For almost 15 years, The Vega Quartet has been Emory University’s quartet-in-residence.
From left: Elizabeth Fayette, Jessica Wu, Yinzi Kong and Guang Wang
Chamber music dates back to parlor gatherings of the 18th century, but the modern interpretation is what The Vega Quartet member Yinzi Kong, viola, describes as “being at two extremes: either background music for parties or weddings, or high art for the few hardcore connoisseurs. Both are somewhat true, but neither is completely accurate. Chamber music is intimate and personal, thus carries a powerful message that is worth all of our attention; it is also portable and independent, thus a convenient sound world that can be easily plugged into any occasion,” she says. Kong is joined by Guang Wang, cello, and Jessica Wu, second violinist (first violinist Elizabeth Fayette moved back to New York City at the beginning of the pandemic to be with family, and her tenure was completed by David Coucheron, concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, as guest first violinist to finish the major concerts this year). In 2020, The Vega Quartet has been in the process of completing a yearlong cycle of Beethoven quartets in celebration of the musical genius’s 250th birthday, which it has completed once before—“Beethoven is our faith”—the first being in 2003-04, when it made the move from New York City to Atlanta. It is the first full-time string quartet to ever make Atlanta home base. “Our first visit to Emory was in the fall of 2003 as the first-ever Coca-Cola visiting artists in residence at Emory to perform the Beethoven cycle,” she says, and to celebrate the newly built Emerson Concert Hall in the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts.
Community is a huge part of chamber music’s ethos, which goes beyond beautiful melodies. “We relate this genre to everyday people and everyday events by commissioning new pieces, performing in unexpected venues and lecturing on chamber music in relation to all sorts of subjects such as religion, language, politics, psychology and physics,” says Kong. “Chamber music should be rooted in the community and then bring us together beyond to reach the essence of humanity.” The group even created the Emory Youth Chamber Program. “Playing in a chamber music group has the same basic concept [as team sports], but goes even deeper into people’s emotional, logical and spiritual layers,” says Kong.
It all still applies in 2020: “Many people said that they feel sorry we have played these concerts through the 2020 pandemic and nobody applauds while we bow, and it must feel strange,” says Kong. “The truth is, we believe after every concert, you applaud in any living room around the world and we bow in the silent concert hall, not to each other, but to Ludwig V. Beethoven.” They plan to “keep filling the community with the sound and spirit of the music—rooted in diversity in harmony and form, yet breaking the barrier of language and culture,” she continues, “expressing the same joy, sorrow, anguish, empathy and love that we all experience as human beings, shared, communicated, resonated and understood.”
Photography by: By The Dorn Brothers