Victoria Bond

TransCentury Communications reviews Bond's "Instruments of Revelation" CD

THE ONCE AND FUTURE MODERNISTS

The Chicago area is something of a hotbed of modern classical music: a new Naxos CD of chamber works by Victoria Bond shows this clearly, with first-rate performances by Chicago Symphony members playing as Chicago Pro Musica. Actually, only two works on the disc were recorded in Chicago; the other two were done in New York – and the recording dates range from 2012 to 2016. But wherever and whenever the recordings were made, they clearly show Bond’s style and her approach to chamber-sized ensembles. Bond is nearly a decade younger than Glass – she was born in 1945, he in 1937 – and stylistically very different, but her style is quite as fully formed as his, if not so immediately distinctive. Like the Skidmore piece on the Glass-focused release, one of the works here is in seven sections: Frescoes and Ash (2009) uses clarinet, strings, piano and percussion – in varying combinations – to paint musical portraits of the ancient city of Pompeii, its doom by volcanic eruption, and (to a lesser extent) its place in the modern world. The work, which is about the same length as Glass’ Perpetulum, has an intriguing final movement called “Ash” that Bond turns into a meditation on human mortality. This works particularly well because Bond is essentially a tonal composer, so her works can and do evoke emotional responses effectively. She is also skilled in managing the sounds of this small instrumental complement, whether in the virtuoso requirements of “The Sybil Speaks” or in the intriguing violin-and-bass duet in “Chiron Teaches Achilles to Play the Lyre” – a case in which the instruments particularly neatly encapsulate the characters. Just as substantive as her Pompeii pictures is Bond’s Leopold Bloom’s Homecoming (2011), a song cycle for tenor (Rufus Müller) and piano (Jenny Lin) based on James Joyce’s Ulysses. Bond handles the voice and piano parts well, and the performers do a good job with the material, but the stream-of-consciousness text becomes rather wearing to hear after a while, and the cycle coms to seem overly long, if not quite interminable. More successful, and not just because it is shorter, is Instruments of Revelation (2010), a three-movement set for winds, strings and piano based on three Tarot cards: “The Magician,” whose meaning of ambiguity is neatly encapsulated through quick juxtapositions of solemnity with verve; “The High Priestess,” representing wisdom and secrets, with music that starts calmly enough but then becomes impassioned; and “The Fool,” both mystic and lunatic, with music that appropriately contrasts chaotic elements with amusing ones. Here and in the Pompeii miniatures, Bond shows her skill in short-form portrayals: musical visualizations neatly captured. The CD concludes withBinary (2005), a work for piano solo (Olga Vinokur) whose bright liveliness, based on the Brazilian samba, ends the disc pleasantly.

If Bond stays firmly, or at least moderately firmly, in a tonal universe, Kinan Azmeh sticks to one in which sounds of different cultures are paramount and tonality, although often present, is largely incidental…

CVNA reviews Bond's "Clara" in Baden-Baden

In Bond’s Clara, An Artist Is Seen Becoming Herself

By Susan Brodie

BADEN-BADEN – Clara Schumann’s early 200th-birthday present was a new chamber opera about her life, premiered on April 14 at the Osterfestspiele in Baden-Baden, where the brilliant musician, best known as the wife of Robert Schumann, spent some of her most productive years. Victoria Bond’s new opera Clara, on a libretto by Barbara Zinn Krieger, portrays the life of a brilliant but too-little-known artist who “had it all” in an era when a woman was expected to serve the man in her life at the expense of her own needs and ambitions.

Bond’s opera emphasizes Clara’s inner life and the conflicts of a woman struggling to balance the demands of those who depend on her against her rising consciousness of her own needs. For the young production team – director Carmen C. KruseEleni C. Konstantatou, sets and costumes, and Rebekka Meyer, dramaturgy – Clara’s musicianship is secondary: With no piano on stage, we never see anyone playing or composing music. Clara exists in relation to the three main men in her life – her father, Robert, and Brahms – as she matures out of docile acceptance of their expectations to recognizing and claiming the legitimacy of her artistic and personal worth.

The stage held a seven-panel glass structure that rotated around a platform, furnished with a rock, a few birch trees, and sand, rather like a large twelve-sided terrarium with missing panels. Lighting turned the glass transparent or reflective, and the position in rotation gave the impression of greater or lesser intimacy. Before each scene, a pantomime at the back of the stage (largely obscured from my view by set elements) introduced the theme of the following sequence. Over ten scenes (plus prologue and epilogue), as Clara works out the meaning of her life, she becomes more voluble and has more and more to sing.

The music is largely tonal and makes extensive use of themes evoking music by Schumann or Brahms (and, I presume, Clara herself), often quoting it directly. As the drama intensifies, the familiar material is transformed into something more dissonant, with harsh instrumental writing and insistent repetition, a device that also suggests Robert’s obsessions and growing sense of persecution. Clara’s inner monologues often use a chant-like style reminiscent of Poulenc, while her outward-looking solos and duets are more melodic. The final scene, wherein the recently widowed Clara calmly vows to dedicate her life to bringing Robert’s work to the world, is based on themes from Frauenliebe und -leben, the song cycle Robert wrote the year the couple married.

Seven young artists from music schools in the Baden-Württenburg district filled the eight roles plus chorus parts. As Clara, the winsome soprano Theresa Immerz tackled the substantial role with sweet lyricism, sparkling high notes, and clear diction. Baritone Johannes Fritsche conveyed the ardor and unease of Robert, while Pascal Zurek was persuasive as Clara’s loving but irascible father. Tenor Patrik Hornak was notable in the relatively short role of Brahms. Occasionally musical climaxes pushed the young singers to their vocal limits; I hope the work can one day be staged with more seasoned artists better equipped for the big moments.

Conductor Michael Hasel (flute player in the Berlin Philharmonic) brought out the romantic sweep of the piece. The twelve-member ensemble of apprentice musicians from the Berlin Philharmonic’s Karajan Academy gave the impression of a larger orchestra, thanks in part to winds and horns that provided the colors of a romantic orchestra. Lilli LorenzHolger Stolz, and young Kaylee Austin were the poised actors who added subtext to the drama.

After three performances during the 2019 Easter Festival, Clara will have eight more performances at Theater Baden-Baden in the original version with piano trio May 10-June 15. For information go here.

Read the entire article at this link.

New on Naxos: Chamber music by Victoria Bond

“Instruments of Revelation”

A CD of recent chamber music by Victoria Bond

World-class performers: Chicago Pro Musica, pianist Jenny Lin, tenor Rufus Müller, and pianist Olga Vinokur

Release date: April 12, 2019

Purchase on Amazon.

Victoria Bond's passion for chamber music is evident in each of the more than 100 works she has composed for the genre. Released on April 12, 2019, the NAXOS American Classics CD "Instruments of Revelation" includes world premiere recordings of Ms. Bond's most recent chamber works.

Drawing on Bond's chamber music of the last 15 years, "Instruments of Revelation" features performances by the Grammy award winning ensemble Chicago Pro Musica, "dynamic pianist" (NYTimes) Jenny Lin, and "dramatic tenor" (Toronto Star) Rufus Müller among others.

Lending its title to the album, Instruments of Revelation is a three movement work with each movement based on a different tarot card: "The Magician", represents ambiguity with music shifting suddenly from the mysterious and solemn to the cunning and dexterous; "The High Priestess", possesses wisdom, passion and secrets of the law, her music is calm but slowly ignites into throbbing desire; and "The Fool", considered both the holy mystic and the intoxicated lunatic, embodies music of both comedy and chaos.

Frescoes and Ash was commissioned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and is based on seven images from Pompeii. Opening with a raucous band wandering the streets, dancing and playing a tarantella, the pieces continues with a mosaic of swimming fish, a mysterious fortune teller, a comedic group of actors and a bizarre skull symbolizing the Romans’ acceptance of death.

As a composer who is often inspired by literature and imagery, Leopold Bloom's Homecoming is Victoria Bond's account of one section of James Joyce's Ulysses. As Ms. Bond reflects, "I have been drawn to Ulysses ever since I was in high school. I think this is because the writing resembles the way I think - not in complete sentences, but in fleeting images and allusions, in a stream of consciousness." Rounding out the CD, Binary is a fast-paced and rhythmically complex set of variations on the number two.

TRACKS

1-3. Instruments of Revelation (2010)

Chicago Pro Musica

4-10. Frescoes and Ash (2009)

Chicago Pro Musica

11. Leopold Bloom's Homecoming (2011)

Rufus Müller, Tenor | Jenny Lin, Piano

12. Binary (2005)

Olga Vinokur, Piano

A major force in 21st century music, composer Victoria Bond is known for her melodic gift and dramatic flair. Her works for orchestra, chamber ensemble and opera have been lauded by the New York Times as "powerful, stylistically varied and technically demanding." 

In addition to "Instruments of Revelation", the chamber works on the Naxos label, highlights of Ms. Bond's catalog include the operas Mrs. PresidentClara and The Miracle of Light; ballets Equinox and Other Selves; orchestral works Thinking like a MountainBridges and Urban Bird, among many others. Her compositions have been performed by the New York City Opera, Shanghai, Dallas and Houston Symphonies, members of the Chicago Symphony and New York Philharmonic, American Ballet Theater and the Cassatt and Audubon Quartets.

Ms. Bond is Artistic Director of Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival in New York, which she founded in 1998, and is a frequent lecturer at the Metropolitan Opera and has lectured for the New York Philharmonic. The Wall Street Journal, NBC's Today Show, the New York Times and other national publications have profiled Ms. Bond. For more information about Victoria Bond and her upcoming projects, visit VictoriaBond.com

Victoria Bond's Clara Schumann opera at Berlin Phil. Easter Festival

The Easter Festival of the Baden-Baden Festival Hall and the Berlin Philharmonic presents the world premiere of Victoria Bond's opera Clara in April 2019. Composed by Ms. Bond during her residencies at the Brahms House in Baden-Baden, Clara weaves the intertwining lives of Clara Wieck, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms into a dramatic mixture of music and passion.

"Clara Schumann was a 19th century “Wonder Woman” who shattered the glass ceiling of her day. She has long been an inspiration to me," said Bond. "I am thrilled that Clara will be premiered in Baden-Baden, a place that figured so prominently in her life." 

The fully staged production with orchestra is produced by the Festival Hall Baden-Baden and conducted by Berlin Philharmonic member Michael Hasel.

The performances are on April 14, 17, and 21, 2019 at the Theatre Baden-Baden, coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the year of Clara Schumann's birth. An additional eight performances of the work scored for chamber ensemble will be performed in May and June 2019 at the Theatre Baden-Baden and conducted by Clemens Jüngling. More information is at this link.

Also by Victoria Bond

Mrs. President, an opera about the first woman to run for president of the United States....in 1872

The Adventures of Gulliver, with libretto by Stephen Greco and design and direction by Doug Fitch

A major force in 21st century music, composer Victoria Bond is known for her melodic gift and dramatic flair. Her works for orchestra, chamber ensemble and opera have been lauded by The New York Times as "powerful, stylistically varied and technically demanding."

Victoria Bond's most recent CD, "Soul of a Nation: Portraits of Presidential Character", features soloists from the Chicago and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestras. Released on Albany Records in 2018, each of the four works include narration taken from the presidents' own words. 

In addition to Clara and Mrs. President, highlights of Ms. Bond's catalogue include the operaThe Miracle of Light; ballets Equinox and Other Selves; orchestral works Thinking like a MountainBridges and Urban Bird; and chamber works Dreams of FlyingFrescoes and Ashand Instruments of Revelation, among many others. Her compositions have been performed by the New York City Opera, Shanghai, Dallas and Houston Symphonies, members of the Chicago Symphony and New York Philharmonic, American Ballet Theater and the Cassatt and Audubon Quartets.

The New York Times praised Victoria Bond's conducting as "full of energy and fervor." She has served as principal guest conductor of Chamber Opera Chicago since 2005. Prior positions include Assistant Conductor of Pittsburgh Symphony and New York City Opera and Music Director of the Roanoke Symphony and Opera, Bel Canto Opera and Harrisburg Opera. Ms. Bond has guest conducted throughout the United States, Europe, South America and Asia. She is the first woman awarded a doctorate in orchestral conducting from the Juilliard School.

Ms. Bond is Artistic Director of Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival in New York, which she founded in 1998, and is a frequent lecturer at the Metropolitan Opera and has lectured for the New York Philharmonic. The Wall Street Journal, NBC's Today ShowThe New York Times and other national publications have profiled Ms. Bond. For more information aboutVictoria Bond and her upcoming projects, visit VictoriaBond.com.

WOSU celebrates President's Day with Victoria Bond's "Soul of A Nation"

Celebrate Presidents' Day With New Recording Of Four Fresh Concertos Inspired By U.S. Presidents

By JENNIFER HAMBRICK  FEB 14, 2019

Democracy has been called the worst form of government except for all the others. In the United States, democracy is inextricably linked with the presidency, that august office which votes fill, which pundits punch and where the buck famously stops for the commonweal. 

Presidents’ Day officially honors the lives and legacies of two former U.S. presidents in particular – George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. But the holiday has come to stand as a day of appreciation for the service of all of the nation’s presidents, past and present.

In her recording Soul of a Nation: Portraits of Presidential Character (Albany Records), composer and conductor Victoria Bond brings the words and ideals of four illustrious commanders-in-chief into the limelight as spoken texts in four new musical works.

Listen to the interview here.

Each work is a concerto for solo instrument with string or wind ensemble and augmented by spoken narration that, in librettos written by Dr. Myles Lee, resound with the spirits of Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“Each of these presidents had such an important role in shaping our American history,” Bond said in a recent phone interview. “For each of the presidents, I wanted to find the quintessential instrument that would represent his – and they’re all men – his personality and his time.”

To that end, the flute gives voice to Washington in Bond’s Pater Patriae: Concerto for Flute and Wind Ensemble.

“Because of the Revolutionary (War) era and fife and drum tunes, I figured the solo instrument for Washington would certainly be the flute,” Bond said.

The solo violin represents Jefferson in Bond’s Soul of a Nation: Concerto for Violin and String Ensemble

“Thomas Jefferson was himself a violinist,” Bond said. “Even though he didn’t perform in public, he played almost every day.”

Bond cast the exuberant Teddy Roosevelt as a solo trumpet in The Crowded Hours: Concerto for Trumpet and Wind Ensemble. Roosevelt’s distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt is represented by a solo clarinet in The Indispensable Man: Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble.

“Franklin Delano Roosevelt lived, of course, in the era of big band and Benny Goodman,” Bond said. “So it was a natural to have a clarinet solo and to reference music of the 1940s big band era, kind of jazzy work.”

The concertos on Soul of a Nation: Portraits of Presidential Character aren’t Bond’s first compositions inspired by the U.S. presidency. Bond earlier composed the opera Mrs. President, about Ohio native Victoria Woodhull who, in 1872, became the first woman ever to run for the highest office in the land.

In an era in which women were expected to occupy roles closely circumscribed within the domestic sphere, Woodhull’s presidential campaign and its coverage in the public sphere were nothing short of extraordinary.

“The epithets that were hurled at Victoria Woodhull make you cringe when you hear them,” Bond said. “She was actually called Mrs. Satan.”

“She was pictured in Harper’s Weekly with horns on her head and a demonic expression,” Bond continued. “She was the wrecker of the family. And there’s still plenty of that sentiment going around. We have not overcome that yet.”

However, Bond says that, as demographics and opinions shift in America, she believes someday a woman will come to occupy the U.S. presidency – sooner or later.

Says Bond: “It is a glass ceiling, and it is going to shatter. There’s no question about that. It’s just a question of when.”

Cutting Edge Concerts: February 11, 18, 25

Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival 

Victoria Bond, Artistic Director

Cutting Edge Concerts' 22nd season features music by Philip Glass, Paul Chihara, Hannah Lash, Amy Beth Kirsten, Victoria Bond and more

February 11, 18, & 25, 2019 at Symphony Space's Leonard Nimoy Thalia in New York City

"...a gift to New Yorkers thirsty for new sounds" - Time Out New York

Victoria Bond's Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival celebrates its 22nd Season with three programs in February 2019 at Symphony Space.

Inspired by Pierre Boulez's series, "Perspective Encounters", the composer and conductor Victoria Bond founded Cutting Edge Concerts in 1998. With more than two decades of concerts, Cutting Edge Concerts has presented over 300 new works by nearly 200 composers. Each program highlights the music of living composers, all of whom attend the concert. Along with performances by world-class ensembles and soloists, each program features on-stage discussions between host Victoria Bond and the composers. CEC has been called "a full-throttle commitment to contemporary music" by Chamber Music America.

February 11, 7:30 pm | Cutting Edge Concerts: Dream Forms

New York-based di.vi.sion piano trio (Kurt Briggs, violin; Matt Goeke, cello; Renee Cometa Briggs, piano) performs Steven Burke's Dream Forms (composed for the di.vi.sion trio), inspired by clairvoyant, lucid and epic dreams. Additional works include Victoria Bond's Other Selves, commissioned by the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival as a ballet based on sculptures by Marjorie Michael; and "Piano Trio No. 2" by Jim Lahti.

February 18, 7:30 pm | Cutting Edge Concerts: New Visions of Cherished Classics

Acclaimed Philip Glass interpreter, pianist Paul Barnes joins forces with Scott Hosfeld (viola), Maria Newman (violin), and Laura Hamilton (violin) for Glass's Byzantine chant-inspired work Annunciation Quintet. The first half also includes the NYC premiere Victoria Bond's Simeron Kremate as well as Maria Newman’s Pennipotenti.

The evening also features a workshop performance of The Adventures of Gulliver, a new opera based on the classic Jonathan Swift tale, with music by Victoria Bond, libretto by Stephen Greco and design and direction by Doug Fitch. The cast includes:

Daniel Klein, baritone; Ariadne Graf, soprano; Sean Christensen, tenor; Yoojin Lee, mezzo-soprano; David Charles Tay, tenor; Jonathan Hare, baritone; and Mark Peloquin, piano.

February 25, 7:30 pm | Cutting Edge Concerts: The Poetry of Places

The Horszowski Trio (Jesse Mills, violin; Paul Wiancko, cello; Rieko Aizawa, piano) is joined by clarinetist Alan Kay, flutist Elizabeth Mann, and soprano Sophia Maekawa for a performance of Paul Chihara's Amatsu Kaze ("heavenly wind"). The work is based on seven Haiku, and Chihara's songs are happy, sad, sexy, witty, and always very lonely.

The evening also features pianist Nadia Shpachenko performing selections from her recently released CD, “The Poetry of Places” - works composed for her by Lewis Spratlan, Harold Meltzer, Hannah Lash, Amy Beth Kirsten, Jack Van Zandt, Victoria Bond, and James Matheson.

Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival concerts are on Mondays, February 11, 18, and 25, 2019 at 7:30 pm at Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Peter Norton Symphony Space (2537 Broadway at 95th Street in Manhattan). Tickets are $20 in advance ($30 day of show) and are available online.

Victoria Bond: Conducting a Life at the Cutting Edge

Words: Susan Brodie
Images: Daniel Gonzalez (banner)
and courtesy Victoria Bond

In a long and multi-faced career as composer, conductor, and concert presenter, Victoria Bond has created a legacy not only of her own compositions, but also of works by other composers via her annual new music showcase, Cutting Edge Concerts. The 21st season opens on April 9 at Symphony Space with the world premiere staging of Eric Salzman’s opera Big Jim and the Small-Time Investors. Each of the four programs, on consecutive Monday evenings in April, features a different performing ensemble, and includes at least one world premiere.

Bond’s own substantial body of work incorporates many genres, including several operas: Madame President (about the first woman to run for president in 1872), Miracle of Light, and Clara, which will be premiered in 2019 at the Baden-Baden (Germany) Easter Festival.

During a recent interview in the living room of her Greenwich Village home, which was set up for rehearsal, Bond spoke of her musical beginnings, life as a composer, and the origins and inspirations for her annual new music series.

NATIONAL SAWDUST LOG: I was going to start with your Pierre Boulez connection, but the Harry Partch connection sounds intriguing. How did you encounter him, and at what stage of your career?

Actually this is very fascinating. Eric Salzman, whose opera I’m conducting right now, was going down to San Diego, that area, to interview Harry Partch. I’ve known Eric since I was in school in Los Angeles; that was my undergraduate at USC. And he said, “I’m going to interview Harry Partch and I think you might like to come along.” And I did, and he was a fascinating person.

And then, I think it was probably several months later, UCLA was putting on the first staged performance, even though he had written it far earlier, of Delusion of the Fury, and I got cast as the Old Goat Woman. I think I was about 20 at the time, so it was not type casting [laughs]. But as you know, Harry Partch’s operas are not at all realistic. They are like the exact opposite of verismo; they are much more ritualistic. Originally he had wanted the dancer-singer to be the same person, but he found out that the person who was doing the dancing couldn’t really sing. So he had the singers, and I think there were a small group of soloists, and I believe an ensemble, he had us in the pit, and the dancers onstage. It was absolutely a fascinating process, and it has totally influenced me forever since that time.

I like the idea of theater as ritual. Because to do a film… I mean, it’s better to do something realistic on film, whereas theater gives you that sense of abstraction, which I like very much. Plus, his instruments were so fascinating. The sounds were not electronic, as you know. They were all acoustic sounds, and the range, all the way from the marimba eroica all the way up to pitches so high that only dogs could hear them. Fascinating, and the timbre of them. It was familiar, and yet it was original.

Have you incorporated any of these acoustic-sonic principles in your writing?

Well, I wrote a piece for the group Partch in Los Angeles. How that came about was, I was having a rehearsal in L.A. in the studio of the percussionist, and he had all of the Harry Partch instruments. And I said, oh, wow, this is familiar—they were not the originals, these were reproductions, but they were still familiar. And then I found out that there was this Los Angeles group called Partch, and [I thought] Ah! The next commission from the Los Angeles County Museum, I want to write for this group. So yes, those sounds really deeply influenced me.

I would say an instrument like the Cloud Chamber—they used to be water coolers that were made of glass, and Partch had cut them off at various levels so that they had distinct pitches, the kind of complex pitches that bells have, and they had a bell-like quality, but there was something very unearthly about them, and they were played with large, soft mallets. So I wrote a piece for the called Falling Clouds. It was such a happy moment, because I don’t think another instrument could reproduce that kind of effect. It was a very suspended effect. So yes, those instruments have influenced me for sure.

Have you branched into using electronic instruments at all?

I haven’t. A friend of mine, back when I was in L.A., was one of the people who brought the Moog synthesizer into usage. And he spent so much time just researching the acoustics of sound, the overtone series, that it was almost like a scientific exploration. And at that point I decided I love acoustic instruments, I love working with people, rather than working with machines. It’s fascinating, and I appreciate it, but one lifetime is too short to explore everything.

I felt that way about Indian music. I had to, in my former life as a singer, sing some Indian music for a recording, and I thought, this is fascinating. I started to study it, and I realized that this is a lifetime study. This is not something that you go into superficially and say, oh well, I’ll take a year and learn this. No. It really takes a lifetime. I want to devote myself to the things in which I’m most interested. The central artistic musical priorities of my life. Electronics at this point is not within that parameter.

I’m fascinated by your transition from singer to composer. You began studies as a singer?

Well, actually, composition was first and foremost in my life. I come from a family of musicians. My mother was a concert pianist; my father was a singer. My grandfather was a composer and conductor; my grandmother was a singer…all the way down, parents, grandparents, it was so inevitable that I become a musician that for a while I fought it.

I always knew I wanted to make things, and I made what I called “pictures” at the piano, just improvising as a child—I didn’t know it was called “composition” at that point. But it was what fascinated me the most. And my parents, both being professional musicians, said, “You have to have an instrument; you can’t just be a composer.” So my first instrument was piano, and I studied with my mother. And then, because my mother had done so much by the time she was 10 years old…she was a child prodigy. I mean, I knew that that was not my instrument because she had been there, done that, and there was no competing with that.

But they discovered that I had a voice, and I took singing lessons – and yes, my father was a singer – but there was something there that I could do. And so my double life was going to be as a composer and singer, and my role model in that was Samuel Barber, because he was such a wonderful composer, and also of course a very fine singer. So I thought, that’s going to be my performance instrument.

And then I had the occasion to take conducting lessons from what seemed like a very happenstance meeting with a well-known conductor, whose younger brother went to school with me at USC. The younger brother being Freddie Zlatkin – he now goes by Zlatkin, but at that time it was Slatkin – and his older brother of course was Leonard Slatkin. The three of us were in Aspen at the same time, and Leonard said, “Well, if you’re going to be a singer” – I was there to study singing with Maria Stader and Jennie Tourel – “you really need to know what conductors do, because you’re going to be doing opera and you should know what conductors do.” So he said, “I’m teaching for the first time in Aspen, teaching conducting, and I think you should study with me.” And I did. And it was wonderful. And it opened up a door to me as a composer that was wider than the door had been as a singer. Because it really was more of a global sense of what was going on.

So when I came back to Los Angeles, my mother, as a musician, knew many conductors, and one of her friends had the Senior Citizens Orchestra of Los Angeles, and I had the opportunity to conduct them in a rehearsal. And it was a life-changing experience. They said, “You know, you’re talented. You should pursue this.” And this was as a woman at a time when there were…I won’t say none, but there were very few [women conductors], and they were not high profile. But they said, you ought to pursue this. And so I was going to go to Juilliard (that was my mother’s school), and I was going to go as a composer. But I thought, hmm, I’d like to go as a conductor, too. I wanted to have a double major. Everybody said, Oh, forget it, you’ll never get in, you’ll never get in the conducting department—which was exactly what I needed to hear, because it was a spur rather than a deterrent.

I was accepted as a composer, got there and discovered I couldn’t have a double major, so I audited the conducting class the first year, and then I auditioned and got in, and then I had to drop my major as a composer. But I needed a lot of catching up in terms of learning repertory as a conductor. So I spent my masters and doctorate years at Juilliard as a conducting major and graduated with a degree in orchestral conducting.

I got my first job with the Pittsburgh Symphony as an Exxon conductor, so then the conducting took off, and left not as much time as I would have liked as a composer. So at a certain point I said, well, we’ve got to reverse the horse and the cart, and I’m really still a composer who conducts, not a conductor who sometimes composes. It’s always a juggling act—time, plus somebody else’s music is always in your head when you’re conducting a lot. The wonderful thing, of course, is you work with the great repertory all the time. You work with musicians all the time. You’re really in there, in the trenches, not just looking at it in the distance, but really being a part of a musical life. Whereas being a composer can be somewhat isolated, so it gives you that sense.

The conducting you do now is primarily contemporary music, is that right?

No, no, every year I do Amahl and the Night Visitors [laughs]—I guess one can call that contemporary. I’ve done basically most of the standard repertory, orchestral repertory, operatic repertory. I love the standard rep as well as contemporary.

What were the circumstances of your beginning the Cutting Edge series?

Well, I had been away. My husband has always lived in New York, he’s a born and bred New Yorker, but I have lived in different places, as I said: in Pittsburgh, in Virginia—I was music director of the [Roanoke] symphony and the opera there. And so when I left those jobs and came back to New York, I wanted to reconnect with my friends here, with the musical community. A friend of mine said, “Why don’t you do a concert at Greenwich House; they have a composer portrait series, and I think they would be interested in doing a portrait of you.” So that’s what I did, and I invited all my friends to perform on it. I had a bunch of chamber music I had written, and I wrote a few more pieces. And that was a very successful concert. The people at Greenwich House said, well, what do you think about starting a series? It would not only be your music, it would be other composers, and we would have a three-concert series every year. And that was how it got started.

It was originally called “Close Encounters,” because Greenwich House is a very intimate space—it’s a wonderful space, but it’s like being in a large living room with wonderful acoustics. And then I got a Cease and Desist letter—not from who you would think, but another music group that was called “Close Encounters with Music.” Cease and desist means “you cannot use this name ever again or we will pursue you and your relatives!” [laughs] So I decided I needed to change the name. And after a search,”Cutting Edge Concerts” appeared. You know, titles are very mysterious: sometimes they just drop in, and sometimes you search and search and search and can’t find the right one. This was a happy drop-in. The series became Cutting Edge Concerts, and it moved from Greenwich House to Symphony Space, a larger space with a little bit more professional ambiance and more of a destination for contemporary music.

We started in 1998. The Boulez connection is because when Boulez was music director of the New York Philharmonic, he also did concerts at Juilliard, which is where I met him and became his assistant for the Juilliard concerts, and of course attended all of his contemporary music concerts. He was – in addition to being a great general musician, composer, conductor, etcetera – also a great teacher. And these Perspective Encounters that he did in New York at Cooper Union, and Rug Concerts [at Avery Fisher Hall], were so intelligently put together. He would not just put the composer up and let him say a couple of words, because not all composers are particularly articulate about their own music. Boulez was extremely articulate, and also able to zero in on one or two salient points about the piece which he was able to extract from each composer, even the most recalcitrant composers, he was able to get them to talk about that particular detail.

Because for an audience, encountering a new piece of music is a whole world unto itself. Where [do] you begin, particularly if you only hear it once and if you’re not familiar with that composer’s language? And very often what he would do would be talk to the composer, play the piece, and play the piece again after intermission, which was also very intelligent. So after the initial first impression of the piece, you had a chance to listen deeper. And it was very, very meaningful. It had this wonderful kind of conversational, casual ambiance, but the performance of the music was at a very high, not at all casual level. So it had that wonderful complete picture of inviting you into his musical living room and yet giving you a performance that was of the highest caliber. I said, hmm, that’s what I want to be when I grow up [laughs].

So when this series presented itself I wanted to structure it the way he had, with the conversation with the composers, focusing on a couple of important moments for the audience to listen to. It wasn’t so much of a didactic as an introductory entree into the composer’s mind.

Do you also repeat a new work?

I haven’t, just in the nature of time. I don’t like to have concerts that last more than 70, 80 [minutes] at the max. With the length of the piece, and conversation beforehand – which should not be lengthy, but still adds time – and I like to have usually about four pieces per concert. So it has not allowed at this point for doing it twice. But something to think about in the future.

It’s something I regret in most new music concerts, that you don’t get a second chance at a new work.

Yes, indeed.

How do you find your composers?

My ear is always to the ground. I know it may seem strange, because I’m sitting up right now [laughs], but I have so many friends in this profession, and I’m always listening to new composers, to composers that I know, their new works… I have a lot of repeat offenders, as it were, because I know them, I like their music a lot. I also have evolved into working with existing new music ensembles. That was something that evolved over the years of the series, where first I would choose the composer, and then put together musicians. Which was extremely difficult because musicians in New York, if they’re good, are busy. And to schedule rehearsals between three or four busy musicians who don’t play together all the time is a nightmare. So I decided, best to work with new music groups who already know each other and play together, and they help shape the repertory. Because I always refer to what pieces they have in their repertory or they’re interested in adding to their repertory. I make suggestions, and they make suggestions, and it becomes a collaborative effort to put together a program.

It’s almost participatory curation.

Yes, indeed! I feel it’s very valuable for players to let me know what they like to play. That’s extremely important.

Victoria Bond interviews composer Zosha Di Castri
during Cutting Edge Concerts 2017
Photograph: YouTube

Diversity in programming has become a hot topic. Has that become part of your considerations?

Yes, very much. And I’ve been criticized for it, strangely enough. I’ve heard criticism: “Well, this is ‘Cutting Edge Concerts’ and this piece is very kind of old fashioned, even though it’s by a living composer.” The only prerequisite of music on my series is that the composer be alive. I’ve even broken that not-hard-and-fast rule when we did a concert of Jacob Druckman and his influence on younger composers, and we performed some of his works, and he was no longer alive at that time. But by and large, and within the past five or six years, it’s only been living composers.

I don’t try and dictate the style that I accept. We’ve had everything from Philip Glass to very conservative, to electronics—Judith Shatin had a piece called Penelope’s Loom for electronics and viola. We’ve had the stage filled with equipment. And we’ve had some very conservative pieces. I think it’s a very rich time musically in which we live. I do remember a time when there was a strict canon of 12-tone music, and should you veer from that, you were not considered a composer at all.

When do you think that faded away?

I think minimalism had a lot to do with it…From the very intellectually rigorous restrictions of 12-tone there was minimalism, which was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. It sort of opened up everything in between [laughs]. So I think that we’re a lot more inclusive now, and we have a larger palette, which I’m very happy about. I do love tonal music, and there’s a lot of great tonal music that’s being written today. And why not? I know that Schoenberg said that tonality was dead, but somehow it’s sprung up again—just like spring! [laughs]

Another aspect of diversity, of course, is the gender and ethnicity of the composers. Is that at all part of your…

Well, we have a wide net. As a woman, the gender issue is never a problem. We’ve certainly had a very large number of women composers. Ethnicity is never a barrier; I always find it fascinating to include composers of different nationalities who include their own backgrounds and enrich our repertory. Of course we’ve had a lot of Asian composers – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Southeast Asian – North African, Swedish…you name it, we’ve had them as part of Cutting Edge Concerts.

What’s your perception of your audiences?

The audiences? I have a core of loyal followers and sponsors, to whom I’m very grateful. And then we add. One of the ways we add audiences is by the groups we have, the new music ensembles. Because they bring their own following and their fan base to the concerts, which is great! So opening it up to new groups and of course to new composers—because now with social media, it’s very easy for the groups and the composers to contact their fan base and let them know about the concerts. So every year there’s a whole new crop of people who come to the concerts as a result of the ensembles and the composers.

Tell me about a piece, or several pieces, on the upcoming series that you’re particularly proud of.

All of them! But I’ll start with the first concert, because that’s Eric Salzman’s Big Jim and the Small-Time Investors, a piece that was written before Madoff, but very, very related, because it’s about a charming, charismatic con man who gets investors to plunk down their life savings. It ends up that this is all just a big Ponzi scheme and they lose everything. It’s done in a very abstract way—it’s not cinematic at all. I would say that Eric’s forebears are more related to Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill and music theater than they are to Verdi and Puccini.

We had rehearsal here yesterday, and the singers were saying, “This is a very quirky work.” That’s used as a compliment, because Eric had a real style, a real music profile. We’re so sorry that he’s not going to be with us for these performances… [Salzman passed away last November] We were supposed to do this work two years ago, but the funding was not available at that time. When it was planned for this year, he was so excited, and I met with him many times—he had a home in Quogue, and the director and the producer and myself met with him out there and talked about the work. This was his last opera, and it had never been staged—it had been in a concert reading, but this is the first staged performance, and he was very excited. As you know, opera is many moving parts, and it’s a big deal. It’s not something that you put together in three or four rehearsals. We’re rehearsing all of this week, all of next week, and there’s a lot of people involved. So that’s on the first program.

On the second program, we’re working with Sybarite5, an extraordinary string quintet. Two of the pieces are going to be for shakuhachi and string quintet: one of them by Paul Moravec, a shakuhachi concerto, and the other by James Nyoraku Schlefer, a Grand Master of the shakuhachi. This will be a new piece that he’s written for them, for shakuhachi and string quintet. And I have written a piece just for the string quintet itself, called The Voice of Water.This will be the premiere, and I’ve written it specifically for them.

Then on the third concert we have Hub New Music, which is a quartet. I’ve written a piece for them, an arrangement of a piece called Bridges, originally written for a [clarinetist] in the Chicago Symphony, John Bruce Yeh, of Chinese descent. He had a group called Bird in Phoenix, and he wanted a piece for Western instruments and Chinese instruments. I wrote it for clarinet, bass clarinet, erhu, and pipa. He performed it many times, and it was subsequently orchestrated and done by a couple of different orchestras. I also made a trio version for violin, clarinet, and piano.

Then, when Michael Avitabile, the head of Hub New Music, heard it and liked it, he said, ooh, can you make an arrangement for us? So it’s been arranged yet again: flute, clarinet, violin, and cello. I really enjoy doing that. I love to make different arrangements of existing works of mine—I find it very interesting to think of how things can be reimagined sonically with different combinations of instruments. Inspiration for that is Bach, who of course [laughs] took so many of his works and made them into works that you would think, oh, that’s so idiomatic for the instrument, how could it have been anything else?

Well that poses the question, do you as a composer begin with a theme, a melody, a harmony, or a sonority…?

You know, it comes in differently at different times. If I could predict it, maybe it would take the mystery out of it.

It would take the fun out?

Maybe so. You see, my parents as performers, they could not necessarily understand: “You know, if you don’t know what you’re going to do before you do it, why do it?” But for me, it’s the adventure, it’s the journey. The way a piece comes in is always a big mystery. Sometimes it’s the thematic idea, sometimes it’s a rhythm, sometimes it’s a literary subject. It’s different daily. I put the time aside, and I think I have enough craft that I can make things work. But that’s not the point. It’s the ideas that come in, and making those work. And knowing the difference between an idea that’s just sort of put together and an idea that has sprung up naturally. There is a big difference and I think we all can tell…we know when something is, “Oh! That’s so inevitable! It couldn’t be any other way!” And you just are grateful when those things happen. They don’t happen all the time, and yes, you can cobble something together that will work, if we have to. But it’s wonderful when something is real and then you follow the material itself, and the material tells you where it needs to go. So I can’t say it’s ever one way. Things will always make sense; there’s always going to be a certain logic. But as to whether it’s inspired or something that works…

Oh, and I forgot the last concert, because we have four concerts this year, every Monday in April. The last one is the group Cygnus, which is plucked instruments, and they add woodwind players and singers. This is the third or fourth time I’ve worked with them, and they’re a wonderful ensemble.

Tell me about some of the musical highlights over the years of the series.

We’ve included opera, by the way, as part of what we’ve done from the very beginning. We did a preview performance of my opera Mrs. President, before it was performed in concert with the Anchorage Opera. We did scenes from William Bolcolm’s McTeague. We did a work of Robert Sirota [The Clever Mistress], we did a work of Ted Wiprud [My Last Duchess]. As I mentioned, we did Eric Salzman’s The Last True Words of Dutch Schultz. We did a workshop of my opera Clara, which is going to be done in 2019 in Baden-Baden, Germany, the premiere. So opera has always been a part of the series, a very important part.

I wrote the majority of the Clara Schumann opera at Brahms’s house, in Baden-Baden, with a wonderful picture of Brahms looking down, and a Bechstein piano—which was not his, but another wonderful Bechstein like the one he had in his home. This was not his home: they were rented rooms. Clara Schumann had a home in Baden-Baden, and she would come there every summer, and for several summers Brahms came there just to be with her and the family, and rented rooms in this particular site, which is now a museum, with one or two guest artists every month. And so I’ve been there quite a number of times, and I wrote all of the Clara Schumann opera there, with my librettist Barbara Zinn Krieger. The place holds fabulous memories and real inspiration.

I have to tell you a story: I’m in Baden-Baden, the first time that I’m there, a little bit jet lagged, had trouble sleeping, woke up at 5 in the morning with a voice in my head—and I should preface this by saying that I was planning to write a piece based on a theme of Brahms based on the first string sextet, the andante movement. I had worked out the basic plan, the form and all of that, and I was going to end with the theme, a la Sibelius, have all the disparate pieces come together and end with the theme. And I had also read about Brahms’s daily habits, that he got up early in the morning, took a walk, had his coffee. So I’m there for the first night, jet lagged…bang! Five o’clock in the morning I hear a voice in my head that says, “Don’t reinvent the wheel, start with my theme.” And I look around – any ghosts here? No, no ghosts – what was that? And I try and fall asleep. Can’t fall asleep. So, I get up, and start with his theme. Then, lo and behold, things start to come in.

A couple of days later, a woman from the Badische Tageblatt comes to interview me. “So, how do you like staying at Brahms’s house? Tell us your impressions.” So I thought, why not? So I tell her the whole story and she’s writing down, and she looks up at me and she says, “You mean, Brahms spoke to you in English?” [laughs] It’s like, “Of course his spirit is here, doesn’t everybody know that?”

Will you again be interviewing the composers during these concerts?

Always — that’s an integral part of everything I do. No, I think that’s important for the audience to see the living presence of the composer and to just hear — I chat, I don’t necessarily have a list of things that I ask about, but I’m always there in rehearsal so I know the pieces beforehand, and things that strike me as important (and of course I discuss it with them beforehand—“is this an important moment, what would you say?”). Then it’s just casual conversation, with the parameter of what to listen for in his or her work.

The 21st season of Cutting Edge Concerts opens on April 9 at 7:30pm at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia, Symphony Space, and runs on consecutive Mondays through April 30; cuttingedgeconcerts.org

Susan Brodie has written for print and online outlets including American Record Guide, Classical Voice North America, Early Music America, and Opera News. When not on deadline she can often be found planning a trip to see unusual opera productions.

Fanfare Magazine interviews Victoria Bond

Fanfare Magazine interviews Victoria Bond

A Bond with Music: An Interview with Victoria Bond and Myles Lee.

Fanfare Magazine reviews "Soul of a Nation"

Fanfare Magazine reviews "Soul of a Nation"

This CD is outstanding in every parameter, and I believe the great majority of Fanfare’s readership would find this disc a worthwhile, and even essential acquisition.

Joel Flegler reviews "Soul of a Nation"

Joel Flegler reviews "Soul of a Nation"

Remarkable Depth and Versatility.

TransCentury Communications reviews "Soul of a Nation"

TransCentury Communications reviews "Soul of a Nation"

The four presidential-focused concertos by Victoria Bond (born 1945) on a new Albany Records CD quite clearly have Copland’s Lincoln Portrait as a model – Bond herself says so – but they also, and rather more interestingly, adapt Charles Ives’ approach of including familiar, even homespun music within the newly composed material.

Victoria Bond releases new CD on Albany Records

Victoria Bond releases new CD on Albany Records

Soul of a Nation: Portraits of Presidential Character

National Sawdust Log - Victoria Bond: Conducting a Life at the Cutting Edge

 	 National Sawdust Log - Victoria Bond: Conducting a Life at the Cutting Edge

In a long and multi-faced career as composer, conductor, and concert presenter, Victoria Bond has created a legacy not only of her own compositions, but also of works by other composers via her annual new music showcase, Cutting Edge Concerts. The 21st season opens on April 9 at Symphony Space with the world premiere staging of Eric Salzman’s opera Big Jim and the Small-Time Investors. Each of the four programs, on consecutive Monday evenings in April, features a different performing ensemble, and includes at least one world premiere.

Victoria Bond featured on WQXR for International Women's Day

Victoria Bond featured on WQXR for International Women's Day

In celebration of International Women's Day, WQXR asked 11 composers (Julia Adolphe, Victoria Bond, Valerie Coleman, Jennifer Higdon, Hannah Kendall, Missy Mazzoli, Thea Musgrave, Roxanna Panufnik, Kaija Saariaho,Caroline Shaw, and Julia Wolfe) to tell them about the single most influential woman in their professional lives. Here, in their own words, are touching tributes to teachers, mothers and other composers who have championed and inspired them every step of the way.

Victoria Bond's CUTTING EDGE CONCERTS New Music Festival 21st Season

Victoria Bond's CUTTING EDGE CONCERTS New Music Festival 21st Season

The 2018 Festival features acclaimed ensembles Sybarite5, Cygnus Ensemble, HubNew Music, and the world premiere of an opera by Eric Salzman.

Chicago on the Aisle reviews “The Miracle of Light” by Victoria Bond

Chicago on the Aisle reviews “The Miracle of Light” by Victoria Bond

A joyful musical double bill by Chamber Opera Chicago was on view at the Royal George Theatre on Dec. 19 for the conclusion of a two-performance run.

Victoria Bond's "The Miracle of Light" at Chamber Opera Chicago

Victoria Bond's "The Miracle of Light" at Chamber Opera Chicago

Chamber Opera Chicago presents "Amahl" and Victoria Bond's "The Miracle of Light"

Victoria Bond discusses "Mrs. President" with Mona Seghatoleslami of WXXI-FM

Victoria Bond discusses "Mrs. President" with Mona Seghatoleslami of WXXI-FM

In 1872, women didn’t have the right to vote in America, but that didn’t stop one from running for president: Victoria Woodhull.

Rochester City Newspaper previews "Mrs. President"

Rochester City Newspaper previews "Mrs. President"

Woodhull's story has sociopolitical relevance today, both here in Rochester as the home of Susan B. Anthony and to our nation as a whole, which has yet to elect a woman to the highest office in the land, more than 140 years after Woodhull's run.

Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter welcomes "Mrs. President" to Rochester

Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter welcomes "Mrs. President" to Rochester

“I am so pleased to welcome composer and conductor Victoria Bond to Rochester’s historic Lyric Theatre to celebrate the centennial anniversary of women’s right to vote in New York State."