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“You Had Me @ Yellow” US Yellow Lounge Launch NYC

Raising the bar at Yellow Lounge US. Photo credit- Ashly Priest

This Tuesday, I had the fortune of attending Decca &  Deutsche Grammophon‘s first ever United States Yellow Lounge at 82 Mercer in SoHo.


If you’re wondering just what Yellow Lounge is… never fear, because I’m going to tell you all about it. Established seven years ago in Berlin, Yellow Lounge took the classic idea of classical music performances, and reinvented it for the modern audience amidst a popping urban club scene. The idea is that you take an urban setting, such as the 82 Mercer Street warehouse-turned SoHo event space, toss in formidable classical artists, and make their performances, of all things… accessible. The event has garnered success in Berlin, Paris, London, and Amsterdam before finally crossing the Pacific to New York City.

“Music Is Better Than Sax!” Photo Credit; Ashly Priest

The excitement builds like such- guests are invited to an undisclosed location for a DG event featuring unnamed performers, thus causing the sort of quick and quiet gossip found saturated in Act 2 of L’Elisir D’amore.

But it was the strings who ruled the night, as the evening’s performers were revealed to be Grammy Award nominated Mandolinist, Avi Avital, and rising starlet, Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti.

Avi Avital, Nicola Benedetti, and Phillipe Quint share a candid moment backstage. Taken from Facebook.com/YellowLoungeUS

The chic setting and open bar allowed guests to mingle freely while enjoying Magic Hat beer and cocktails made with Karlsson’s Gold Vodka, my personal favorite being the smartly named “Mandolin Martini.”

While most guests seemed to ogle at Miss USA 2012 Olivia Culpo and violinist Joshua Bell, I was more keen to chill with my guest Ashly Priest and mingle amongst an array of familiar faces.

I quickly found Deutsche Grammophon’s Head of Marketing Intern Kendall Zini-Jones snapping photos while dressed in an appropriately themed yellow dress and coordinating nails just before bumping into my old school friend, soprano, Nikoleta Rallis.

Photo taken from Facebook.com/YellowLoungeUS

The music started around 8 pm with selections performed by Avi Avital. It seemed as if Avi fed off the unique energy of the space, and didn’t allow the excess noise of some of the event’s less-informed guests to bother him. Rather he engaged all who were in an immediate radius to share what he knew how to do best.

After about thirty minutes, violinist Nicola Benedetti came to the stage. The beautiful performer possesses movie star looks that belie her virtuosic talent. After her first piece, she shook her head and asked “can you even hear me?” and then seemed bewildered at the chatter and said “… I mean, people are talking!” This only made the immediate audience of classical die-hards love her more and shout in agreement. She took a second to think about her next move; like a general determined to defeat the enemy, she just had to overcome the talkers. After a quick discussion with the skilled theorboist, Thomas Dunford, Nicola surprised  the audience with a gorgeously lilting performance of the Gershwin classic, Summertime.

When Nicola finished her set, she returned to the stage for a surprise duet with Russian- American violinist, Phillipe Quint. If you didn’t know already, Nicola plays the 1717 Gariel Stradivarius, while Phillipe plays the 1708 Ruby Strad. It seemed only fitting that three centuries after the birth of these respective treasures, they should meet again to tango to a delicious arrangement of Carlos Gardel‘s sumptuous “Por Una Cabeza.” You know- the piece that a blind Al Pacino teaches Gabrielle Anwar to tango to in The Scent of a Woman. It was one of those perfect moments in life that if you weren’t completely prepared and informed for, you might have missed completely. Here I was, in the heart of the greatest city in the world, front row at a concert while two internationally renowned violinists played music made famous from one of cinema’s greatest moments, all the while on instruments whose own inception inspired a new term for excellence.

Before the evening ended, Nicola returned once more to the stage with Avi Avital for an enthused encore performance of a Balkan folk song. As one of my friends put it “I think he’s REALLY into her!”

When the event ended, I took to the cobblestone streets of SoHo and walked through a still-busy Manhattan to relish in the evening’s gifts. I made it all the way to 85th Street and Broadway for a Cappuccino night cap at French Roast, just so I could allow the sounds of the evening to play just a little longer.

Grace Note: Lindsay Russell

Coloratura Soprano, Lindsay Russell

With a whirlwind schedule taking her from Seattle to Hong Kong to NYC and back again, Lindsay Russell is heading full steam ahead toward a bright career in opera. I caught up with the effervescent coloratura soprano this week in New York City to catch up on life, music, and of course… food.

I found the petite, blonde soprano sitting amongst a sea of people at Columbus Circle’s Bouchon Bakery. “I think we might be better somewhere else?” hinted Lindsay politely before we headed to the Le Pain Qoutidien on 7th Ave “this is so much better!”

When talking about music Lindsay’s face immediately lights up; when it comes to other singers, the soprano admires the skilled pyrotechnics of those whose repertoire she is currently tackling. “I go through singer phases, where I can’t listen to enough of them, but there are a few who have stood the test of time. I’ll pretty much always pick a Joan Sutherland recording over the others.  I’m a big fan of Diana Damrau, and also love watching Natalie Dessay’s videos on youtube.  Hmmm, I also love Edita Gruberova, Barbara Bonney, and Renata Scotto… I could go on but I won’t.”

Miss Russell in a 2008 Master Class with New York City Opera star, Lauren Flanigan

Lindsay describes a recent trip to China for a concert with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra as one filled with pleasant surprises. “I am definitely not used to that kind of treatment!” laughs Lindsay. “Everything about it was so amazing, I just can’t believe how well they took care of me, from the work visa to transportation, they were just incredible.” Miss Russell was the only soloist invited for an 11-11-11 concert themed “2011- A Space Odyssey” with the HKPO. “The funny thing is, they already had the program selected for the concert, but wanted to include an aria from Haydn’s Il Mondo Della Luna and the Queen Of The Night arias from The Magic Flute…”  The current Chief Executive Director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra is none other than Michael MacLeod, the former General and Artistic Director of Glimmerglass Opera, where Lindsay made her debut as Laurie in Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land”,  which garnered her praise by Opera News and The New York Times. It was Michael MacLeod who suggested the talented singer make her debut in front of a crowd no less than 20,000 people.

About that.  “The actual concert was such a great experience and what a production! They managed to  actually sync fireworks to go off while the Orchestra played Johan Strauss II’s The Blue Danube. I’ve never experienced anything like that! Also, its such a different culture… I was really surprised how many YOUNG people were there. Whole groups of teenagers just hanging out at the classical music concert like it was the cool thing to do. They were even asking for my autograph after, again, not something I’m used to!” 

Lindsay with Mezzo-Soprano J'nai Bridges at Glimmerglass Opera

Miss Russell, a foodie in the making, also has no qualms over trying new and unusual things. “Oh, I’ll try anything once!”  she exclaims. When discussing her favorite place to eat in New York City, Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown, Lindsay loves to explain her initial thoughts and eventual love affair with the local eatery. “I really wanted to hate it there, because it’s just always so busy, but I can’t stay away!  The food is so so good, I’m actually meeting my roommates there tonight for dinner.  And FYI – the one in Chinatown is clearly superior to the one in midtown, and it’s also significantly cheaper.  Plus, only in Chinatown do you get the experience of sharing your table with six other strangers. ”  The Chinatown favorite features one of the soprano’s favorite eats. Soup Dumplings. The tasty treats almost always require a tutorial for newcomers, that is, unless you WANT to spill out all of the delicious filling.

A feisty Susanna, Lindsay Russell pictured with Bass Baritone, Robert Mellon in Manhattan School of Music's 2010 production of Le Nozze di Figaro

When it comes to what composers the soprano loves singing, and those she wishes she could just get more of, the response is immediate and almost obvious. “Strauss! Once I conquer a Strauss piece, it is incredibly rewarding to sing.  I just sang Zerbinetta for the first time in public this week, for an audition, and it was so much fun. I never tire of Mozart, which is good, because hopefully I’ll be singing that repertoire for the rest of my life.  I also am completely obsessed with singing Bach.  I wish someone would hire me to sing Bach all day long.”

 Of her summers at Glimmerglass, Lindsay definitely has an abundance of great things to say about her time with the company. “My last two summers there were a lot of fun.  I love sitting on the back porch of the Otesaga Hotel, sipping a cocktail and eating snack mix in a wooden rocking chair.  I love “wrong rep night,” where everyone in the program sings and performs the most inappropriate things we can imagine.   

A candid Glimmerglass moment: Lindsay chatting with mezzo-soprano J'nai Bridges and colleagues

“Some of my truly favorite moments happened backstage” she continues.  “My first year there, I sang Laurie in the Tender Land, and at the end of every performance, Andrew Stenson, Mark Diamond and I had a big group hug right before we went on for bows.”

You may call her sentimental, but don’t underestimate Lindsay’s preparedness on keeping a box of Kleenex nearby. “One of my favorite moments from last summer was during the first orchestra rehearsal for Annie Get Your Gun.” (The Francesca Zambello directed production starred operatic superstar Debbie Voigt.) “Most broadway orchestras are small – no more than twenty or so people – so hearing wonderful Glimmerglass Orchestra performing the overture brought me to tears.”

Currently, Miss Russell is spending the year as a young artist with Seattle Opera. And though the soprano admits that being away from loved ones can be difficult, its evident that living with two of her best friends, tenor Andrew Stenson and mezzo-soprano Sarah Larsen definitely helps. “There is rarely a dull moment in our house!”  

Lindsay as Sophie in Massenet's Werther sings to the incredibly talented mezzo-soprano, Sarah Larsen at Seattle Opera: Photo Credit, Bill Mohn

And Seattle Opera itself? “I love the coaching staff!  I’m learning so much from them, I feel like I should be paying them, and not the other way around! I also adore my colleagues.  With a program this small (nine people), it could be a bad experience if we didn’t all get along.  Luckily, everyone there is not only ridiculously talented, but also kind and humble.” 

Miss Russell will be spending the 2012 summer season as an apprentice singer with the Santa Fe Opera covering the Fiakermilli in Strauss’s Arabella. You can watch Lindsay sing “I Could Have Danced All Night” from Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady by CLICKING HERE! 

Diva on a Dime: Courtney Mills

As Autumn slowly creeps upon us, powerhouse soprano, Courtney Mills, takes time to share some of her favorite things, and no they don’t include brown paper packages tied up with string.

Madame X by John Singer Sargent which is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

See – One of my favorite pastimes is going to the Museums. Living in NYC, you are surrounded by great Museums. With the suggested entrance fees being raised every year it can get to be a bit expensive, so I have found it helpful to know when each Museum has “free” days. I enjoy going to Museums to do research for roles I am learning, the restored historical rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art are very inspiring. I also have certain paintings I just must visit, such as Madame X.  Brooklyn Museum of Art has free Saturdays, which include curator talks and live music. I would also suggest checking out the wine bar on the roof at the Met. Museum of Art. It has one of the most beautiful views on Central Park. http://gonyc.about.com/cs/museums/a/museumdeals.htm

Break the fast – Food in NYC can be expensive. Brunch is one of my favorite activities to do with friends. It can easily run you $30 if you to places like Alice’s Teacup (a favorite). For those weekends you want to splurge that is perfect, but if you are worried about your wallet (who isn’t these days) Whole foods is a great alternative. Last time I had breakfast there I had oatmeal from the bar which has tons of add-in options for free and hot tea for $3.00! I love to get breakfast (or any meal really) at the Wholefoods at Columbus Circle and then take it to Central Park. 

Spa – Spa days are some of the best days! NYC has a lot of options when it comes to pampering. One of NYC best features if that you can be in any neighborhood and find a $20 mani/pedi place! If you are looking for more the internet is your bestfriend. Groupon tends to offer a lot of discounts, but one of the best sites is http://www.spaweek.com/deals/#Manhattan. You can always find great deals on this site. There are also twice annual (on in the fall and on in the spring) spa weeks where you can get just about anything for $50.

Shop – Macy’s… how I love thee! I always find what I need here. A lot of the time you can find the same clothes Saks, or some of the other more expensive dept. stores, carry for less here. Macy’s has crazy sales often. Last time I went to Macy’s I needed a lot of clothes because I was leaving for the summer and needed a lot of new things. I bought $975 worth of clothes for $400. I have found that Calvin Klein looks good on everyone. Also if you have a out of state drivers liscense you can go to the customer service desk and receive a 15% discount coupon for your entire purchase. 

Tourist – When friends come to town it is fun to see the city, but friends are always coming to NYC and to go out and pay for tourist locations becomes too expensive. One of my favorite things to do with friends from out of town is pack a snack and take the Staten Island Ferry at sunset. The ferry is FREE and your friends can get great photos of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.

Courtney with a guest at the Metropolitan Opera courtesy of Facebook

Enjoy – The Metropolitan Opera has a free outdoor festival of HD broadcasts. Enjoy the past Hd videos free from Lincoln Center! This is made possible by the Metropolitan Opera Guild. http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/broadcast/hd_events_template.aspx?id=16260&hpgraphic
If you prefer live opera the Met offers $20 rush tickets to some shows.

The very best and cheapest thing in New York are the friendships you make. Those are truly priceless!

Jacob and Courtney at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Grace Note: Eric Bowden

Tenor Eric Bowden

In just a few weeks, Tenor Eric Bowden will be joining Syracuse Opera to cover Alfredo in La Traviata before heading to Sarasota Opera‘s Young Artist Program.  I stepped out of my Upper West Side apartment last week to find the vagabond singer waiting for me in his Mustang Convertible. “Hey!” shouted Eric moving aside several fishing rods “… let me make some room for you.”

We drove down the West Side Highway with the top down, and I couldn’t help but notice the immediate feeling of elation that comes  along with riding in a convertible. “Can you imagine what its like driving in this thing from from Des Moines!?” It wasn’t difficult to picture at all. Mr. Bowden is the kind of guy who, while possessing a passion for performance, enjoys all sorts of recreational activities. Whether its fishing, beer pong ,or driving by himself across the country, nothing strikes him as boring. “Its wonderful,” says Eric when asked about the long, lonely drive from Des Moines Metro Opera.

Eric excitedly states that we are going to his favorite place to eat in all of New York, Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown. After sipping some bubble tea from a neighboring establishment, we made our in as our number was called. “This was actually the first place I brought Lindsay,” says Eric referring to his girlfriend, the beautiful and gifted lyric coloratura, Lindsay Russell. “She hated it at first!” laughed Eric. I wasn’t sure why until I realized the famous Chinese eatery came complete with dumplings and community style seating. “… but we were seated with these two couples; one from France, the other from Germany, and after a few minutes, she loved the place too!” Interested to see just what Eric loved about the place, I let him order for me “you HAVE to try the soup dumplings!”

When talking about the difficulties of being away from loved ones, especially Lindsay, he admits the distance is rough, but has nothing but wonderful, and ultimately supportive things to say about Miss Russell’s blooming career. I look across our community table and realize we weren’t as lucky with our table partners.

When the food comes, Eric enthusiastically shows me how to properly consume my soup dumplings; a task that took me an embarrassing two tries to master. “There you go!” said Eric. And when we got to discussing favorite roles, “Laurie, in Little Women!” said Eric without hesitation, all the while delicately handling his chopsticks. After singing and covering Ferrando and Count Almaviva, I was interested to hear his reasoning.  “It’s my favorite for two reasons; One,  I love the opera… it’s such a great role to sing. Two, I was originally the cover for the opera’s run with Pensacola Opera, but I got to go on at the last minute and they ended up keeping me in the role. That was just such a great and meaningful experience.”

as Laurie in Mark Adamo's brilliant musical adaptation of "Little Women"

When we finished, we walked around the neighborhood for a while “this is my favorite area in the city. It’s just so…” he trails off for a second when we spot a mini FIAT in front of a Häagen-Dazs “great.”

High Flying Tenor... onstage and off!

Mr. Bowden will be singing excerpts from La Traviata (Alfredo) as well as selections from other well known favorites in Syracuse Opera’s tour “9 Operas in 90 Minutes” September 21st through October 1st at various locations upstate. For more information, or to buy tickets, please CLICK HERE!

Diva On a Dime: Suzanne Vinnik

Suzanne Vinnik as Musetta muses- "Life can't always be this glamorous!"

With an increasingly busy schedule which includes engagements and competitions in Pittsburgh, New York, Norway and Germany, Soprano Suzanne Vinnik is finding herself living out of a suitcase more often than her own apartment. The young diva shares some of her money saving tips for looking like a star without purging your clutch.                                                                                

I feel like I am always on the go! I’ve converted several of my fellow opera singer friends to the joys of LUSH! I LOATHE paying money to check my suitcases at the airport!!! I know that I can save money by packing up my cute little Betsey Johnson duffle bag and put it in the overhead! On the road these are the products I bring to avoid costly luggage!!!! If you travel as much as I do, save your money and bring solids!!!! ☺


 Godiva Shampoo Bar- (VEGAN) it is a great two-in-one shampoo and conditioner! It is made with cocoa and shea butters, which moisturize the hair follicles and make them feel soft! It has a sexy jasmine scent that will last all day long!!! It makes the entire bathroom smell incredible after I use it! I put it in my shampoo bar tin for safe storage! When they say it’s good for at least 50 washes… they are NOT kidding!!!! For $10.95 you can’t go wrong!!!!!

LUSH's Godiva Shampoo Bar


Coal face cleanser- this is a great cleansing bar made of ground up charcoal that absorb excess sebum and acts as a mild exfoliator. After wearing stage makeup this really gets my skin feeling CLEAN! $11.95 for 3.5 oz.

LUSH's Coalface soap

Full of Grace- this bar is great on the road because it makes my skin very moisturized after washing my face! I normally would use a moisturizer but this works great when I can’t bring liquids with me! When I am home, I put this on before using a face mask! $13.95

LUSH Cosmetic's "Full of Grace"


Alkmaar Soap- (VEGAN) Normally, I love to use my favorite soap THE FLYING FOX but on the road like I said I cannot bring my liquids! I bring this amazing bar of soap that looks like cheese!!!! It has a creamy sexy jasmine and honeysuckle scent with smokey vetivert undertones! $7.95 for 3.5 oz.

LUSH Cosmetic's Alkmaar soap

Karma Bubble Bar- sometimes I’m lucky enough to have a bathtub on the road. When I know that I’ll have one I bring this bubble bar along! I just break it into four sections and crumble it up underneath the faucet (I get 3-4 uses out of each bar)! It is one of my favorite scents from Lush and it just makes me feel relaxed! $8.45

LUSH Cosmetic's Karma Bubble Bar

Tuca Tuca Massage Bar- Instead of bringing a lotion with me I can bring this little massage bar with me!!! Again, I store it in a little tin which I get for free when I buy both my massage bar and solid shampoo bar!!! I love the way this stuff smells!!! $7.95

LUSH Cosmetic's Tuca Tuca Massage Bar

Tuca Tuca Solid Perfume- I will not leave the house without perfume! It’s part of being a diva! I want people to know when I am about to make my grand entrance! $8.95

Lush Cosmetic's Tuca Tuca Solid Perfume

For more on Suzanne Vinnik, visit her website www.suzannevinnik.com and be sure to read my “Grace Note” interview by clicking HERE!

Of Memory and Time: A Must See Exhibit

Richard Bosman "Pollack's Door"; photo courtesy of Hendershot Gallery

“Oh, I said Delancey and Chrystie” I told the cabbie as we pulled to a stop.

“Well this is Delancey” he huffed.

“Yeah, and we’re almost at the bridge.” I wasn’t in the mood for this. I had just spent over thirty minutes coming from the Upper West Side of Manhattan sitting in the back of a cab that smelt like the taco cart outside the Time & Life Building while it rained ferociously. “Fine!” I couldn’t stand the thought of another minute in the cab, so I paid my fair and walked in the mist to the Hendershot Gallery.

“There you are” said Vanessa. My dear friend had been at the gallery for over an hour before I finally made it. “You’re going to love this!” Vanessa grabbed my arm and quickly led me inside to the nearest glass of pinot grigio.

The exhibit, “Of Memory and Time” was nothing like I expected. Knowing James Hendershot’s passion for creating a total experience rather than just a collection of still lifes and random inanimate objects recycled as art, I knew I was in for a treat, what I experienced, was transformative. James Hendershot teamed up with composer Christopher Lancaster to create such total experiences for the works shown by David Pappaceno, Marie Vic, Carlo Van de Roer and Richard Bosman. 

Vanessa first led me to Richard Bosman’s three paintings; Magritte‘s Door, Duchamp‘s Door and Pollack’s Door. To the right of the paintings were headphones playing Mr. Lancaster’s music. As I stared at the three doors respectively, the added element of music began to paint an added layer to the story. I felt melancholic for a time that existed long before I was even born. I felt as if I had abandoned a part of myself along the road of life and was not permitted to return. While I love art and consider myself to be at least somewhat educated on the topic, I had never felt this way before. I was almost disturbed by the emotion.

Next we viewed Julie Tremblay’s mobile of hanging wax sculptures. These figures, all cast from the same mold, inexplicably breathed a different life. I couldn’t help but notice one such figure in the middle of the hanging mobile who seemed to swim like a mermaid being birthed out of coral.

Another favorite of mine from the exhibit was David Pappaceno’s “Skandinavisk Psysisk Terrang”. With a plain, bright yellow background and an effective use of mixed media, this piece, also paired with Mr. Lancaster’s music inspired energetic moods that both excite and confuse, but welcomely so.

Next, we went downstairs and viewed a distorted video on three walls by Nick Hooker. The video was a reworking of Grace JonesCorporate Cannibal“. For some reason, Vanessa and I just couldn’t leave this piece. We sat for a good thirty minutes staring in wonder and allowing ourselves to experience this weird and wonderful piece of art.

Also represented at the exhibit were Erik Olofsen with an amazing video installation, Carlo Van de Roer, Marie Vic, Arman, Christopher Astley, Matthew Brandt and Christopher Brooks.

The exhibit “Of Memory and Time” can be viewed at the Hendershot Gallery at 195 Chrystie Street until August 18.

Grace Note: Jordan P Smith

Jordan P Smith, Photography credit- Jonno Rattman

Following the digital release of “Reverie, Interrupted” on amazon.com, I sat down with saxophonist Jordan P Smith to discuss how the talented performer manages to balance an active teaching, conducting and performance career all while staying grounded.   

Jacob Paul: You have a duel career as a saxophonist and conductor. Do you find it difficult to balance both aspects of performing? Or do you find they compliment each other?

Jordan Smith: Since my main conducting job is conducting the Youth Orchestra of Central Jersey’s middle school and high school Saxophone Ensembles, I find that my performing and conducting do compliment each other greatly.  I think that almost any musical situation can be complemented by other musical experiences you may have had.

JP: How do you like working with youth?

JS: I love it, especially working with middle school students.  At that age, they have such an excitement for music that gets lost in all the busyness of high school.

JP: Your career has taken you all along the East coast From Florida to the greater reaches of NY State. How do you find the time to balance your Doctoral work, solo career, ensemble performances AND teaching?

JS: Sometimes it becomes very difficult, especially when preparing for a recital.  I have to be incredibly organized and maintain as much of a normalized weekly schedule as possible.  I’ve learned to make my practicing more efficient, deciding what I’m going to work on each day, although if it’s getting close to a performance, there are many late nights of practicing, for sure.  

JP: The key is to do a balance of everything in a given week if possible.What I find amazing about you, is that you somehow manage to find repertoire that allows you to collaborate with almost anyone. In fact you even regularly perform with operatic soprano Rachel Hall. One of the pieces I saw you two perform was based the book “I Never Saw Another Butterfly“, a collection of poetry written by children in the Terezin Concentration Camp during the Holocaust. To this it remains one of the most profound performances I’ve had the pleasure to experience. How important is it to you to continually find repertoire that reaches beyond what the general notion of what others perceived saxophone repertoire to be?

JS: It’s very important…I mean it’s really my mission.  Most people don’t realize that the saxophone has had a rich musical history dating back to its inception around 1841.  To be sure, modern classical/contemporary saxophone gained a firm foothold in the 1930s with the composition of Glazunov’s “Concerto” and Ibert’s “Concertino da Camera“, but it was used long before then in the orchestra and opera by composers like Debussy, Bizet, Massenet, Saint-Saens, Franck, and many more.  Based off of this rich and growing heritage is an expansive wealth of chamber music for saxophone quartet and saxophone and almost every instrument imagineable.  Performing chamber music has allowed me to connect with vocalists, violinists, cellists, violists, and other woodwind instruments that I might not get to perform with on a regular basis.  And like the experience you had, I’ve always found that audiences respond well to chamber music.

JP: This past spring, you played “Reverie, Interrupted” with composer James Adler at the Yamaha Salon. How important do you feel it is for musicians to work and perform with living composers?

JS: This past spring, you played “Reverie, Interrupted” with composer James Adler at the Yamaha Salon. How important do you feel it is for musicians to work and perform with living composers?

To remain musically relevant, I believe all musicians have to keep working to produce new works in conjunction with composers.  In the 19th century, the “contemporary” music of Beethoven and Brahms was all the rage, yet in today’s musical society there is sometimes a stigma attached to new music.  I believe music should keep moving forward, though, by continuing to promote the best new works out there that explore all musical possibilities.

JP: You’ve had the opportunity to play in many different types of spaces. From intimate settings such as the the Yamaha Salon, to iconic landmarks such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art. How do you adapt to the changing environments and acoustics? Any favorite places?

JS: I carry a lot of reeds with me, haha.  My favorite performance hall I’ve had the pleasure of performing in is Knight Concert Hall at The Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.  I got to perform the saxophone part to Copland’s “Piano Concerto” there with Michael Tilson Thomas and New World Symphony.

JP: You’ve played with the New World Symphony more than once. What did you like most about the experiences you’ve had?

JS: I loved both opportunities I had to perform with them.  It’s really a one of a kind orchestra.  The most exciting part is peforming with musicians in their 20s and 30s that you know are going to end up in the top orchestras in the world.

JP: When did you first know that you wanted to do this?

JS: Well I didn’t always know.  I actually originally went to college for computer science, but switched quickly into music…I just couldn’t live without it.  I majored in music education in undergrad, but by my junior year knew I wanted to perform and teach, which ended up leading me to Manhattan School.

JP: What are you most looking forward to in your upcoming schedule?

JS: My quartet, the Manhattan Saxophone Quartet, just commissioned Jeff Nytch, a composer/professor from University of Colorado, and also a secret commission to be announced in a few months!  I’m most looking forward to premiering these new works.

The Manhattan Saxophone Quartet, Photography credit- Jonno Rattman

JP: Who inspires you most in your life?

JS: My father probably inspires me the most.  He worked himself up from living in a trailer park to being a vice-president of a company.  He has a strong faith in God and is a great example.  I definitely look to him these areas, especially in faith. Faith is something that has made this easier during the difficult times when you’re not sure where things are going.

Reverie, Interrupted is being released on the CD “Sculpting the Air” on June 28th on Navona Records.  You can get it on Amazon, etc.  The Mp3 is released now (at amazon). You can visit Jordan Smith’s website to view past and upcoming engagements by clicking HERE. 

Grace Note: Suzanne Vinnik

Julie DeMarre Photography

Soprano Suzanne Vinnik has an affinity for high notes and high fashion. I met up with the opera singer to discuss life, love and opera after leaving Las Vegas.

Jacob Paul: It seems to me that you really identify with Violetta, both onstage and off.

Suzanne Vinnik: I think she’s one of the best characters in opera because she’s so different in every part of the story. At first she seems to be heartless, but its only because she doesn’t think she deserves love. Alfredo convinces her and she gives up everything, breaking your heart with hers. I think anyone with a soul can identify with her. 

JP: You get the chance to cover the role this season at Pittsburgh Opera. Are you excited?

SV: Oh yeah, I’m really excited about it. I never thought I would be 24 years old singing Violetta! I never really thought I had the talent to sing her. I mean…Violetta has always been one of my dream roles and it’s an honor that I get to try it out something that seems to be getting me a lot of attention.

JP: And audiences seem to agree that you really portray the character well, at least in the bits we’ve been able to see through competitions…

SV: Yeah, I mean I didn’t really bring Violetta into the mix until this past winter when I entered the Liederkranz Competition. I called my coach Ben Malensek an hour before I was supposed to be there for an emergency coaching.  I never coached it or even brought it to a lesson before I sang it that day! I just would sing through it with my friend for fun! I was lucky to get that last minute coaching and sort everything out. I won a prize the first time I ever sang the “E strano….Sempre Libera” in public… with Catherine Malfitano sitting across from me judging!!!!  My risk paid off…

JP: Literally!

SV: Haha Literally!

JP: Well that’s something you don’t hear every day. You brought the piece to the Palm Beach Opera Competition and you obviously won over the audience with your performance, but I’d like to add that you did so wearing a wonderful gown by Betsey Johnson, and I just wanted to applaud you on that choice.

Suzanne wears Betsey Johnson at Palm Beach

photo courtesy of Palm Beach Opera

SV: Thank you. We’ll thank Betsey.

JP: It’s obvious that while you love opera, you also have a passion for fashion.

SV: Yes! 

JP: Besides Betsey Johnson, what do you look for when it comes to unique style options?

SV: Well, I wish my little wallet and Betsey Johnson could always agree, but that isn’t the case! I just like anything that’s bright, kind of loud and announces “Hello, I’m here!” It has to be flattering in the right spots! A little cleavage, but not too much… You know, I’m risk taker. (Suzanne is currently sitting next to me on a park bench wearing bright pink shorts, a black t-shirt and pink animal print sunglasses).

JP: You’re heading to Castleton this summer to sing Musetta under the baton of Lorin Maazel. How did it come to be that Musetta became such a standard part of your repertoire?

SV: Well, I started working on the role when I was in Rome with Renata Scotto in the Opera Studio at Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. The day before the concert she told me I’d be performing most of the second act! I thought to myself: “I’m just some moron from Las Vegas with some of the best young singers in the world… WHAT AM I DOING HERE!?”

JP: What was that experience like for you- working with Renata Scotto?

SV: It was… great! It was definitely the best thing that had ever happened to me. I mean, she heard me sing and pretty much told me that I was terrible “tu sei orribile”  after I sang the aria from Lucia. I worked very hard while I was there. Her husband Lorenzo really took a strong liking to me. We worked seven days a week for twenty minutes just on technique. Renata really challenged me and made me try so many new things!

JP: Where did she hear you sing?

SV: Well, I heard about her program through a coach who I don’t actually work with. She suggested that I work with her so, although this person didn’t provide a formal introduction or anything, I thought about what she said and realized hey, Renata Scotto was the first opera singer that I started listening to when I was younger. I mean when I was eight years old I would watch this silly old VHS of La Boheme all the time and fast forward to and rewind all the parts with her in it because, as an eight year old girl, all I wanted was to be that crazy girl in the red dress! I wanted to be Renata! So, after the seed was planted in my mind to work with her, I asked everyone I knew about how to get in touch with her. I had this strange… grand notion that I was just going to call her up and say “Hello, I want to work with you” and that would be it. In New York, generally all you have to do is send an e-mail or make a phone call and people will work with you.

JP: Is that how this came to be?

SV: Oh, I sent her one of the craziest e-mails depicting my fan history of her since I was a child. I even referenced a scene of her singing “Sola perduta abbandonata.” She finally responded to me about a month later and I eventually got to sing for her!

JP: That’s amazing! I guess all roads, and phone calls lead to Rome?

SV: Literally!

JP: You did Renata’s program in Rome twice.

SV: Yes I did.

JP: It must be expensive as a young singer just to afford the training you need to get yourself to the next point in your career.

SV: Yes, nothing in life is free. Whoever said, “The best things in life are free” lied!

JP: You’ll be representing the USA at the end of the summer at the Queen Sonja International Music Competition in Oslo, Norway. Are you looking forward to the competition?

SV: I’m really looking forward to the experience because I’ve always had this fascination with Norway and the songs of Edvard Grieg. I wrote this crazy paper on him in my undergrad for which I did a lecture/ recital on, so I’m really excited to sing in Norway.

JP: Do you have any idea of what you’ll be offering once you get to Oslo?

SV: Well, I have to offer eight arias and four art songs so, it’s definitely a lot of preparation. I am adding to my list the Bolero from I Vespri Siciliani and like “Sempre Libera”, I figured… why not?

JP: So you’d say that you’re a risk taker in your repertoire selections in addition to your fashion choices?

SV: I’m from Vegas!

JP: So life is a risk for you?

SV: I look at it this way. You have to go big or go home.

JP: Good point, well you are definitely going big.

SV: I hope so.

JP: You were an Encouragement Winner this year at the 40th Annual George London Foundation Awards, walking away with the Leonie Rysanek Award. What those in attendance did not know, was that your dress actually ripped in the back while you were singing Manon’s aria “Adieu notre petite table”. How did you handle that situation so well?

SV: I was just hoping that it wasn’t going to fall off because I didn’t want to be known as the singer who exposed her tatas to an audience that included Patrick Summers, Marcello Giordani and pretty much every important person that could be in the same room. It would have been humiliating!

JP: Do you have any tips for anyone else out there who might have something similar happen during a performance?

SV: Well, you can’t just stop and say “Hang on, I gotta zip my dress up!” With me I just had to focus and manage. I realized that I couldn’t take big breathes, so I had focus on taking dramatic breathes that would get me through, even if it meant that I couldn’t sing with the dynamics I wanted. I didn’t want to expose myself in that way. So, I just did what I always try to do and sing my best, focus on the character and not let me dress fall off!

JP: So every performance is unique…

SV: They all have their variables!

JP: You’ll be leaving New York City in late September to join Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artist Program. Are you sad about leaving The City?

SV: I have mixed feelings about it. I mean, I love New York and I love the life I’ve established here. I have my close group of friends, and I’ll definitely miss seeing my coach because I feel, in a way, that he’s the little mastermind of everything that I’ve done thus far. But I am looking forward to paying such a small amount for rent, and actually working!

JP: What are your favorite things about New York?

SV: I just love that I can really do anything here! I mean I can go to the opera, random performances, shop, and go on silly websites to have food delivered to me at all hours of the night. The thing about New York is, while it’s a rough life, it really is rewarding. I love that I can just walk down the street, sit in Riverside Park and study my opera scores, and for what I want to do, New York really is the center of the universe.

JP: We’ve already talked quite a bit about Violetta and Musetta; can you tell me what other roles you’re looking forward to or perhaps would like to sing in the future?

SV: Well I would really like to sing Mimi. I feel like I can identify with her character more, even though the outside world looks at me and is like “Musetta!” I would actually like to die for once in that opera. I’d also like to sing both Massenet and Puccini’s Manon! Like Violetta, she’s another girl who loses it all for love. I guess I’m just a sappy romantic. I’d definitely like to try to sing some of the Donizetti heroines; Lucia, Anna Bolena, Elisabetta from Roberto Devereux, Maria Stuarda; all the three queens really. Someday.

JP: You call yourself a sappy romantic. Is that just within your musical life? 

SV: No. Its everything.  With singing, we always have to be in control of our emotions, making different colors to make the audience feel something, so I feel like my opera side definitely comes out in my real life. Everything has to be great! It can’t be boring. With me, my boyfriend is in Germany… there’s always something difficult about it.

JP: How does a sappy romantic like you who portrays larger than life people on stage who fall in and out of love, who die and live for love, deal with love in the real world along with the distance and the realities that come along with a career that is now in your case taking shape?

SV: It’s definitely hard no matter where you live. With singing, I’m always living out of my suitcase, getting ready for this, doing that. When it comes down to it: sometimes you have to be selfish! It’s up to you to find people who make you feel grounded, who make you feel good and that you want to keep surrounding yourself with because it is such a difficult life.

JP: It seems sometimes that there is always someone ready to pounce when a vulnerable moment is spotted.

SV: Definitely. Everybody always wants something from an artist! You can’t just sing! After a while you have to tune it all out and concentrate on what makes you happy. Hopefully it’s the music and the people you surround yourself with. 

JP: The 2010/2011 season has provided a lot of new opportunities for you. It definitely seems to be a year of growth for you. Can you tell me what inspired all this?

SV: You picture your life one way, and something happens where it doesn’t quite go as you planned. With me, I got back to New York and thought, “Ok, what am I going to do with my life?” Everything that I had known literally blew up in my face, so I really focused on learning how to sing. I had a great voice teacher, a great coach, I worked with Renata Scotto and her husband who both just helped me so much. When I came back, I started entering competitions, and really decided to do this. I began to really apply myself and believe that it was “MY YEAR” and something great was going to happen. I knew that it was going to erase any and all of the bad that occurred before. Luckily, the first competition I entered (Opera Index Inc.), I won a prize and after that everything started falling into place!

JP: I have to point out that you’re definitely a studious person. You don’t just sit around doing nothing. If you have free time, you’re studying.

SV: Oh always!

JP: You attribute that desire, that need to learn to what?

SV:Well, I figure that there is just all this opera out there being performed that isn’t great, with people who sadly don’t have a lot to say! I feel that I have a unique opportunity because I’m at an age that hopefully I can bring something different to this art form. I just want to bring it back to the old school. There aren’t divas anymore!!! Just pretty people with music videos and there is just so much more than that. Opera is the greatest art form in the world and when you have people like Renata Scotto, Magda Olivero, Virginia Zeani who have come before you, it’s like “That’s what I want to be like!” I want people, long after I’m gone to say “Look what she did”, like Maria Callas. I mean, you pick up a fuzzy recording that you can barely hear the singing in of her, and, its wonderful! I want to touch people with my art, and the only way to do that is to study: to study the languages, the style, to listen to as many different recordings as possible to just try and understand the different styles from different eras. With La Traviata, I started working on the role and then read the book (referencing Alexadre Dumas fils’ La dame aux camelias) and when I finished, for over two hours I couldn’t stop crying. I thought it was even better than the opera! Then I watched the movie and even the silent film. There are so many adaptations of this story I mean, its incredible.

JP: I mention your studious nature not even to shed light on how you deal with the work you’re given, but it seems that you take upon yourself the opportunity to learn roles just because. It may not be a role or an aria that you have to learn for a company or a competition, it’s just because you want to learn. 

SV: I feel like there are roles that I picked up that I definitely couldn’t sing, they were either too high or something just didn’t fit. I will say that by singing and practicing Bellini, I learned how to sing legato, by singing Donizetti, I learned what Verdi learned from him to put in his music. It goes all the way to Puccini. You realize that everything is a stepping stone to the next. With La Traviata, hopefully that’s something I’ll be singing for the rest of my life…so it might as well be perfect.

Julie DeMarre Photography

This season Ms. Vinnik won 1st prize in the Verismo Opera Competition, 2nd Prize from Gerda Lisser Foundation, 3rd Prize at the Opera Index Competition, Audience Favorite and 4th Prize in the Palm Beach Opera Competition, an Encouragement Award from the George London Foundation and grants from The Liederkranz Foundation, The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation and The Giulio Gari Foundation. She was a Semi-Finalist in the 2011 Zachary Awards, Dallas Opera Guild Awards and the upcoming San Antonio Opera Competition. She has been selected to represent the USA in the 2011 Queen Sonja Competition in Oslo, Norway. Ms. Vinnik is also a 2011 Deimar Award Winner through The New York Foundation for the Arts. During the summer of 2009 she was a finalist in the Giulio Gari Foundation Competition and semi-finalist representing the USA at the Competizione dell’Opera International Singing Competition in Germany. She is a recipient of a Walsh Performing Arts Grant, the Nevada Arts Council Professional Development Grant, The Tove Allen Opera Legacy Scholarship through the NV Community Foudation/NV Opera Theatre and was awarded a Mannes Merit Scholarship.

Read my Urban Palate interview with photographer Julie DeMarre to discover how the above photograph of Suzanne Vinnik literally launched her own career!

Up In The Air with Mozart and Justin Bieber



So here I am, 45 minutes into my flight back to Manhattan, I really need to use the restroom, the seat belt sign has been turned back on thanks to turbulence (which I have yet to feel), while I listen to the man behind me describe how his parents got by for 2 years on money they made donating plasma… its a fascinating story, but I’m now plugging in my headphones to try and listen to Danielle de Niese’s new Mozart album that I just downloaded. Let me just say that I really really love this singer/ actress.

Speaking of Mozart, I was visiting two of my best friends, Kim, Josh and their newborn daughter ( my Goddaughter) Kiera when I started thinking about something I read in The Mozart Effect a few years ago. The book discusses the various effects that not just classical music, but Mozart’s in particular has on our brains. Did you know that some music can actually make you dumber? I wonder if that applies to the millions of Justin Bieber fans…  Anyhow, Studies have shown that when an adult listens to Mozart’s sonata for two pianos in D Major, his or her IQ actually raises by about 7-8 points, but only for about 15 minutes after an initial 10 minutes of listening. The study also showed that when newborns were played the piece, they showed an astounding improvement in spacial-temporal reasoning. As you know, babies spend that first 3 months adjusting to, well… everything. From being able to produce Melatonin in the evening to having a visual range that expands beyond twelve feet, we literally experience a whole new world as a developing human.

Another study involved control groups of 3-4 year olds in which one group was given piano lessons for eight months, the other groups were given computer lessons, singing lessons and one was provided with no training. The group of children who were provided the piano lessons scored on average a staggering 34% higher in tests of spatial-temporal reasoning than all the other children.

So what does this mean? Simply that some music makes you smarter, some doesn’t, and Justing Bieber just might fry your brain.


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