Violist Joseph Skerik is the newest member of Emory’s Vega Quartet

The new Vega Quartet -- Jessica Shuang Wu ((from left), Guang Wang, Joseph Skerik and Emily Daggatt Smith -- performs at the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta and St. Luke's Episcopal Church. (Photo by Fernando Decillis)

Credit: Fernando Decillis

Credit: Fernando Decillis

The new Vega Quartet -- Jessica Shuang Wu ((from left), Guang Wang, Joseph Skerik and Emily Daggatt Smith -- performs at the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta and St. Luke's Episcopal Church. (Photo by Fernando Decillis)

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

The last couple of years have proven to be a time of transition among many mainstays of the Atlanta classical music scene. Be it the changing of the guard at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra that brought us Nathalie Stutzmann as music director or the untimely passing of Georgian Chamber Players founder Christopher Rex, the local classical community has experienced several seismic shifts.

The Vega Quartet, Emory’s artist-in-residence ensemble, has also seen change with the recent retirement of long-serving violist Yinzi Kong. The quartet has enlisted Joseph Skerik to take the violist chair.

The quartet, with Skerik, performs Friday, Dec. 8, at noon at the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta as part of the Bach’s Lunch series by the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta. The concert will feature each member of the Vega Quartet performing solo on pieces by Amy Beach, Astor Piazzolla, Pablo de Sarasate and York Bowen. The concert is free. They’ll also perform Claude Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor, Op.10, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta at noon Friday, Dec. 15.

The new Vega Quartet -- Joseph Skerik (from left), Jessica Shuang Wu, Emily Daggatt Smith and Guang Wang -- performs at the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta and St. Luke's Episcopal Church. (Photo by Fernando Decillis)

Credit: Fernando Decillis

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Credit: Fernando Decillis

A native of Interlochen, Michigan, Skerik found the viola early in life thanks to his mother, who serves as the viola instructor at the Interlochen Arts Academy. “Hearing her practice when I was a toddler put the sound of the viola in my head,” Skerik says. “And then I was around a lot of musicians by way of her being around a lot of musicians.”

After starting on the violin at age 5, Skerik switched to viola at age 11. The shift brought with it a deeper commitment to music. Being a child of the internet era, Skerik was able to explore his burgeoning interest in classical music with YouTube as his guide. “I think when you’re naturally curious in the age of the internet, the algorithm figures you out,” he says.

The result of those musical deep dives was a robust awareness of the full breadth and width of the classical canon and the realization that music would be his life.

Skerik attended the Cleveland Institute of Music for his undergraduate degree, where he studied under the highly lauded Jeffery Irvine. “He’s a teacher’s teacher,” says Skerik. “Massively dedicated. He was the main reason I wanted to go to Cleveland.”

Skerik treasures his time at the school. “They have one of the world’s greatest orchestras,” he says. “They have a great chamber music program. It’s a very small school, so you got lots of individual attention.”

The relative calm of the city of Cleveland was appealing to Skerik as well, who found it to be an atmosphere conducive to practicing music without the distracting hubbub of bigger cities. “I could have got to Julliard [in New York City],” he says. “There’s the traffic, the subways, the people, the noise, the difficulty finding a place to practice and a place to live.”

Skerik had begun to study at Yale for his master’s degree when the opportunity to join the Vega Quartet first presented itself. “I was at a festival called Heifetz in the summer of 2022 in a quartet put together for the festival,” he says. Impressed with the results of the initially one-off quartet, the festival’s director recommended the ensemble for the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival.

“The person who ran that festival was Will Ransom [Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta founder and artistic director],” Skerik says. “He heard me perform both in solo and quartet.”

Ransom made the passing suggestion that Skerik throw his hat in the ring of applicants to replace Yinzi Kong. Sterik and a handful of other applicants spent a week with the Vega Quartet, both as a performer and as an educator. Sterik was offered the position in April of this year.

The new Vega Quartet -- Jessica Shuang Wu (clockwise from left), Joseph Skerik, Guang Wang and Emily Daggatt Smith -- performs at the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta and St. Luke's Episcopal Church. (Photo by Fernando Decillis)

Credit: Fernando Decillis

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Credit: Fernando Decillis

In addition to his appointment with the Vega Quartet, Skerik will teach a small number of undergrad students and handle additional work with the Emory Youth Chamber Program. “I love performing, but I’m always interested in teaching,” he says. “The students I’ve gotten to work with so far are obviously very smart, very gifted and very interested.”

The shift from the quiet confines of Yale and New Haven, Connecticut, to the hustle and bustle of the Atlanta area has been a culture shock for Skerik, but one that he welcomes with enthusiasm. “Atlanta is an incredible city — it’s got a great symphony orchestra and a great opera orchestra. It’s a beautiful city and it’s artistically rich.”

Skerik looks forward to the Vega Quartet’s upcoming season and is particularly excited about playing the new quartet by Joel Thompson, which the Vega Quartet will present in its world premiere at Emory’s Emerson Hall on March 30.

“I really love Thompson’s music,” says Skerik. “And he’s an Emory alum and is currently a doctorate candidate at the Yale School of Music, which is a fun connection.”

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Jordan Owen began writing about music professionally at the age of 16 in Oxford, Mississippi. A 2006 graduate of the Berklee College of Music, he is a professional guitarist, bandleader and composer. He is currently the lead guitarist for the jazz group Other Strangers, the power metal band Axis of Empires and the melodic death/thrash metal band Century Spawn.

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