Clarinetist and conductor Richard Dufallo was born to John and Olga Dufallo in Whiting, Indiana, on January 30, 1933. Dufallo was considered one of the country's leading exponents of twentieth-century music. He conducted more than eighty major orchestras and festivals in the United States, Canada, and Europe, premiering numerous works by American and European composers, including Karlheinz Stockhausen, Jacob Druckman, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and Krzysztof Penderecki.
His family moved to Chicago when he was twelve. Musically inclined, Dufallo became very proficient on the clarinet as well as various saxophones . Dufallo studied at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago from 1950 to 1953. He was principal clarinetist of the Chicago Civic Orchestra. He served in the United States Navy from 1953 to 1955. After his service he enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, and received bachelor's and master's degrees. There he was thought such an exceptional talent that the composer and conductor Lukas Foss invited the young clarinetist to join his Improvisation Chamber Ensemble.
Dufallo began his conducting career in the 1960s, when he became associate conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic; Foss was music director. Dufallo was in Buffalo from 1963 to 1967. He joined the faculty of the Center of Creative and Performing Arts at the State University of New York, and studied under William Steinberg at a New York Philharmonic seminar for conductors. In 1965 Leonard Bernstein appointed him to a two-year position as an assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, which he conducted on an Asian tour in 1967. Dufallo served as assistant conductor until 1975. He performed as guest conductor of various orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. He studied with Pierre Boulez in 1969 and succeeded Darius Milhaud as artistic director of the Conference on Contemporary Music at the Aspen Festival.
Much of Dufallo's career was taken up with teaching at the Juilliard School and at the Aspen Music Festival, where he was in charge of contemporary music during the 1970s and 1980s. At Aspen he was affectionately dubbed "hard-to-follow," because of his insistence upon classically-trained musicians mastering new techniques. As a promoter of American works in Europe, he conducted the first European performances of works by Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, Jacob Druckman, and Elliott Carter, as well as younger composers such as Robert Beaser.
Dufallo was noted throughout his career for guest appearances and recordings that included many premieres by such notable European avantgardists as Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis and Maxwell Davies, Penderecki, George Crumb, and Aribert Reimann. He made his European debut in 1970 with the Orchestre Téléphonique Français of Paris. Among the European orchestras he conducted were the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Symphony, and the National Orchestra of Spain. He was especially associated with the orchestras of the Netherlands. He made his debut with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam in 1975, toured with the Netherlands Wind Ensemble and the Dutch Radio Philharmonic, and made recordings with the Rotterdam Philharmonic. In 1980 he was appointed music director of the Gelders Orchestra of Arnhem.
Dufallo also had an interest in opera. He headed the Metropolitan Opera's short-lived "Mini-Met" from 1972 to 1974, and he was a regular at the Cincinnati Opera and the New York City Opera. In Trackings: Composers Speak With Richard Dufallo (Oxford University Press, 1989), a collection of interviews and conversations, Dufallo meets some of the leading figures in contemporary classical music, including Stockhausen, Aaron Copland, John Cage, and Sir Michael Tippett. Dufallo was married to pianist and University of North Texas professor of music Pamela Mia Paul and had two sons and a daughter. He died of stomach cancer in Denton on June 16, 2000. A scholarship fund was established in his name at the University of North Texas. His widow donated his music collection, which included audio tapes of interviews that Dufallo conducted with various twentieth-century composers, to the University of North Texas Music Library.