Newest member of Takacs Quartet part of a very distinguished slate
By Peter Alexander Dec. 18 at 4 p.m.
Violist Richard O’Neill, the newest member of the Takacs String Quartet, has been announced as one of a distinguished slate of Grammy nominees in the “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” category.
O’Neill was nominated for his recording of the Concerto for Viola and Chamber Orchestra by Christopher Theofanidis, with the Albany Symphony and conductor David Alan Miller. This is O’Neill’s third nomination. Winners will be announced in an online ceremony Jan. 31, 2021.
O’Neill replaced Geraldine Walther as the Takacs Quartet’s violist starting in June of this year. He has appeared in streamed performances by the quartet, but has not yet appeared onstage before a live Boulder audience.
O’Neill learned of the nomination when he was in Los Angeles. “I was sort of lounging around and turned on the Grammy announcement on their Facebook page,” he says. “A friend of mine, Nicola Benedetti, was reading the names for the classical things. When she read my name I was just floored.
“It’s just an incredible honor.”
The other nominees for “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” are pianist Kirill Gerstein for the Thomas Adès Piano Concerto; pianist Igor Levit for the complete Beethoven piano sonatas; violinist Augustin Hadelich for “Bohemian Tales,” a collection of music by Dvořák, Janáček and Josef Suk; and pianist Daniil Trifonov for a recording of the Second and Fourth piano concertos of Rachmaninov.
O’Neill knows and admires most of the other nominees. “Those people, they’re just my favorite artists, every one!” he says.
O’Neill is speaking by Zoom from Korea, where he is quarantining in preparation for scheduled concerts over the Holidays. He notes that the current Covid-19 transmission rate in Seoul is almost high enough for a complete shutdown. “I might not have work when I get out of quarantine,” he says.
Theofanidis’s Viola Concerto was originally written in 2001 for violist Kim Kashkashian and has since been revised. The current recording is the first of the revised version of the concerto. Before he performed and recorded the concerto, O’Neill met Theofanidis met at a Starbucks near Lincoln Center in New York to discuss the piece.
“I remember that meeting,” O’Neil says. “Everything he says is very meaningful. The way he talked to me about the third movement just moved me very deeply.”
That is partly due to one of the sources of inspiration for the work. In his program notes, Theofanidis writes “This work was written before, during, and in the shadow of September 11th, and I believe is deeply influenced by that event.”
O’Neill explains that “I had actually been living in [New York City] for a few weeks when the planes hit the twin towers. For anybody who was in the city at that time, especially a newbie like me, it felt like the end of the world.”
For O’Neill, just getting the nomination for a Grammy is very meaningful, regardless of who wins. “The nomination is not something that I lobbied or I wrote to somebody,” he says. “It was an anonymous panel that had hundreds if not thousands of records to listen to and judge, and they chose these five albums. That to me, to be in that category—it’s great.”
What matters most, he says, is the piece itself, more than the award. “What happens next is anybody’s guess, and that’s fine with me,” he says. “[Theofanidis] has written a piece that, no matter what happens with this nomination, I think this piece deserves to be in the repertoire and more played.”