Meet the

UCLA 2022-2023 VEM Ensemble, Armenian Music Program
Ela Kodžas
Ela Kodžas

Eager to honor and explore a variety of musical traditions, Serbian-American violinist, Ela Kodžas, graduated as a Pi Kappa Lambda Scholar from the Eastman School of Music with a Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance with High Distinction under the tutelage of Renée Jolles. She was also the only student in her graduating year to receive a Certificate of Achievement in Performance Practice, under the guidance of Cynthia Roberts, Paul O’Dette, and Christel Thielmann.

Currently, she is pursuing a Master of Music in Violin Performance under the tutelage of Movses Pogossian and Varty Manouelian at the University of California at Los Angeles, where she is the Teaching Assistant for the Early Music Ensemble and was previously a Teaching Assistant in String Chamber Music. Additionally, Kodžas is also a member of the VEM Ensemble, which, under the tutelage of Movses Pogossian, “endeavors to raise awareness and celebrate the richness and diversity of the Armenian musical tradition” (VEM Ensemble, UCLA).

Kodžas’ interest in historical performance has led her to study with Amandine Beyer, Enrico Gatti, Robert Mealy, Bruce Dickey, and Julia Wedman. Her playing has been featured in the Rochester Early Music Festival, the Boston Early Music Festival Fringe Series, and the Berkeley Early Music Festival Fringe Series, and she has performed with Publick Musick (Rochester, NY), LA Camerata (Los Angeles, CA) and Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra (Long Beach, CA). She is a recipient of an Early Music America Summer Scholarship (2022).

Damon Zavala
Damon Zavala

Growing up, Damon was always surrounded by music. To his parents and to his family, there was a shared understanding about the importance of music. Throughout his childhood, Damon’s exposure to music weaved between many genres and subsequently he likes to think this early intervention is reflected in his present broad musical interests.

Throughout his high school career, Damon grew into an emerging young violist and violinist in the state of Oregon and broader Pacific Northwest winning most notably two OSAA state titles in solo viola performance. With a desire to see more of the world and to experience a wider range of the music, Damon eventually moved 2000 miles away from home to go to college in Music City.

In Nashville, his principal teachers included Kathryn Plummer and Daniel Reinker. Throughout his time in undergrad, Damon has enjoyed a varied and eclectic musical career. These eclectic interests led Damon to a variety of artistic collaborations around Nashville including: working with singer-songwriters, recording film scores, and presenting pop music productions with Listeso Music Group. In May of 2022, Damon graduated with academic honors from Vanderbilt University with a Bachelor’s in Music.

Presently, Damon Zavala is a violist and violinist based in Los Angeles, California studying and instructing part-time at the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA. He is also a member of the UCLA Armenian Music Program’s VEM Ensemble. As he embarks on this next chapter in his studies, Damon is hoping to acquire more students to teach, to collaborate within commercial music industry spaces, and to ultimately share with people a diverse range of passion for music.

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.

Lena Marandi
Lena Marandi

Lena Yasmin is delighted to contribute to the VEM Ensemble as a soprano soloist. As a singer based in Los Angeles, Lena has performed with various local organizations such as Guild Opera Company, Pacific Opera Project, and Independent Opera Company. She placed in the Lyra New York Competition as well as the Southern California Philharmonic Young Artist Competition. Most recently, Lena was awarded an Opera Buffs Career Grant. Lena holds a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and is pursuing a Master of Music at UCLA.

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