Those of you who attended the larger than life "Phantom Meets Puccini" concert of the California Philharmonic this season may remember an almost transcendental moment when a strapping young gentleman, with a handlebar moustache fashioned in the style of Dutch Renaissance painters, stood up to perform the viola solo in the enchanting "Humming Chorus" from Madama Butterfly.
The man behind this magic was Erik Rynearson, the new principal violist of the Cal Phil.
Though his name and appearance evoke the culture of a Viking land, Mr. Rynearson is indeed one of those rare native Angelenos, born and raised in L.A. (though his relatives did come to the US from the Netherlands back in 1653). Born into a musical family, Erik started playing violin at age 3. His father earned a doctorate in piano performance and also played flute; his older siblings played cello and viola. His mother was also a pianist and as a “Suzuki mama,” learned violin with Erik, going to all his lessons and being as "nurturing and supportive" as possible.
Though he grew up in a musical environment, it wasn't until high school when he played in the pit for a production of Westside Story that music became a focus. The powerful and gripping score of Bernstein's revolutionary musical fueled Erik's drive to follow music. He feels he was very fortunate to have attended the University of Indiana and "fall into his teacher's lap," as he claims. Either Mr. Rynearson's teacher was worth his weight in gold or Erik is being modest when he says, "I had no idea what I was doing."
At this point Erik was still playing violin and earned a Bachelor’s of Music in Violin Performance. During his college years, he had the enriching opportunity to spend four summers studying in Stuttgart, Germany and a semester in the very capital of classical music itself, Vienna.
He made the instrumental switch when he was offered $500 to play viola in the college orchestra. Seeing more possibilities with this instrument, he continued his studies at the University of Indiana and received a Master's degree in Viola while gaining valuable experience playing professionally with the Detroit Symphony, ultimately winning a spot in the New World Symphony in 2005.
"Miami Beach is so wild," Erik recalls of his "great experience" in Florida when he played under the baton of world class conductors including, of course, the New World's celebrity resident Maestro and Artistic Director, Michael Tilson Thomas.
In 2009 Erik left the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean and returned to the shores of the Pacific and his hometown, the City of Angels, where he eventually landed the principal viola position for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. He also serves as principal viola of the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra and the Santa Barbara Symphony and frequently performs with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Long Beach Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. Previous orchestra engagements include the Phoenix, Kansas City, and Detroit Symphony Orchestras with orchestral tours and engagements in Bonn, Caracas, Cologne, Granada, London, Luzerne, Mexico City, Paris, Salzburg, Santiago, Stuttgart, and Vienna.
Mr. Rynearson recently joined the California Philharmonic through the recommendation of then concert Master Katia Popov. Sadly, we lost Katia this year, though her great gifts to the musical community and the Cal Phil remain. Erik Rynearson was one of those many gifts; he gladly accepted the position, loving the viola section, his colleagues in the orchestra, and the programs presented to sold-out houses in the iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall.
"Victor really knows how to connect with people," he says of the Maestro, “which is why audiences keep coming back to his performances and bringing friends. It's easy for the audiences’ imaginations to be captured,” he continues, "and to cap it all off, we get to play in such a great hall." Erik notes that Disney Hall is "...such an acoustically positive place. There's not a bad seat in the house. One can be engaged even in the back of the top of the balcony and still feel like a part of what is happening onstage."
And what is life like for this debonair fellow off-stage?
He lives with his significant other, Ina, an exceptional violinist from Albania, along with their 19-year-old cat Jake, the epitome of "simple beauty." Recently, Ina and Erik visited Albania to spend time with her family and enjoy fantastic food, pristine beaches, and experience the wonders of ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine ruins and art. Erik also enjoys hiking, swimming, photography and, together with Ina, exploring California's spectacular wine regions.
And the signature moustache?
"It's a great way to spread humor and joy. It's great with kids. And strangers on the street smile."
Spreading joy seems to be Erik Rynearson’s raison d’être in life - not just through his charming visage, but through his captivating playing with the California Philharmonic.