Music with Minnesotans: Bill Summerville

by Alison Young, Minnesota Public Radio
January 2, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — I first met the wine "It Guy" of the Twin Cities when Le Belle Vie hosted a reception for New York Polyphony. Lots of good eats, conversation, and even a new cocktail named for the quartet.

Bill Summerville did what he does best by milling about with each small clique of Classical MPR folks, singers and singer-lovers ensuring we were having a good time and suggesting what to drink with which hors d'oeurves.

And of course, it didn't take long for me to figure out Bill loves not just great singing but the whole genre of classical music too.

Fast forward a year and dozens of emails and we made a date to talk classical - over one of La Belle Vie's signature five-course dinners where we sampled nearly a dozen wines.

Bill is one of two owners of La Belle Vie, considered one of the 50 best restaurants in America by Gourmet Magazine and a national semi-finalist for best wine service. As Managing Director, he chooses the list and creates interesting pairings - including a flavor I had never experienced in my life, a lobster bisque with a Spanish sherry. Indeed, Nectar of the Goddesses.

Bill came to food through his mom who he tells me was such a great cook she encouraged her son to cook as well. And this led him to his first gig making deli sandwiches and then in time to D'amico Cucina and eventually La Belle Vie.

Bill sort of fell into becoming the Twin Cities most knowledgeable wine manager, just as he sort of fell into loving classical music. It was helpful to become good friends with celebrated tenor James Valenti - a guy who could pass as Bill's twin brother - who invited Bill to hang out with him in Paris for a month while he sang Madame Butterfly. Hearing the music, but also seeing how a professional singer lives and works, was fascinating and changed how Bill experienced music.

Our conversation that night over wine and food veered towards this universal question: why does music have its incredible effect on us? I danced around that because while I know what Bill speaks of - why else would I have a career in music? - that would be like asking perhaps the meaning of life...maybe we don't know why music moves us, but just letting it work its magic is enough.

Bill Summerville's playlist:

Isaac Albeniz, Asturias - Milos Karadaglic

Gustav Holst, The Planets - London Symphony/Davis

Giacomo Puccini, Madama Butterfly: Love Duet - Pavarotti/Freni

Next time my guest is Dianne Brown. She works at the downtown post office in Saint Paul and knows all of us classical hosts by name and can share in a conversation with us when we send our packages as she listens to classical as much as she can.

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