Sound bite: Violist Richard O'Neill

Richard O’Neill (H.S. Music ’97) has had a big year: The violist became a member of the renowned Takács Quartet and won his first Grammy — the realization of two musical dreams and the culmination of hard work and persistence over a career spanning two decades.  

O’Neill lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he performs and teaches as part of the award-winning Takács Quartet, ensemble-in-residence at the University of Colorado. In March, he won the Grammy for best classical instrumental solo for his performance of Christopher Theofanidis’ Concerto for Viola and Chamber Orchestra with the Albany Symphony conducted by David Alan Miller. He’s only the second violist to win in that category, after Kim Kashkashian in 2013.  

These successes reflect O’Neill’s unwavering devotion to his craft. They follow a list of other performance and teaching accomplishments, including a 13-year stint with the popular South Korean chamber ensemble DITTO, which he founded in his mother’s home country.

Here, O’Neill reflects on his high school years at UNCSA and shares some of his triumphs and trials on his journey as a musician.

On his time at UNCSA...

It was a structured, rigorous high school program, which I’m so grateful for. For string players, especially, I think it’s really important that you get your technique and your repertoire solidified in high school. All those hours in the listening library, all those great LPs … gave me that foundation, that complete immersion in music.

On taking chances...

For a large part of my life, I could compare my success to stepping right up to the edge of the cliff. You have to take the biggest chance. And you have to look at why you’re taking that big chance — you love it more than anything, you have a passion that burns day and night, and you want it more than anything. And for me, I want to be a musician more than anything. I really believe that if you put what you love first, if you steer your ship in that direction, you might not end up exactly at the port of destination, but you’ll be doing what you love.

...and learning from failure

A lot of my life has not come at first try. It’s not like I dig into something and then I win it. Like my job right now with Takács; I auditioned in 2004 or 2005 and I didn’t get the job. My Grammy nod — I had two other nominations, in 2006 and 2011, and didn’t win. I’ve taken failure and viewed it as an opportunity so that, hopefully, if I make it to the next chance, I’ll have learned and gotten better.

by Corrine Luthy

This article appeared in the 2021 issue of Scene.

July 20, 2021