy the details and delight in Finzi's harmonious landscapes. And how fortunate we were to have Lawrence Ashmore along with us on the ride. This superb musician and composer started off playing bass in Finzi's Newberry Strings as a young man. His contribution to this CD is enormous for he miraculously resurrected the earlier Bagatelles (originally for clarinet and piano) to give them a sonorous new life here. Then he takes the creative leap to invent a Four Seasons for me and the Guildhall using English folk songs, his own inventions, and even opens it up for me to improvise a bit.