— by Theresa Duque
“Don’t give up your day job,” some musicians are often told. The Lab’s Rick Diamond, however, has had very little reason to give up his day job as Deputy for Research Operations for the Building Technology and Urban Systems department in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division. When Diamond’s not working with the best and brightest to make our homes and offices more energy efficient, he fills his downtime with music, practicing the violin for his other gig — as a professional musician for the Berkeley Symphony.
Diamond’s love for music and the violin started early, at the age of six, when he asked his parents for violin lessons. Despite being told by his first violin teacher that he’d be better off playing baseball, Diamond kept on playing his favorite string instrument. “I wasn’t good at baseball, either, but I liked playing the violin, and was happy to sit at the back of the school orchestra, where the teacher told the four of us in the back to ‘keep the bow an inch above the strings’ during the school performances,” says Diamond.
Over time, Diamond’s persistence paid off. Inspired by his high school violin teacher, he started taking the violin more seriously — so seriously that he tried out for the Berkeley Symphony. “I didn’t know you were supposed to be a professional musician, so I took the audition and got in — sitting last stand of the second violins,” he says. At just 15 years old, Diamond was the youngest member of the orchestra. He has now been playing in the Berkeley Symphony for 43 years.
Diamond is one of the lucky few to intertwine his deep appreciation for classical music with a successful scientific career. He is also one of the few to know about a certain grand piano in a certain conference room in Building 71, and how it ended up there. In 1999, a young physics postdoc, Palma Catravas, and famed nuclear researcher Al Ghiorso purchased the baby grand piano and had it installed in 71 as a piece of equipment. “Palma and I would play violin and piano sonatas at lunch — she was a terrific sight reader, and would tackle any piece I brought,” recalls Diamond.
For Diamond, however, classical music isn’t just for an elite few. Thanks to the convenience of social media, he can now share his music with the masses, in the most unexpected places. In April, he played his first flashmob concert with the Awesome Orchestra. Eighty musicians descended on Oakland’s City Hall plaza, arriving by BART while playing Terry Riley’s 1960 classic “In C” on the trains, escalators, and out into the plaza. “It was a great way to share music with a community that may not normally go inside a concert hall,” he says.
Check this YouTube video of the concert, with Diamond (in black t-shirt and baseball cap) appearing from around 3:47 to 4:00.