You would never think it was a group of Asian string musicians.
But that's exactly what the Vega Quartet is. It is comprised of two violinists, a viola player and a cellist, three of whom were born in China, one in Korea. They are accomplished classical musicians, having played in Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall and in music festivals all over the world, from Paris to Miami, from Jamaica to Bangkok. The quartet's live broadcast credits include National Public Radio's Performance Today, as well as the National Radio of China, Shanghai TV, Radio France, France Musiques, and the National Radio of the Czech Republic.
The New York Times once wrote that the Vega Quartet "played with a kind of clean intoxication to it, pulling the listener along...the musicians took real risks in their music making."
So why the Spanish-sounding name?
According to violinist Jessica Shuang Wu, it's all in the stars.
"Vega is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra," said Wu, who will lead the Vega Quartet to Weehawken on Wednesday for the latest free lunchtime concert as part of the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center UBS Atrium series, beginning at 12:30 p.m. "Lyra is where the word lyric comes from. We wanted to choose a name that had no limitations. We liked the name. It is different, very different."
Wu, cellist Guang Wang, and viola player Yinzi Kong were all classmates together in the Shanghai Conservatory, when they were all child prodigies, beginning at age 9.
The three have played together ever since and came to the United States 10 years ago, settling in New York, to pursue a professional career in music. The three native Chinese musicians were joined by violinist Christine Sohn three years ago. Sohn is a native of Korea.
"Now, we're all New Yorkers," Wu said with a laugh.
Wu said that she has been playing with a quartet since she was 13 years old and that she has been performing with Wang and Kong for the last 15 years.
"In many ways, a quartet is like a marriage," Wu said. "We do so many things together. It's amazing that we've been able to stay together for so long. It's also amazing that we're getting this opportunity to perform all over. Our careers have really taken off recently. It's been exciting."
Although playing in the UBS Atrium is a lot different than Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall, where the Vega Quartet is scheduled to perform again on April 3, Wu said that she is happy to perform in a quaint setting to a different audience.
"We always treat every single concert we do the same," Wu said. "We just love music and love performing. We actually enjoy when the setting isn't so big, because we can almost reach out and touch the audience. The people who come are there because they love the music, and we appreciate that."
Before the concert, the Vega Quartet will perform for the students at Weehawken High School in the auditorium.
"We've been doing a lot of outreach programs to try to get kids, ages 5 through high school, interested in classical music," Wu said. "We like that. We know that classical music doesn't have as big of an audience as pop music does, but a lot of these kids don't get a chance to hear our form of classical music. We love it, because we get a chance to explain to the kids what we do. We give them basic knowledge so they can understand it better."
Bruce Sherman, the executive director of the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center, is pleased to be able to bring the unique style of the Vega Quartet to Weehawken.
"The Vega Quartet plays a very eclectic mix of music which I personally find very interesting," Sherman said. "In the Atrium concert, for example, they will play Dvorak's great String Quartet No.12 in F major, the American, as well as a tango by Carlos Gardel and a gorgeous arrangement of a traditional Chinese folk song. It should be a very interesting and exciting concert."
Sherman enjoys the fact that the Vega Quartet will perform for the kids at the high school.
"We'll be presenting an auditorium program to students at Weehawken High before the concert in the atrium and I'm looking forward to seeing the students' reactions," Sherman said. "For most of them, it will be their first exposure to live classical music of any sort and certainly to a string quartet."
Amidst the monthly concerts in the UBS Atrium Series and the arts education programs at local schools, Sherman is busy fundraising for the permanent arts center, which is slated to be built on the Weehawken waterfront.
One component of the fundraising plan is a benefit concert with the great singer/songwriter Ann Hampton Callaway, which will be held on Sunday, March 20 at 4 p.m. This is HRPAC's only ticketed event of the year. There will be more information on the Callaway concert to be announced soon.
I.For more information on the UBS Atrium Series concerts or for the upcoming benefit with Ann Hampton Callaway, please visit www.HRPAC.org or call the HRPAC concert info line at 201-716-4540.