WATERTOWN — The VEM Ensemble of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Armenian Music Program at the 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 cosponsoring institutions and organizations.
VEM, which means “rock” in Armenian, has performed throughout North American and Europe, including Armenia, to critical acclaim, and has been featured on various CDs. In its current configuration as a string quartet, the members include Professor Movses Pogossian on violin, master’s student Ela Kodžas on violin, master’s student Damon Zavala on viola, and UCLA alumnus Niall Tarō Ferguson on cello. TCA last brought VEM to the East Coast of the US and Canada in 2019 as part of its mission to support the development of Armenian culture, and if not for Covid, would have accommodated requests for return performances much earlier.
Pogossian, the initiator of VEM and founder and director of the Armenian Music Program, explained VEM’s mission: “UCLA is the only university in the world that has an Armenian music program. The goal is to introduce [university] students to Armenian music. Almost always, the VEM members are students of non-Armenian descent. They are getting acquainted with this [Armenian] music for the first time, but they fall in love with our art and become great ambassadors for Armenian culture.”
Among the special elements of the current tour are the guest appearance of pianist Lilit Karapetian-Shougarian with VEM in Boston, where two pieces will be dedicated to the memory of her late husband, Ambassador Rouben Shougarian, and the dedication of the Detroit performance to the memory of the late Dickran Toumajan.
What to Expect
When VEM was in Armenia in March 2023, it gave concerts in Dilijan, Gyumri and Yerevan. “Everywhere we performed, the audiences welcomed us with so much enthusiasm for what we were doing, which created the most special concert atmosphere I’ve personally yet experienced, said Zavala. “Despite the language barrier, the warmth and support of the Armenian audiences at our performances was visceral and I know we left each concert venue with our cups overflowing with emotion at the end of the night.”