Hailed by the New York Times as an “elegant,” “rich-toned alto” with “riveting presence,” GRAMMY© Award-winning mezzo-soprano Virginia Warnken is becoming known throughout the American musical community for her heartfelt interpretations of the works of Bach, Handel, and their contemporaries, as well as for her exciting and unique performances of avant-garde 20th and 21st century works.
Born in 1984 and raised in southern Louisiana just outside of New Orleans, Virginia grew up immersed in music. The daughter of two musicians, she was exposed to the great artists of jazz, rock/blues, classical, and world music from early childhood. As a child, she took piano lessons, sang in children’s choirs, and studied guitar with her father.
For high school, she attended New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA), where she studied classical voice, music theory, and ear training in an intensive full-time conservatory setting.
At the age of 17, she moved to New York City for undergraduate studies in opera performance at Manhattan School of Music. There, she soon found a deep love for works outside of the standard opera repertoire, particularly works composed before the year 1750 and after 1900.
Soon after completing studies at MSM, she was fully employed in NYC as a singer of early music and contemporary music, performing as a soloist with some of NYC’s most prominent ensembles, particularly, the Grammy-nominated Trinity Wall Street Choir, led by Julian Wachner, Clarion Music Society, led by Steven Fox, Musica Sacra, and the Oratorio Society of New York, both led by Kent Tritle.
In addition, Virginia appears with numerous other ensembles as a soloist, including Philharmonia Baroque, led by Nic McGegan, Carmel Bach Festival chorale and recitals, American Classical Orchestra, multi Grammy-nominated ensemble Seraphic Fire, led by Patrick Quigley, TENET, led by Jolle Greenleaf, Green Mountain Project, led by Scott Metcalfe, and many others.
She has appeared on the main stages of Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center numerous times as the alto soloist in major works such as Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Mass in B minor, Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor, Handel’s Samson, among others.
In 2009, Virginia became a founding member of the groundbreaking Grammy© Award-winning alternative-classical vocal band Roomful of Teeth (2014, best chamber ensemble/small ensemble), described as “sensually stunning” by the New York Times, and “Powerful” by Rolling Stone Magazine, integrating western and non-western vocal techniques such as Tuvan throat singing, Inuit throat singing, yodeling, high Bulgarian-style belting, Korean P’ansori, along with several others, and collaborating with composers to forge a new repertoire for the voice using an expanded sound palette.
In addition to her work with Roomful of Teeth, Ms. Warnken is a fervent advocate of contemporary music, and has performed with and premiered works by numerous prominent composers and non-classical pop/rock acts including Questlove and other members of legendary hip-hop/neo-soul band The Roots, Glenn Kotche of Wilco, Louis Andriessen, Caleb Burhans, Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, Judd Greenstein, Missy Mazzoli, and Steve Reich.
In addition to performing, Ms. Warnken also enjoys teaching and has taught privately, guest lectured, and given masterclasses at many higher educational institutions including Yale, Princeton, Williams College, Wellesley, Vassar, and Dickinson College.
Virginia holds a Masters degree from the Yale School of Music, where she took part in the highly respected Early Music voice program in conjunction with the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. During her time there, she was afforded the opportunity to work with world renowned conductors such as Masaaki Suzuki, Nic McGegan, and Simon Carrington, and went on two international tours as a soloist with Yale Schola Cantorum.
She currently resides in Branford, CT, in the scenic shoreline district of Short Beach, in a 19th century cottage overlooking the sea. When not working, she can be found there, swimming, cooking, sailing, and seeking adventure in the great outdoors.