Hailed by the New York Times as an “elegant,” “rich-toned alto” with “riveting presence,” GRAMMY© Award-winning mezzo-soprano Virginia Warnken Kelsey is known throughout the American musical community for her heartfelt and dynamic interpretations of the works of Bach, Handel, Purcell, Monteverdi, 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 South Louisiana, 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. She considers herself extremely fortunate to have 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 high-school level.
Virginia holds a Bachelor of Music in Opera Performance from the Manhattan School of Music, where she studied with Trish McCaffrey. There, she developed a great love for Early Music and Contemporary Music performance. She holds a Master of Music from the Yale School of Music, where she took part in the highly respected Early Music, Oratorio, and Chamber Music Voice Program in conjunction with the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.
Having been based in the NYC area for many years, Virginia has appeared with many of the city’s most prominent Early Music ensembles. She has sung with the venerable Trinity Wall Street Choir since 2005, with whom she has performed countless concerts and recorded several full-length albums, including the Grammy-nominated recording of Händel’s Israel in Egypt. She is a frequent fixture in concert and recording with the celebrated Tenet Vocal Artists, and has been a featured soloist on the mainstages of Lincoln Center in numerous Baroque masterworks with the American Classical Orchestra, Clarion Music Society, Oratorio Society of New York, Musica Sacra, and several others.
Beyond the scope of New York City, Ms. Kelsey is a mainstay with many significant early music and vocal chamber ensembles around the United States. She frequently appears with the Grammy Award-winning Boston Early Music Festival Opera, and with them has recorded two discs of music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Michel Richard de Lalande, respectively. She sings regularly with Seraphic Fire, Bach Collegium San Diego, Carmel Bach Festival, Pegasus Early Music Ensemble, Catacoustic Consort, Spire Chamber Ensemble; and has been a featured soloist with the San Francisco Symphony and Philharmonia Baroque.
Outside of her work as a specialist in early chamber music, oratorio, and Baroque opera, Virginia is a champion of Contemporary Classical composition and spends much of her time premiering new works and engaging with experimental sounds. Virginia is an original member of the groundbreaking alternative-classical vocal band Roomful of Teeth, founded in 2009, which has been lauded as “Revolutionizing choral singing” by The New Yorker, “sensually stunning” by the New York Times, and “Powerful” by Rolling Stone Magazine, has been nominated for multiple Grammys, and their debut eponymous album won the 2014 Grammy for Best Chamber Ensemble Album. 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 many others, Roomful of Teeth collaborates with composers using this expanded sound palette to forge a new and adventurous repertoire for the voice with no limit to its expressive capacity.
Alongside her Roomful of Teeth family, Virginia tours major concert halls all over the US and the world and has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and BBC Symphony Orchestra, among countless others. They have ongoing theatrical productions with noted opera director Peter Sellars (Claude Vivier’s surreal chamber opera Kopernikus), Bryce Dessner of The National and stage director Kaneza Schaal (Triptych: Eyes of one on another; examining the life and work of Robert Mapplethorpe), and frequently performed ensemble-generated works include Partita for 8 Voices by fellow ensemble member Caroline Shaw, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013.
With Roomful of Teeth and in her own freelance activities, Ms. Kelsey has performed with and premiered works by numerous prominent composers and non-classical artists including Questlove and The Roots, Kanye West, Julia Wolfe, David Lang, Ted Hearne, Tigran Hamasyan, Louis Andriessen, Terry Riley, Caroline Shaw, Glenn Kotche of Wilco, Caleb Burhans, Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, Judd Greenstein, Bill Brittelle, Missy Mazzoli, Steve Reich, and many, many more. In addition to tour engagements, Roomful of Teeth holds an Artist Residency every August at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MassMoCA) where the majority of their workshopping and generating of the touring repertoire takes place, and engages in guest artist and faculty residencies at museums and educational institutions across the country.
She currently resides in Branford, CT, in the scenic shoreline district of Short Beach, in a 200-year-old cottage overlooking the sea. When not working, she can be found swimming, cooking, sailing, lifting weights, gardening, beekeeping, and seeking adventure in the great outdoors wherever and whenever she is able.