Right off, the internationally known musician from Sequim makes a bold statement.
“Music is music, regardless of genre,” said Richard Yongjae O’Neill.
“There is no right or wrong way to listen, as long as one has an open mind and open heart.”
O’Neill, who went to school in Sequim and began his musical life studying with local teachers Deborah and Phil Morgan-Ellis, says this in hopes of enticing listeners to his next concert. He’s coming back this Saturday, May 4, to play with the Port Angeles Symphony and Chorus, and he’s chosen two fairly little-known pieces: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Flos Campi” (“Flower of the Field”) and Bruch’s “Romance for Viola.”
They’re two of four works in the concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Port Angeles High School Performing Arts Center, 304 E. Park Ave.
As is traditional, music director and conductor Jonathan Pasternack will host a brief pre-concert chat at 6:40 p.m. Tickets range from $15-$35 and outlets include the Joyful Noise Music Center in Sequim, Port Book and News in Port Angeles, and the Port Angeles Symphony office (call 360-457-5579).
The public also is invited to the symphony and chorus’ final rehearsal at 10 a.m. Saturday, also at the Performing Arts Center. Admission is $7, and with both the final rehearsal and the evening concert, youngsters 16 and under are admitted free with a paying adult.
The viola is O’Neill’s instrument and the one that takes him around the world. His recent itinerary includes concerts with New York City’s Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center, of which he’s a resident member; a few months touring South Korea with the KBS Orchestra and a trip home to Santa Monica, where he’ll give more concerts and appear at a screening of his Emmy-winning multicultural youth project film, “Hello!? Orchestra.”
O’Neill, who also came to Port Angeles for the inaugural Music on the Strait festival last August and for a solo turn with the Port Angeles Symphony in February 2017, cited a particular reason why he’s eager to return.
“I’m really looking forward to this concert with the orchestra and the newly formed chorus,” he said of the Port Angeles Symphony’s vocal ensemble. The 33-voice choir, with Joy Lingerfelt conducting, will sing “Flos Campi,” a piece inspired by the Old Testament’s Song of Solomon. O’Neill suggested this work; he loves being part of what he calls “a large cast” performing it.
“Flos Campi” is for orchestra, viola and wordless choir, noted Pasternack. It’s not the Song of Solomon set to music; rather it’s a mysterious thing that transcends words.
“What I really love is the interaction between the violist and the oboist. It is exquisite,” Lingerfelt said, referring to O’Neill and principal oboe player Anne Krabill.
“For the chorus it is a challenge in part because there are no words,” Lingerfelt said. “But they are doing a beautiful job, already, in preparation. I love working with this group — so enthusiastic, and such a great sound.”
“This is definitely a concert of firsts,” Pasternack noted.
To start the evening, the orchestra will play “A Lark in Gustav’s Garden,” the world premiere of a tone poem composed by Peninsula College music professor David P. Jones.
Jones, well-known as conductor of the Peninsula College Jazz Ensemble, is also a classical composer whose work has been performed across Europe and North America. The music of Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams inspired him as he wrote this new piece.
Jones’ “Lark” is an eight-minute flight that begins with flutes, clarinets, muted brass and vibraphone; later, violinist and concertmaster Heather Ray sends the melody rising, creating a figure a little bit reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’ “A Lark Ascending.”
The piece “is dedicated to my beautiful wife, Tami,” Jones said.
“I am also grateful to Maestro Pasternack, who encouraged me in the work, and to the members of the Port Angeles Symphony who are bringing it to life for the first time.”
That’s the beginning of the concert. Then come the two pieces showcasing O’Neill’s viola. The performer acknowledged that yes, he’s up there in the spotlight — yet with any great music, this will be a conversation among soloist, orchestra and audience.
For the evening’s finale, Pasternack will lead the orchestra in Jean Sibelius’ Second Symphony in D major.
This is the Finnish composer’s pastoral symphony, said the conductor, a highly melodic one with an epic sweep, a “fiendishly tricky” third movement and a heroic ending.
O’Neill extended his invitation to those who’ve been to lots of concerts as well as those who are new to the orchestral experience.
“(A concert) is pure, non-verbal communication,” he said, “understood by all no matter where you are in the world.” It means something different to each person.
“Music is complete,” he said. “It needs no narrative or explanation.”