Richard Stoltzman is the rare artist whose performances are as varied as his talents.
In four musically different concerts sponsored by the Candlelight Concert Society, clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and Friends will perform a crossover concert of jazz classics tonight, a classical chamber ensemble highlighting the clarinet tomorrow and two children's programs Sunday at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.
"It's unusual for an artist to come for three days and perform four concerts in a diverse program," said Bonita Bush, executive director of the Columbia-based concert society.
"Stoltzman's probably one of the best clarinetists playing right now. He is completely versatile in classical, jazz and contemporary music. He's been called the greatest clarinetist since Benny Goodman, who was equally comfortable in classical music and jazz. And he has been compared to flautist James Galway, doing for the clarinet what Galway did for the flute."
The 50-year-old artist is the founding member of the 21-year-old string and wind ensemble Tashi and has won several prestigious awards.
Last year, he won an Emmy for "Concerto," a video he produced of a newly orchestrated Leonard Bernstein sonata that also was nominated for a Grammy.
In 1978, he and pianist Richard Goode won a Grammy for their recording of Brahms' sonatas.
Mr. Stoltzman also holds the distinction of giving the first clarinet recitals at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1980 and at the Hollywood Bowl in California two years later.
The clarinetist compares his affinity for combining the classics with contemporary pieces to composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Gershwin, all of whom entertained at parties and incorporated hit songs of the day into classical pieces.
"Mozart put a pop tune in one of his earlier operas, 'Cosi Fan Tutti,' " Mr. Stoltzman said. "Beethoven wrote in his clarinet trio a theme from a popular drinking song."
Mr. Stoltzman defined "crossover jazz" as music that brings people from the known, where they feel comfortable, to the unknown.
"Crossover takes the best from many different arenas of music," he said. "For me, an Elton John or Eric Clapton piece can be a springboard into another kind of music -- to, say, a piece by Leonard Bernstein."
But the mainstay of tonight's concert will be the sounds of jazz greats Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk and George Gershwin.
And, as is typical of jazz concerts, he and Bill Douglas, a bassoonist, pianist and composer will improvise.
For tomorrow's concert, Mr. Stoltzman and Mr. Douglas will perform pieces written for the clarinet, including those by Bach and Schumann.
"I felt Bach, in a way, was the founder of improvisation," Mr. Stoltzman said. "A lot of his music was very inventive and free and very rhythmic."
The duo also will play "New York Counterpoint," a contemporary piece composed for Mr. Stoltzman 10 years ago by Steve Reich.
Because it was written for 11 clarinet players, Mr. Stoltzman recorded 10 tracks of himself on tape and will perform one part live.
The fast-paced piece is an example of minimalist music, he said, in which one basic rhythm is repeated over and over.
"It's just like you think of New York -- rhythmic, driving," he said. "The middle part, though, was written with Central Park in mind -- it's the only calm part."
An unexpected feature of Mr. Stoltzman's performances is a light show tailored to each concert.
"People are more visual these days," Mr. Stoltzman said. "Sitting a concert for two hours just using your ears is a pretty big challenge -- even for me. We want them to use all their senses."
Photographer John Pearson will present a backdrop of slides that literally illuminate dark, brooding pieces and animate fast-moving, upbeat numbers.
"For example, there are pieces by Stravinksy that people don't know how to get into," Mr. Stoltzman said. "They're abstract, they don't have a melody. The pieces have the clarinet in the lowest, darkest sounds. So I picked images of fog, fallen trees -- dark images like the clarinet.
"But a sonata by Schubert doesn't need it. It sings to their soul right away."
Sunday's concert, geared for youngsters in elementary and junior high school, is an amalgam of classical and jazz works.
He and Mr. Douglas also will add familiar music such as songs from the animated movie "The Lion King" and from two television shows he has appeared on, "Sesame Street" and "Mr. Rogers."
"I did a demonstration of the clarinet for Oscar the Grouch," Mr. Stoltzman said. "I taught him the scale and played some Gershwin and nursery rhymes."
L Mr. Rogers asked him to show how art helps express emotions.
"He asked me how it felt to be away from my children," said Mr. Stoltzman, who lives in Winchester, Mass., with his wife, Lucy, and two children.
"When I told him I felt sad, he asked me how it would come out on the clarinet. He then asked me to express anger and happiness."
During Sunday's program, the duo also will play rhythmic games that Mr. Douglas developed and will talk about the clarinet and bassoon.
"He is a real pied piper," Ms. Bush said. "He charms them to death."
Mr. Stoltzman developed a taste for music in his family's San Francisco home, where they moved from Nebraska when he was 2.
The young artist would listen to his father, a railway worker and amateur musician, noodling on the tenor sax in the kitchen.
"That was my introduction to music," Mr. Stoltzman said. "He would say, 'You want to hear good music?' Then he would put on Woody Herman, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. For him it was the highest level of music. And he wasn't far off."
Mr. Stoltzman studied music and mathematics at Ohio State University. But his passion for notes overrode his aptitude for equations -- he graduated from Yale University with a graduate degree in music.
"I fell in love with music to such a point that there wasn't anything else that mattered," he said.
His talents extend beyond the concert hall.
An accomplished pastry chef, he signed up for a baking course more than 20 years ago at the Cordon Bleu in London to kill time before his evening performances.
He cites the prize-winning cake he created for the Cafe Vienna crowd at Lincoln Center in New York as his greatest success: "Linzertorte ala Stoltz" was on the menu for two years.
"I'm famous for my Linzer torte," he said. "I even made it for Mr. Rogers."
Stoltzman and Friends will perform jazz at 8 p.m. today, classical chamber ensemble highlighting the clarinet at 8 p.m. tomorrow and two performances for children at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday.
General admission is $20. Tickets are $14 for seniors and $8 for full-time students. Tickets for the Performing Art Series for Children are $6. Information: 715-0034.