Exclusive: Sugar Vendil Alters anger & 'ass hats' into classical music

Classical music’s got an edge these days, and we have the [Nouveau Classical Project]( to thank for that. Taking the traditional concert to the next level with their latest performance titled Sacred Profane, featuring the song cycle ‘Sororatorio: a Cuntata’ composed by Vincent Calianno, this concert is an experience of deep, dark, hilarity in fashionable dress. It’s also based upon Rebecca Martinson’s viral [Delta Gamma]( letter back in 2013, where the “Cunt Punt Queen” cursed out her entire sorority for being a bunch of “ass-hats.” The Sacred-Profane is a wild ride, where make-up gets smeared, and the singer makes obscene jerking gestures. And somehow, maybe by the work of the sorority Gods, the perky cadence of the music swims well with lyrics like, “I will fucking assault you.”

Beyond the enticing yet unlikely theme, NCP’s Art Director and Pianist Sugar Vendil, strives to take the audience on a journey beyond the auditory. Focusing on visuals by means of fashion, Sugar incorporates style into the performance, a.k.a there are no black dresses or suits being worn to this show. Milk Made’s Karenna Insanally caught up with Sugar to find out more about her work, the Delta Gamma inspired robes worn at the performance, and how NCP got so good at pushing the boundaries of classical music.

Would you tell us a little about your career?

Well I’m a pianist and an artistic director. I went to NYU thinking I was going to be on this really traditional career path. Everyone thinks they’re going to be a professor at a university while playing concerts every now and then. In between undergrad and grad school I just wanted to do something creative. So I did a concert called the Nouveau Classical Project and I loved it and did a series of them and that’s when it just kept going. I found my voice as an artist through it – as a pianist I’m not just reading music, I’m creating and directing full concerts.

This show was based off of Rebecca Martinson’s controversial letter to her sorority, how’d that even happen?

Our cellist Kivie had read it and told Vin the composer that he needed to write a song cycle based on this, and decided NCP needed to play it – he thought we were the best fit. We do things that aren’t traditional and are willing to go beyond. Instead of just throwing pieces onto a program, we build an entire experience and it has to make sense from beginning to end. It’s a progression, so I thought what could we build around this? And Vin said why not do the sacred and the profane?

What was your response to the Delta Gamma letter?

I kind of love it. I can be a little – I don’t want to say the word crazy, but I get mad. People look at me and they think I’m so calm and nice but I get angry, and I get that angry, and I love that someone wrote it down on paper. We’ve all done that. We’ve all flipped out and I love how articulate it is, because you realize she’s right, they shouldn’t be doing that. She was calling them out on stuff, and the writing is creative, I’ve never heard the term asshat before.

Ass-hat I’ve heard, ‘cunt-punt’ was the real shocker.

Cunt punt’s a new one, but the letter is just so well written, and I don’t think she’s crazy. That’s the funny part, maybe writing it on paper made her look crazier than she is, but I mean who amongst us hasn’t gone off on someone? I hate when people, say “oh, she’s crazy.” Well maybe you’re just too calm, maybe you need to get a little angrier.

Can you talk to us about the dresses worn during the performance?

Oh yeah. They’re made by Jenny Lai, and her brand is called [NOT]( On her inspiration board I saw some Bhuddist monk robes, so even the colors were those maroons and yellows, and then she went off a little with adding some blue there. Also, when you pull one side off it changes the silhouette, and then you pull the other side off and it changes again. What’s great is that the designer has to take in to account whether we can play in these things. You move a certain way when you’re playing an instrument and she was a violist herself, so she was really considerate.

You’re known for having a keen sense of style and tying fashion into classical performance. How do you make this work?

I love it. I think fashion is already part of our daily lives whether we like it or not, so therefore it’s part of a concert too, unless you want to leave it out. A lot of people do, which is fine if that’s the kind of experience they’re going for, but for me integrating fashion is a way for me to add my own perspective to a concert aside from just playing. I know that it’s your own interpretation, but I needed to exercise my creativity beyond simply performing. So that’s why I do it, and I think it really enhances a performance visually. A performance is visual, it’s oral, it’s whatever that thing is you can’t touch – the energy between you and the audience that’s all there, so I think it makes sense to add some thought into what you wear and tie it into the whole theme. It adds another hint into your own identity, just as it does within your own life – it does that at a concert too.

It definitely is a little creepy when you go to a concert and everyone is just wearing black.

It’s funny to hear you say that because people in classical music wouldn’t know that.

NCP has clearly demonstrated the ability to push classical music outside of it’s boundaries. Will this be a staple for you guys in the future?

Yes, definitely. It’s always been that way and we’re always trying to push what we’re doing and not just to be outlandish, but also to keep rethinking how else can you present classical music. I think that the concert is the creative medium of an ensemble, and I really enjoy directing an entire experience and coming up with new ones – new formats, and other multidisciplinary performances. Last year we did a ballet, where musicians and dancers overlapped roles. The dancers didn’t play music, but there were five musicians and five dancers, and the dancers were paired off and represented two sides of the same person, so the musicians were also responsible for movement and that was really cool. So we like to do things like that.

What else do you play besides classical? Ever been in a hard-rock band?

I’ve been in a couple of bands. The most recent one was Migrate Ghost an electric band lead by Drew Smith and Trevor Gureckis, so yeah I’ve played synth. Sometimes I’ll bust out the Carol King songbook and just start playing and singing along. I love music, classical is just the one that feels really great on my fingers, but I’d love to play on a hip-hop album or a rock album. That’d be really fun.

Who are you listening to right now?

[Sia](✓&search=sia). I love Sia. I also love [Kanye West](✓&search=kanye+west), but who doesn’t? Oh and [St. Vincent](✓&search=st+vincent), and the new [Prince](✓&search=prince).

What do you do when you’re not playing?

Oh gosh, well besides all the creative aspects of NCP, I also handle all the admin. So I’m either writing grants, or planning the next thing, which takes a lot of time. It’s a lot of office work. We’ve got two art installations coming up, and there’s a new project I’m working on that will feature film and dance. I’m also planning our Gala in October. There’s a lot of fundraising involved in this, it’s not like a rock band where you don’t know what you’re going to get paid. I guarantee my musicians a fee – they’ve go to live. I’m really proud and happy that we’ve gotten to a point where I can do that, because that’s how you get the most professional people. Money matters in the arts, you need it to run and you need it to survive.

Keep an eye out for NCP, as they’ll be touring Sacred-Profane in the US later this year

Images photographed by Kholood Eid, portrait by Lydia Bittner-Baird

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