As he makes his way through a pre-concert quarantine in Korea, Richard O’Neill has more than one reason to be eager for 5 o’clock this Saturday evening.
Music on the Strait, the Port Angeles festival he cofounded, will host “Alone Together for the Holidays,” a live get-together and performance celebrating his recent Grammy nomination.
The free online event, via MusicontheStrait.com, will link local viewers with O’Neill, who grew up in Sequim.
He’s half a world away from here, as he prepares for a Christmas concert in Yeon-cheon, a locale in Korea’s Gyeonggi Province. In his ancestral homeland, the violist is something of a classical music rock star.
“What a year it has been for all of us,” O’Neill, 41, wrote in an email this week.
“Our most sacred gatherings and holidays have been spent in isolation,” yet the internet makes it possible to keep in touch, he said.
Like many string players the world over, O’Neill has been playing solo works, and that’s what he’ll do Saturday: the Prelude and Sarabande from J.S. Bach’s Second Suite for Solo Cello, plus a folk lullaby Korean mothers sing to help their children fall asleep.
The short performance also will include a few melodies from the Concerto by Christopher Theofanidis, for which O’Neill received his Grammy nod.
“I’d like to cover the heart of the piece: a moving melody directly inspired by a performance by a Sikh at the 9/11 memorial service at Yankee Stadium, weeks after the attacks,” he said, adding that in September 2001, he was a new student at the Juilliard School in New York City.
He vividly remembers how the city felt in those days.
O’Neill has since moved west for an artist residency at the University of Colorado at Boulder and to join the internationally known Takács Quartet. He plans to stay at home there for the Jan. 31 Grammy Awards ceremony.
On Saturday, when O’Neill appears online from his lodgings in Korea, it will be 10 a.m. the next morning.
“I am really looking forward to seeing my favorite people at this Zoom meeting,” he said. Those longtime friends include Port Angeles-born violinist James Garlick, with whom O’Neill played in the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra when both were teenagers.
A good 20 years later, they inaugurated Music on the Strait, the August chamber music festival that has brought performers from Seattle, Port Angeles and New York City together for sold-out concerts here in 2018 and 2019.
Now, as co-artistic directors, Garlick and O’Neill are hoping not only for a live Music on the Strait in 2021, but also for many festivals beyond that.
With four patrons who’ve pledged to match donations up to $15,000, they’re inviting music lovers to support the young festival. The goal, Garlick said, is to establish a rainy-day fund.
Shirley Anderson of Sequim, Dick and Alice Rapasky of Port Angeles and Carolyn Fritz, a Bainbridge Islander with longstanding ties to the North Olympic Peninsula, are the supporters who intend to double the donations.
Contributors of any amount also will receive a copy of the limited edition 2019 Music on the Strait poster by Port Angeles-born artist Tom Eykemans, while those who donate $250 or more will receive one of O’Neill’s solo albums. Contributions are tax-deductible, Garlick noted.
Anderson, a retired science teacher, has known O’Neill since he was a high school freshman in Sequim. She remembers hearing him, and later Garlick, perform with the symphony, and has delighted in watching the men make a living — and a life — in music.
The festival O’Neill and Garlick created has brought Anderson pure joy — “a gift,” she said, “that’s inexpressible.”
For about two decades, Anderson organized Handel with Care, Sequim’s sing-along Messiah, every year a few days after Christmas. With such events disappearing from the 2020 calendar, she’s grateful for the chance to see, hear and chat online with O’Neill and Garlick on Saturday.
They and their performances make this community rich, Anderson said.
“When I hear music like that,” she added, “the best words I can think of are ‘thank you.’”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected].