Published: Oct. 15, 2020 By

Takacs QuartetPeople often wonder how great talents come to fall in love with their craft. Most assume it’s generational, raising questions of nature versus nurture. Are we born with our gifts? Or do the people we love instill their own dreams and desires within us?

“I believe it has to come from somewhere, right?” muses Richard O’Neill, the newest member of the Takács Quartet.

O’Neill doesn’t come from a family of musicians. But the love and appreciation for music, at least, is in his blood. Growing up in his grandparents’ home in rural Washington, he often had to find ways to occupy himself. From a very young age, O’Neill would spend hours every day making his way through their massive record collection and listening to various LPs. 

Nurture, then. And nature, too.

“My mom wasn’t a musician; she was never given the chance. But she could sit down at a piano and play church hymns without anyone showing her how. She had perfect pitch. I think I got my gifts from her.”

The music of his childhood stuck with him. In the years since, O’Neill has built a career teaching and playing the viola internationally. Throughout it all, he confesses, he had his eye on the Takács Quartet. In fact, he first auditioned for the quartet in 2005, but Geri Walther was destined for the group at that time.

“I was deeply disappointed,” O’Neill confesses. “I took it very hard. I remember getting the call from them, but they said, ‘This is not the right time in your life.’”

The right time, as it turns out, is now. Last fall, O’Neill flew out to Boulder to audition once again for the group. “We dove into Bartók, Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms. It was like a dream.”

The rest is history, though a curious one. O’Neill was invited to join, as he puts it, one of the greatest string quartets of all time in one of the most beautiful communities in the world. But he officially took up rehearsals in June, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to rehearse, the group had to live very closed lives, hardly going out, except to one another’s homes. One silver lining? It was the perfect bonding experience.

“It all worked out really nicely. We were able to just be together to make music and get to know each other. It’s been a challenge, but Ed, Harumi, and András have done everything they can to welcome me with open arms. They’ve been like family.”

Richard O'NeillThe chaotic start has only reiterated that O’Neill is exactly where he was meant to be, where his childhood dreams have always been leading.

“For a lot of artists this has been a cataclysm—no concerts, no traveling, no music making. So to be in the quartet at this time, it’s fortuitous. 

“Making music is sacred. It is one of our great gifts to be together and to share this sublime music with people. I can’t imagine anything more wonderful.”

O’Neill’s passion for music making doesn’t stop with the stage. He taught viola at the University of California, Los Angeles from 2007 until 2016, and has been on the faculty of the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara since 2014.

“Teaching is incredibly beneficial to both the student and the teacher. Being able to work with many different types of people, and being able to verbalize and come up with solutions that might not be obvious makes you understand what you do on a deeper level.”

Performing and teaching in Boulder also give O’Neill the chance to work with friends both old and new. 

“I’ve known Harumi Rhodes and Charles Wetherbee a long time, and I’ve had the opportunity to play with David Requiro at several festivals and with the chamber music society at Lincoln Center,” O’Neill explains. 

“Erika Eckert reached out to me when I was in Denver for my recital right before everything shut down and invited me to sit in on one of her studio classes. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend, but I appreciated that she took the time to connect and to also say how much she was looking forward to working with me. She’s done so much for the program here at the College of Music, and I’m excited to be a part of it both as a member of the Takács Quartet and as a teacher.”  

While campus remains closed to audiences, this fall the Takács Quartet will livestream their Grusin Hall series concerts to subscribers in the comfort and safety of their own homes. For more information, visit cupresents.org.