Herbert meets: Sugar Vendil

Meet Sugar Vendil, NYC-based pianist, multi-disciplinary artist and founder of The Nouveau Classical Project (NCP), a music ensemble that collaborates with visual artists, dancers, and fashion designers.

Herbert has been following Sugar for a while and was curious to find out more about her, her influences, what the inspiration was behind her fusing of fashion and classical music and her upcoming talk at SXSW 2018.   

Sugar Vendil

Was there a ‘moment’ when you fell in love with classical music?  

I think it was when my friend played an intermediate piano version of Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” in class when I was 11. I was more into the virtuosity and athleticism of it at the beginning. I had actually been taking piano already on and off from the age of 3 or 4 and didn’t love it, and then I suddenly became interested.

…and was there a ‘eureka’ moment when you decided that this is what you wanted to pursue?   

I think it was then too. When I’m set on something, I have tunnel vision. And actually I’ve fallen out of love with classical music. I can’t believe I never questioned how white and patriarchal it is. When I look back on things, I see that I was blindly following whatever I was being told was valuable in regards to creativity and artistry, and at times—because everything is intersectional—even what sort of person I should be, without any of those things being a reflection of who I was. Actually, I have witnessed this happening to students: a teacher is not only teaching them about music, but how life should be lived. And while it’s not always the case, I have sadly seen this go in a really negative direction.

The more I think about it it’s almost as if my love of fashion ensured that I would have creative agency over something; in this case, it was my body and my aesthetic point of view on what I put on it. While my practice does stem from being a classical musician—particularly the discipline and the way I view structure—my vision is now directed towards forming my voice as a generative artist, woman of color, pianist, and maker.

Do you have any favourite composers and/ or classical artists that have particularly inspired or shaped you as an artist? 

Meredith Monk and Trevor Gureckis.

Why did you decide to found The Nouveau Classical Project?

I needed to do something creative after graduating. I wanted to bridge two things I love.

What’s your process when you create your shows? Is it music first and then designer, or visa versa or …?

Music first, usually. Or a designer or an exhibition inspires a concept, such as is the case with our forthcoming show with the FIT museum. We’re curating a program around the theme of an exhibition. But we primarily commission music for our ensemble, so it’s music first.

Blue sky dream designer to collaborate with? 

Viktor & Rolf!

Is ‘dressing’/ personal style important to you?

Clearly, yes!

…and are you comfort over style or style over comfort?

They aren’t mutually exclusive. Both.

Herbert’s noticed that you are speaking about fashion and classical music at SXSW. What will you be discussing?

On March 10, I’ll talk about my work with NCP, discuss the stigma around fashion in classical music, and its relationship to gender inequality.

When you work at The Wing, can you/do you take Coco? (Sugar’s adorable cat)  

Wish I could, but no pets allowed! Also, she probably wouldn’t be too happy with me if I tried :) 

Last but not least, if you could choose one artist and one designer for Herbert’s readers to check out – who would they be?

Meredith Monk (can you tell I’m obsessed?) and two designers: Jasmine Chong and Titania Inglis!


Take a leap of faith