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Feeling great, Ensemble Ditto disbands after 12 years

This month marks the end of an era and the beginning of a new one for classical music, as Ensemble Ditto wraps up its 12-year journey.

The all-male chamber ensemble was launched in 2007 with the aim of introducing classical music to a broader audience. Young musicians, including star violist Richard Yongjae O’Neill, teamed up to present artistic and innovative repertoires.

But the journey will soon come to an end, as this is the last season for the ensemble. The last Ditto festival, “Magic of Ditto,” opened June 12 at the Seoul Arts Center and the Goyang Aram Nuri Arts Center, located west of Seoul.

“We have enjoyed 12 wonderful seasons,” O’Neill said at a press conference Monday in western Seoul. 

Ensemble Ditto plays the first movement from Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat major. (Yonhap)
Ensemble Ditto plays the first movement from Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat major. (Yonhap)

Though its members have come and gone over the years, as a key member of the ensemble and its artistic director, O’Neill has been part of every season.

“I feel great,” the 41-year-old musician said when asked how he felt about the end of the ensemble. “I feel that the future of classical music is very bright. Look at who is sitting in front of you. This is a group of amazing young artists.

“I feel nothing but deep gratitude to them and hope that they will carry the tradition forward,” the violist said. “I have never felt happier.”

Also present at the conference were composer and conductor Choi Jae-hyuck, cellist James Kim, clarinetist Kim Han, and violinists Stephane Pi Jackiw and Yu-Chien Tseng.

At the event, many ensemble members said they were looking forward to the upcoming “Different Ditto” performance on June 28 at the Seoul Arts Center. 

Poster image for “Different Ditto” (Credia)
Poster image for “Different Ditto” (Credia)

The first part of the concert will see three of Choi’s compositions, including solo pieces for the violin and the cello as well as the chamber music composition “Dust of Light.”

“Quatuor Pour la Fin du Temps,” or “Quartet for the End of Time,” written by Olivier Messiaen and slated for the latter half of the recital, is another exciting piece that the musicians are looking forward to.

Looking back on the past 12 years, there are delights and regrets, O’Neill said. But he is sure Ditto has made the classical music scene better than before.

“We have been really lucky. The people (the audience) have grown with us now. I love seeing the children that come to the concert. It makes me so happy. Many are very shy, so they don’t say a lot, but their eyes tell me a lot,” he said.

It was in 2004 or 2005 that the violist started to wonder about the future of classical music -- more specifically, chamber music. Around 15 years ago, the Emerson String Quartet, a prestigious music group based in New York, visited Korea. But the audience was much smaller than O’Neill had expected.

“I was very sad,” O’Neill recounted. “(Chamber music is) little bit of a harder sell to the public, but to me it is the (type of presentation that creates) the most intimate conversations.

“I think it is better now. There are many young, great ensembles not just in Korea but all across the world,” he said.

Though Ditto is coming to an end, O’Neill sees this as a new beginning for everyone, including him.

“This is not a retirement ceremony. This is not about replicating and being a machine. It is not about perfection,” he said. “It is time in my life to move on.

“I made so many mistakes. I will not live with the regrets. But (what matters now is for) somebody to step up and do something new. That is the future’s job. I want to surround myself in music and I want to leave the gauntlet to the young generation.”

Ticket prices for the festival range from 30,000 to 100,000 won ($88). For more information, visit the festival’s website at

By Im Eun-byel (