Stephen Clapp ’61, a violin professor at Oberlin from 1978 through 1994, an acting dean of the conservatory in 1985, and a founding member of the Oberlin Trio, passed away on January 26 at age 74.
As a student at Oberlin, Clapp honed his skill under violin professor Ander Toth. Two decades later, while developing a large studio of undergraduate violinists, he joined forces with Toth’s son, cellist Ander Toth Jr., to form the Oberlin Trio. Together with Professor of Piano Joseph Schwartz, they performed across America for more than a decade. In addition, Clapp arranged several international performances for the trio, including two visits to Armenia.
“Steve was a great colleague,” says Schwartz, now retired in Florida. “He was a very fine violinist, but he was also a really great guy. He was always cheerful, and he kept our spirits up. We traveled around the country together, and it was always a pleasure to be with him.”
In addition to his position at Oberlin, Clapp served on the violin faculty at the Juilliard School from 1987 to 2007 and was Juilliard’s dean from 1994 to 2007. Before joining the Oberlin faculty, he taught at the University of Texas at Austin and Peabody College in Nashville.
An exemplary performer in chamber music and as a soloist, Clapp was a member of the Beaux Arts String Quartet, with which he won the first Walter W. Naumburg Chamber Music Award. He was also an experienced concertmaster, leading the Aspen Festival Chamber Symphony and the Nashville and Austin symphonies. He shared the stage with such luminaries as Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Yo-Yo Ma, and Jacqueline DuPré.
“Steve set exceptional standards for himself and encouraged his students to do the same,” says Marilyn McDonald, a professor of violin at Oberlin who began her career at the college the same year Clapp arrived. She remembers her former colleague as a gentle and thoughtful man with a subtle and perfectly timed sense of humor.
Clapp was presented an honorary doctorate from Oberlin College in 2011. The Oberlin Trio he co-founded still exists today, featuring Oberlin faculty Amir Eldan (cello), Haewon Song (piano), and David Bowlin (violin).
Clapp resided with his wife Linda in Greenwich, Conn. He is survived by his wife and three children.
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