Inside of the case that houses violist Richard Yongjae O'Neill's 18th century Matteo Goffriller ex-Trampler wrapped up in an orange-and-white horse pattern Hermes scarf are several photographs placed in a row.
They are pictures of his father at various stages of his life and Toby Saks, a dear friend who passed away, O'Neill explains. "I did not mean it to be a memorial," he says with a smile; yet, whenever he opens the lid, there they are ― his loved ones who are no longer here.
O'Neill, 35, who had never known his father, discovered in December 2012 that his father had passed away eight years earlier. O'Neill's mother is a Korean War orphan with an intellectual disability who was adopted by a couple from Washington state.
In mid-July 2013, O'Neill met with his father's family and visited the site where his ashes are buried. "A little of my life has been missed meetings," he says wistfully at an interview with The Korea Herald on March 20.
A few weeks later, Saks, founder of Seattle Chamber Music Society, who had encouraged him to reconnect with his family, died of pancreatic cancer.
"She had been a catalyst in my life and her death marked a turning point in my life," he says. "It was a reminder that life is very short. You need to do and say what need to be said right away."
Since his debut in Korea in 2005, O'Neill has been living life in the fast lane. He has performed with numerous orchestras, including the London Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Seoul Philharmonic; released nine albums, including seven solo albums, two of which were nominated for a Grammy; served as the artistic director of Ditto, a highly popular chamber music project in Korea; and is a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Splitting time between Los Angeles, where he is on the faculty for the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA, and New York, O'Neill is frequently on the road for concert tours around the world.
The lanky violist appears very driven, constantly performing, working on a project or recording ― he has even authored a bestseller on classical music appreciation. While people have told him how ambitious he is, O'Neill denies being ambitious. "That is not the truth," he says emphatically.