Emory's own Vega String Quartet starts the year on big notes

By Leslie King | Emory Report | Sept. 14, 2016

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The Vega String Quartet includes (clockwise from top left) Elizabeth Fayette, violin; Guang Wang, cello; Jessica Shuang Wu, violin; and Yinzi Kong, viola.

The Vega String Quartet, Emory’s quartet in residence, starts this academic year with big news.

The group has a new member — first violinist and rising star Elizabeth Fayette — and a monumental fundraising goal has been met.

New endowment

The Abraham J. and Phyllis Katz Foundation had challenged the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta to match a $1 million grant within three years. The purpose was to create an endowment to keep a string quartet in residence at Emory in perpetuity.

The goal has been met, creating the Rebecca Katz-Doft Chamber Music Endowment.

“Although the million dollar matching grant was about three years, we feel like we’ve been going for 10 years,” says William Ransom, ECMSA director. “Since we started this in 2006, the first year of the residency of the Vega String Quartet, we’ve had to continually raise money annually just to fund it.”

The milestone will be celebrated with a free concert on Sunday, Sept. 18, at 4 p.m. in Emerson Concert Hall of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts.

The public is invited to hear Beethoven’s 7th violin/piano Sonata in C Minor, 7th String Quartet and 7th Symphony arranged for piano for four hands, performed by the Vega with Elizabeth Pridgen and Ransom on piano. A reception celebrating the establishment of the Rebecca Katz-Doft Chamber Music Endowment will be held at intermission.

New member

The Sept. 18 concert offers a showcase for the Vega’s newest member, Fayette. “Libby will be playing a Beethoven sonata, which will really feature her,” says Ransom.

“A series of happy coincidences” involving a mutual friend is how Fayette describes joining the group.

“The music world is very small,” she says, “and when a mutual friend heard they were looking for a first violinist, he put my name forward.”

The opportunity to play first violin with the Vega came at a good point for her as she’d just finished a fellowship and was moving on to the next phase of her life. 

“I always said what I wanted for myself was an interesting life in music. An interesting life means you meet interesting people, and a string quartet really inspires some of the greatest discussion, some of the greatest opportunities to delve into these masterworks,” she says.

As Fayette moves into the performance and academic schedule of the Vega, she is also adjusting to her new life in Atlanta. After a delivery mishap caused boxes of her concert dresses and music to be left out in the rain, Vega violist Yinzi Kong joked, “We need a partnership with [designer] Kenneth Cole.”

Fayette is also new to Atlanta's car culture. A native of Long Island, raised in Philadelphia, Fayette lived in New York City for the last five years, training at the Curtis Institute, then The Juilliard.

“As a lifelong city person, one of the biggest practical considerations is that I need to finish learning how to drive!” she says.

New year

The Vega String Quartet’s portfolio includes taking its music around Emory via tailored and general concerts. During her tryout period, Fayette came down to Atlanta for a week to see the full range of what the quartet does — performing chamber music, coaching, specialized Emory concerts, and giving class presentations.

One of the concerts during Fayette’s tryout was Beethoven at the Business School. There is also the now-annual Mozart at the Med School and Ludwig at the Law School.

The academic aspect of the quartet’s work is at the core of their residency, notes Ransom. “At Emory, that makes it very different from being at a conservatory where they’d basically just be teaching applied music," he says.

The Vega String Quartet also teaches music and participates in all types of classes across campus.

“We put out a call and whatever professor is interested in tying their class in with some musical discussion, we make the subject fit the music. It’s extraordinary that you can find anything that has something to do with music,” Ransom says.

Vega cellist Guang Wang and violinist Jessica Shuang Wu say the group has covered “pretty much everything — all kinds of literature, languages such as German, neuroscience, religion, chemistry, physics.”

This semester the Vega will work with classes on pediatrics, dance, mental health, interdisciplinary foundations, music composition, and a freshman seminar, “Jane Austen’s World.”

Fayette is excited to join the quartet in the classroom as well as the concert hall.

“I like to think of it that any sort of education only fulfills and grows the performance aspect, that the two enrich the other," she says.