VEM Ensemble

The VEM Ensemble is the cornerstone of the Armenian Music Program at UCLA, which in its 10 years of existence has become an internationally renowned leader in celebrating the richness and diversity of the Armenian musical tradition. In residence at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, the VEM Ensemble has worked with musicians such as Tigran Mansurian, Kim Kashkashian, David Starobin, Armen Hyusnunts, Artur Avanesov, Seth Knopp, and many others.

The VEM Ensemble has performed at various venues in Los Angeles including Zipper Hall, Bing Theater, Schoenberg Hall, and the Hammer Museum, as well as in Boston, Montreal, Detroit, New Mexico, Colorado, and the Incontri in Terra di Siena Festival in Italy. In his review of their performance in Italy, critic Laurence Vittes wrote, “The evening’s most memorable music was made by the VEM Quartet… who laid out Eduard Mirzoyan’s String Quartet with a feline, subtle grace that touched hearts with its gentle melodic content and long-lined eloquence.” The VEM is featured in Modulation Necklace and Serenade with a Dandelion, the critically acclaimed CDs of Armenian Music by the Naxos-distributed label, New Focus Recordings.

Meet the
Ensemble

Ally Cho
Ally Cho

Ally Cho’s musical journey began in Gold Coast, Australia, where she first picked up the violin at the age of 5. Ally’s talents were recognized at ten years old with a full music scholarship to All Saints Anglican School , Gold Coast. An opportunity arised when she was 14 where she auditioned for Melbourne’s prestigious Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School. Her acceptance marked a transformative journey to Melbourne, a city brimming with artistic energy. In Melbourne, Ally’s talents and skills broadened with solo performances and by leading orchestras as concertmaster. Notably, she won the prestigious Bach Competition in Melbourne twice, leaving a lasting mark in the city’s musical history.

She went to Manchester, England, as an exchange student during her musical journey where she benefited from masterclasses with professors from prestigious institutions like the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music.

In 2018 Ally crossed continents to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in classical violin at Manhattan School of Music in New York City, broadening her horizons with chamber music opportunities. Today, Ally embarks on a new chapter at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as part of the UCLA resident quartet, VEM, under the guidance of the distinguished Movses Pogossian and Varty Manouelian. Ally aspires to be a virtuoso violinist, captivating global audiences and inspiring future musicians.

Damon Zavala
Damon Zavala

Damon Zavala, a Mexican-American violist and violinist from Oregon, has made significant contributions to Los Angeles’s music scene, blending classical virtuosity with contemporary perspectives. His journey through the vibrant musical landscapes of Nashville, where he lived for several years before moving to Los Angeles, has profoundly informed his interests and musical ventures, enriching his approach to both performance and education.

Currently pursuing a master’s degree in music, Damon dedicates himself to part-time teaching of string chamber studies at UCLA, under the guidance of Brian Chen and Movses Pogossian, and at the SOL-LA Music Academy in Santa Monica. While at UCLA, Damon actively participates as a violist in the Armenian Music Program and is a member of the VEM Quartet. This engagement offers him unique opportunities to immerse in Armenian music, arts, history, and culture. This experience not only enriches his understanding but also amplifies his ongoing commitment to showcasing a broad spectrum of cultural expressions in music. This dedication has most recently led him to a pivotal role with the Sphinx Organization, where he currently manages community arts organizations to enhance the representation of underrepresented communities in orchestral settings, striving to ensure that Black and Brown voices can be heard and valued.

Damon’s collaborations span a variety of notable projects, including NBC’s “The Voice,” Young the Giant, Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, and the New West Symphony. His efforts to broaden his teaching outreach and contribute significantly to both educational and commercial music sectors underscore his dedication to diversity and inclusion in classical music. With his passion, diverse experience, and deep understanding of the importance of cultural representation, Damon Zavala stands out as a prominent educator and collaborator in Los Angeles, committed to enriching the musical world through inclusivity and excellence.

Niall Tarō Ferguson
Niall Tarō Ferguson

A Los Angeles native, Niall Tarō Ferguson is a cellist, composer, and orchestrator. He is currently an active freelance musician, contributing in equal capacity to the worlds of concert and commercial music.

Niall has participated in music festivals such as the Rencontres Musicales Internationales at the International Menuhin Music Academy, Musique à Flaine, and the Borromeo Music Festival in Altdorf, Switzerland. He has studied with cellists Antonio Lysy, Lynn Harrell, Niall Brown, Ben Hong, and Timothy Loo. In Los Angeles, Niall has performed on many of the city’s premiere contemporary music series, such as Monday Evening Concerts (M.E.C.), Jacaranda Music, and the Hear Now Festival. As a session cellist, he records regularly on motion picture and TV soundtracks, record dates, and reality shows. Niall has performed with artists such as David Foster, Andrea Bocelli, Shawn Mendes, Miley Cyrus, Olivia Rodrigo, Danny Elfman, and many others.

Niall has studied music composition with composers Mark Carlson, Ian Krouse, and Bruce Broughton. His concert works have been performed throughout California and overseas, in such places as the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Barnum Hall, the Palau de la Música Catalana, the Aratani Theatre at JACCC, among others. In 2021, his piece Scamper was chosen to be performed virtually for the California Orchestra Directors Association’s All-State High School Orchestra.

Niall has orchestrated on several films including Bruised (2021), Cat Burglar (2021), American Factory (2020 Academy Awards Best Documentary Feature winner), Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw (2019), Ni No Kuni (2019), and Kruimeltje (2020), among many others. He has worked as an orchestrator on two of composer Joe Hisaishi’s concert tours: Kiki’s Delivery Service in 2019, and Porco Rosso in 2022. Niall’s string arrangements have also been featured on a number of commercial recordings, most notably on Lukas Graham’s 3 (The Purple Album) which was released in October 2018 by Copenhagen Records, Then We Take the World, and Warner Bros. Records, and debuted at number one in Denmark.

As of 2019, Niall is a Program Associate with the Asia / America New Music Institute (AANMI), a collective that pursues cultural exchange through modern music. In April 2019 he participated in his first AANMI tour, accompanying founder Chad Cannon and contributing to lectures given at institutions throughout Asia such as the Hong Kong Baptist University, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and The American School in Japan, among others.

Niall received his bachelor’s degree in 2017 from the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, where he studied cello performance with Antonio Lysy, and music composition with Ian Krouse and Bruce Broughton.

Niall is of Japanese descent on his mother’s side, and of Scottish and Irish descent on his father’s. He goes by both his Gaelic and Japanese names, Niall or Tarō respectively.

VEM Quartet Outreach: Music for Food Concert at Hoover Street Elementary May 2024

VEM Ensemble's International Tour in ARMENIA with guests: Artur Avanesov & Danielle Segen (March '23)

Play
Third Annual Day of Armenian Music to Feature Noted Armenian Composer, Artur Avanesov
In 2013, the Armenian Music Program was launched at UCLA with a single ensemble-in-residence, the string quartet VEM. The ensemble performed on campus and conducted a few outreach programs in what were admittedly modest beginnings. A lot has changed in ten years.  When the program hosts its third-annual Day of Armenian Music on May 26
VEM Ensemble Sets out on 2023 Eastern U.S. Tour
The VEM Ensemble of the Armenian Music Program at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music is coming to Detroit, Boston and Montreal as part of a tour sponsored by the Tekeyan Cultural Association (TCA) of the United States and Canada, with full concerts on, respectively, May 9, 11 and 13, held with local co-sponsoring
VEM Ensemble's International Tour
The VEM Ensemble has just completed its week-long tour of Armenia. Next up is “Resonances: The Music of Armenia” at the Hammer Museum on Wednesday, April 19, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. The VEM Ensemble of the UCLA Armenian Music Program has just returned from its March 2023 tour of Armenia. The tour included ten workshops and outreach
Support the VEM Quartet by contributing to the Armenian Music Program!