On a recent chilly Sunday, the first of many this spring, The Window caught up with Sugar Vendil, pianist and founder of experimental music ensemble, The Nouveau Classical Music Project (NCP) as she prepared for their upcoming concert. Eager to share her plate of crinkle-cut fries (we do appreciate snack offerings on assignment), she offered up her thoughts on everything from the stigma around “boring” classical music to the important role that fashion plays in her niche world. Vendil’s personal connection to the art of design runs deep. Unlike her peers, Sugar strives to bring emerging fashion designers’ commissioned work to the forefront of her performances, integrating the clothes into the show, culminating in a unique experience that transcends sound and visual arts.
Photographed for The Window wearing Amelia Toro, a collection Sugar fell in love with for its innovative draping technique and feminine, yet non-constricting silhouettes, the musician took us through what to expect during her upcoming orchestrated evening. The performance promises “to explore a range of human polarity, traveling from stately composure to total abandonment.”
And then the cursing started. Words so salty they paired more seamlessly with the plate of fries than the oratorio Sugar was studying with the help of her own feverishly marked up music notations. The choice language is, in fact, sprinkled throughout NCP’s upcoming show, Sacred-Profane, a 60-minute concert featuring the world premiere of Sororatorio, a new song cycle by composer Vincent Calianno set to the celebrated Delta Gamma sorority email that went viral in 2013. If you’re not familiar, we recommend a quick Google search before reading on for the interview, but not without an NSFW warning.
“First there’s a quiet intensity, then shouting and cursing! It’s so fun.”
“I’ve never shouted during a performance before. There’s cursing too! It’s so fun. The program could have turned out so silly but it’s absolutely not. NCP soprano Amanda Gregory, nails it beautifully, once she gets past the first drop of the four-letter expletive in our early practice sessions.
[Composer] Vincent Calianno writes music you can’t gloss over. The arrangement is challenging. It’s beautifully lyrical, it’s fast, and it’s built on repetitions. The sounds are exposed. It evolves from a place of sacred introspection to extreme intensity.”
“I love fashion. Why should I hide that?”
“Some people hate what I do because they think it’s a gimmick. In response to a profile on myself and NCP that ran in the New York Times, a fellow musician and Juilliard graduate pianist took to social media to declare, ‘This is how you know the world is ending.’ Why should the notion be that if you like fashion, you must be superficial?
Growing up in El Sobrante, a small town in the Bay Area of California, fashion became a creative outlet for me. It was a challenge to seek out and put together original things with my local resources. I love fashion. Why should I hide it? What you wear is the first glimpse into your persona. You don’t know anything about someone until they open their mouths. It’s another way to express yourself.”
“Avant-garde clothes—just like music—have the ability to make the world melt away.“
“For past performances, Nouveau Classical Project has commissioned both emerging and established designers to work with us. A short list of dream collaborators would be Comme des Garçons, Helmut Lang (Katayone Adeli as the new creative consultant is exciting!), and Yohji Yamamoto. I’m definitely drawn to the avant garde designers, much like Jenny Lai of NOT, the talent we partnered with for Sacred-Profane.
The introduction of something new and unusual makes reality more interesting. When I slip into these fashion-forward performance clothes, the real world disappears. Avant-garde clothes—just like music—have the ability to make the world melt away. Which is both consistent yet a contradiction to what the classical music world fondly knows as ‘concert black,’ the all-black wardrobe mandate held by most institutions. The idea is that when performers wear head-to-toe black the audience is able to focus on the sound alone and not get distracted. I think the musicians end up looking a bit like stage hands and it’s boring [which can be distracting in a negative way]. Plus, a performance is much more than just sound—it’s an experience.”
“This is the sort of coat that makes me stand up a bit straighter.”
“As I’m always going from place to place, I prefer clothes that aren’t constricting. Oversized, cloak-like, detailed, textured…this collection from Amelia Toro adds a presence. This is the sort of coat that makes me stand up a bit straighter. Makes me feel like I have it together!”
“New classical music is not the stuff you hear in pasta commercials.”
“One of the many positive effects of integrating fashion design talent in our performances is that we’re able to attract an audience that may not be familiar with new classical music. It’s not the stuff you hear in pasta commercials. It’s NEW classical music. It’s living composers. It’s cutting edge and exciting.”
“The core of Nouveau Classical Project is artistic identity.”
“When I first started The Nouveau Classical Project, I needed a creative outlet; a way to get the energy out. As a classical musician you realize how meaningful it is to have your own point of view. The core of NCP is artistic identity.”
“The members of the ensemble are so talented and special. It’s incredibly motivating to work alongside a group of people who believe in what you’re doing. As an organization [that launched the ensemble in 2012], we’re still pretty young, but we’re challenging ourselves by taking on bold pieces and ambitious projects. Music like the Sacred-Profane song cycle. It’s virtuosic, modern, exposed. And with Nouveau Classical Project, I get to push it even farther and think beyond the piece itself.”
“There’s a type of athleticism needed to put on a strong show.”
“As a musician and perfectionist, there’s a type of athleticism needed to put on a strong, compelling show. Adding fashion to the mix brings an extra boost of confidence for us as performers and a special energy to the concert. You get to hear it in the sound and then see it visually.”
Hair and makeup by Colby Smith / Exclusive Artists Management