Violist O’Neill catches Beethoven acting bug
The power of music is so grand, he said, that it speaks to everyone in different ways.
But this fall, O’Neill, 29, will diversify his commitment to the gospel of music, and switch the concert halls where he usually performs for a television set.
The classical musician is appearing in the seventh episode of the upcoming MBC-TV drama, “Beethoven Virus,” which will air every Wednesday and Thursday starting Sept. 10.
The drama depicts the lives of orchestra members under artistic director, and real-life conductor, Seo Hee-tae from the Seoul National Symphony, who is in charge of training the actors and inserting and editing some 70 classical pieces.
“I just play who I am,” O’Neill said.
He means it - he plays world famous violist Richard Yongjae O’Neill.
“Casting O’Neill and pianist Lim Dong-hyek [who also has a cameo] adds more reality to the drama,” said Hwang Young-mi, one of the producers of the show.
“They both agreed to act in the show because they wanted to bring classical music closer to the people,” he said.
O’Neill said he was very excited when he read the script earlier this summer, and didn’t hesitate to commit to the project.
“Though I have no goals as an entertainer, trying something different is always a good thing,” he said.
“Classical musicians, including myself, should practice thinking out of the box. We need to reach out more to the general public,” he said.
Appearing in Beethoven Virus helps achieve his mission.
If it were a non-music drama, he wouldn’t have appeared, O’Neill said, who said acting isn’t difficult since it is so like the kind of performing he does professionally - practicing and practicing and then telling a story to the audience.
“You have the editing in acting to make the product look good,” he added.
As a public performer, O’Neill is used to the pressures of being watched and judged.
“People are entitled to their own opinions,” he said, saying he was down-to-earth and unpretentious.
But how real-to-life is the drama?
“It’s impossible for a drama to reflect the 100 percent truth of real life,” he said, “unless the shooting is a 24-hour, by-the-second documentary coverage.”
In 2004, O’Neill appeared in the documentary “Human Theater” on KBS TV.
The program helped the musician become better known to public as the camera crew trailed the musician for a month.
The documentary featured O’Neill and his mother, Lee Bok-soon, who was adopted by an American couple during the Korean War.
O’Neill was 20 when he became interested in his mother country.
The violist’s Korean middle name, Yongjae, was given to him by his professor at the Juilliard School in New York in 2001.
“Yong” is from the Korean word yonggi, meaning courage, and “Jae” is from jaeneung, or talent.
After the documentary aired, O’Neill received some 2,000 e-mails a day and the size of his fan club grew to 3,000.
“Sometimes, it was stressful [having camera crews follow me everywhere],” he said. “But when I look back, it was a wonderful time.”
The drama shooting, too, he said, will leave him with great memories.
For his next move, apart from performing the viola, he wants to score film tracks.
He’s already started his career in that field, arranging the music for Heo Jin-ho’s movie “Happiness” last year.
“Films contain various art elements like acting, music and visual arts,” he said.
He is a big fan of the work of Park Chan-wook, including films like “Old Boy” (2003) and “Lady Vengeance” (2005).
However, the leap into acting is not a career move and he said he won’t be giving up classical music. “Life is still the same. I serve music - It’s the ultimate goal in my life.”
By Lee Eun-joo Staff Reporter[email@example.com]
*Violist Richard Yongjae O’Neill is leaving the country this week for Cologne, Germany, to record his fourth album, which is scheduled for release later this year.
His previous albums were “Richard Yongjae O’Neill” (2005), “Lachrymae” (2006) and “Winter Journey” (2007).
The violist was awarded the Avery Fisher Career Grant and the 48th Annual Grammy Award Nomination as Best Soloist with Orchestra.
He also teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles.