Stephen Williamson is principal clarinet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, appointed in 2011 by Maestro Riccardo Muti. Williamson formerly was principal clarinet of both the New York Philharmonic (2013–14) and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (2003–11). In addition, he has been a frequent guest principal clarinet with the Saito Kinen Festival Orchestra in Japan under Seiji Ozawa.
Williamson currently is a faculty member of DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. He also has served on the faculty at Columbia University and the Mannes College of Music in New York City, as well as at the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan, and the Domaine Forget International Music Festival in Québec. He 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 CSO under John Williams, recording his Oscar-nominated score for Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln.
An avid soloist and chamber musician, Williamson has performed extensively in the United States, Europe and Asia. He has collaborated with such artists as Yo-Yo Ma, Mitsuko Uchida, Jeffrey Kahane, Anne-Marie McDermott, Emanuel Ax and Meliora Winds; the Aspen, Dorian and Sylvan wind quintets; and the Brentano, American, Jasper, Brasilia and Dover string quartets, as well as with his fellow CSO musicians as part of CSO Chamber Players. Williamson made his CSO solo debut with the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in 2016 under guest conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky, subsequently performing the work on the Orchestra’s East and West Coast tours with music director Riccardo Muti during the 2017–18 season. Other concerto performances include Copland’s Clarinet Concerto with the Sapporo Symphony at the Pacific Music Festival (2018), Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with the CSO (2016 and 2017), the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra in Japan (2011), and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in Carnegie Hall under conductor Fabio Luisi (2012).
Williamson received his bachelor’s degree and performer’s certificate from the Eastman School of Music, and his master’s degree from the Juilliard School. As a Fulbright Scholar, he furthered his studies at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin. 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 in 1994. He was also the only American semi-finalist in both the 1993 and 1998 ARD International Music Competition for Clarinet.
A longtime Selmer-Paris and Vandoren Artist, Williamson currently plays Selmer Signature clarinets and uses Vandoren traditional reeds with a James Pyne JX/BC mouthpiece. He resides in Wilmette, Illinois, with his wife, Jill; sons Ryan, Connor and Matthew, and their dog, Lila.