Stephen Williamson is the principal clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Riccardo Muti. He was formerly the principal clarinetist of both the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. In addition, he has been a frequent guest principal clarinetist with the Saito Kinen Festival Orchestra in Japan under Seiji Ozawa.
Mr. Williamson is currently the head of the clarinet studio at Northwestern University and serves on the faculty of the Pacific Music Festival. He has previously served on the faculties of DePaul University, Columbia University, and the Mannes College of Music.
An avid soloist and chamber musician, Mr. Williamson has performed extensively in the United States, Europe, and Asia. He has collaborated with such artists as: James Levine, Yo-Yo Ma, Mitsuko Uchida, Jeffrey Kahane, Anne Marie McDermott, Emanuel Ax, Meliora Winds, Aspen, Dorian, and Sylvan wind quintets; Brentano, American, Jasper, Brasilia, and Dover string quartets. Past concerto performances of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto are with the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra in Japan (2011), the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in Carnegie Hall under conductor Fabio Luisi (2012), and with the CSO and Maestro Riccardo Muti in February and June, 2016. Mr. Williamson has performed the Mozart Concerto with the CSO and Maestro Muti in six performances on their US west and east coast tours. A release of a recording on Sony Classical of Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale with narration by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd has received critical acclaim and topped the charts in the UK and in Europe. This season, he will be performing Copland’s Clarinet Concerto with the CSO in March of 2023.
Mr. Williamson has recorded for the Sony Classics, Telarc, CRI, BMG, Naxos, and Decca labels and can be heard on numerous film soundtracks. He was a featured soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John Williams, recording his Oscar-nominated score for Steven Spielberg's film Lincoln.
In June of 2019, Mr. Williamson was honored to represent the USA as one of three invited clarinetists to be on the jury of the famed Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and St. Petersburg. This is the first time in history that the competition has been opened to winds and brass.
Mr. Williamson was a featured artist for the centennial celebration of the Eastman School of Music in December 2021. He performed the Corigliano Concerto with the Eastman Wind Ensemble under the baton of Mark Scatterday. Consequently, Mr. Williamson was awarded the Eastman Centennial Award, presented by the school to 100 individuals who exemplify Eastman’s mission and legacy through their commitment to artistry, scholarship, leadership, community engagement, and/or philanthropy.
He received a bachelor’s degree and performer’s certificate from the Eastman School of Music and a master’s degree from the Juilliard School. As a Fulbright Scholar, Williamson furthered his studies at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin, Germany. His past teachers include Peter Rieckhoff, Charles Neidich, Kenneth Grant, and Michael Webster. Past awards include the Saunderson Award from the Coleman Chamber Music Competition, the 1997 New York Concert Artist Guild Competition Nathan Wedeen Award, and the Grand Prize in the First Annual Buffet Crampon North American Clarinet Competition.
A longtime Selmer-Paris and Vandoren Artist, Mr. Williamson plays Selmer Signature clarinets and uses Vandoren traditional reeds with a James Pyne “Williamson” mouthpiece.