Victoria Bond is a paradox a woman succeeding in a man's world.
The realm of music-directing and conducting symphony orchestras is one of the last bastions to yield to gender integration; but when it does, women like Bond will bring the change about.Petite of figure and piquant of face, she moves with birdlike delicacy - a far cry from the militant feminist of yore. ("Most conductors are small," she pointed out. "Look at Ozawa, Ormandy, Mehta.") She follows your conversation with genuine interest, and makes quick, insightful replies.
In town recently to conduct "The Messiah" for the Utah Oratorio Society, Bond perched on the edge of the sofa or flitted about her comfortable hotel room at Little America, preparing for rehearsal as she discussed how life is "out there."
Apparently it's not a jungle for this over-achiever who handles the many facets of her career - composer, music director, conductor, member of the music panel of the New York Council for the Arts, writer - with apparent calm and grace.
Having always been successful, this outgoing and charming young woman sees no reason to maximize the differences between men and women, or contribute to battles of the sexes.
"The minds, the intellects of men and women are no different," she declared. "The differences lie in individual personalities. It was unusual for a woman to conduct, say, 10 years ago, but now it's not, especially. Once they dispose of the differences, which are usually personality clashes, men and women conductors can unite on their real, common goals - getting audiences into the hall, educating children, moving people musically into the 20th century.
"I concentrate on the problems of today, not tomorrow or yesterday, and think about what I want to accomplish, not what's in my way. If you get sidetracked onto the obstacles and hurdles, you stumble. I prefer to concentrate on what's working, not on what isn't."
What's working for Bond right now is a mixed bag of projects, the foremost being her music directorship of the Roanoke Symphony in Virginia, where she's also principal conductor. She's one of only a handful of women holding such posts in America, and she feels good about her progress as she moves through her third season there.
"Our budget has quadrupled since I came," she said with justifiable pride. "We have an orchestra of 60 to 125, depending on the works we play. Our season is a little unusual, because our patrons can't get down from the mountains too readily during winter. So from September to December we have a concert almost every other week, and again from March to May. That way things are quiet during the dead of winter, when I can concentrate on my composing and guest conducting."
Bond got her position the hard way, applying along with about 200 others, then auditioning. "Because so few women hold considerable posts, networking - getting a hand from others who can help you with recommendations and support - is not occurring significantly among women conductors yet," she said with good-humored candor.
"But I've had my share of help, and it does no good to be militant. I believe in cooperation in all things, and I always work cooperatively and try to be sensitive to what the musical community around me wants."
Always musically multitalented, Bond's first aspiration was to become a singer. "As a teenager, I went to Aspen, Colo., to study composition and voice with Maria Stader and Jennie Tourel," she said. "It was there that Frederick Zlotkin (brother of Leonard Slatkin) encouraged me to try conducting.
"I liked it so well that I auditioned to study conducting at Juilliard, where I worked with Jean Morel and Sixten Ehrling. During my final year, I had the great fortune to study a few weeks with Herbert Von Karajan, who was so concerned and caring." Ingolf Dahl and Roger Sessions were major composition teachers.
Many lines of music have been natural for Victoria Bond, who comes from talented stock. "It was inevitable that I would be a musician," she said.
"My father, Philip Bond, is a practicing physician, but he also sang bass roles with the New York City Opera as his medical career permitted," she said. "My mother, Jane Courtland, was a child prodigy pianist, one of the youngest students ever at Juilliard.
"She won the Liszt Competition in Budapest, then stayed abroad to study and perform. She had her own radio program in New York for a time before she married. My grandfather, Samuel Epstein, was a composer and conductor. He met my grandmother when she was singing in a choir he conducted."
An only child, Bond was something of a prodigy herself. "I could play piano long before I had formal training," she said. "When I began kindergarten, the teacher called my mother in to tell her how unjust it was to make a little child practice piano so hard! My mother was amused, since I had never had a lesson and she had tried to hold me back."
Bond attended the Rudolph Steiner School, then the Mannes School of Music. "I remember once when I was 9 or 10, I and my mother played four-hand piano to accompany my father in a recital," she said.
In her budding career as a vocalist, Bond did some recording, notably as the soprano on Harry Partch's "Delusion of the Fury."
She has already fulfilled a number of composing commissions. Right now she's working on an opera, "Gulliver's Travels" ("a very serious work"), for Stage One in Louisville, a place she likes to work. She's composed for the Pennsylvania Ballet and for Jacob's Pillow dance festival; for the American Ballet Theatre she arranged the music for "Great Galloping Gottschalk."
Bond is married to New York trial attorney Stephan Peskin, whom she met quite romantically. "I was going home from Juilliard, through Columbus Circle, a little nervous about the drunks and derelicts," she recalled. "I saw a couple of New York mounted policemen, and I happened to have a carrot with me. I asked one of them if I could give the carrot to his horse. He said yes if I would give him my phone number.
"I did, he called and we went out together, though I wondered what on earth we would talk about. It turned out he worked only every couple of weeks as an auxiliary mountie. What an ivory tower I was living in! Trying to impress me, he mentioned that he was working on the Watergate case. I asked him, what's Watergate?"
As a conductor, Bond's ambition is to be music director of a major orchestra, of the big 10 type. She'd also like to work more in Europe, because there's more work there, hence more chances to improve.
As a composer, she has many projects past and present, and far more ideas than time to execute them. These include several musicals for children, such as "Everyone Is Good for Something" and "The Frog Prince" for Bob McGrath, for performance on Sesame Street, and "What's the Point of Counterpoint," an educational composition.
She's done a lot of chamber music and two full orchestral works. Besides Gulliver, she's working on a piano concerto with jazz influences, and a chamber work for soprano and string quartet, setting Molly Bloom's final monologue from James Joyce's "Ulysses."
Actually, Bond finds being a woman an advantage in many ways. "Women work with a cooperative spirit," she pointed out, "and the days of the tyrannical conductor who stamps and breaks his baton are over. The level of players is so much improved that they don't need discipline. They need someone who can inspire them to do their best, give them the freedom to develop.
"Too often, orchestra players feel they are not the main event at concerts - just cogs, submerged in the drudgery of too many concerts. I try to reawaken the real joy of music-making that has been squeezed out of them - to revive the love, passion, adventure that they felt when they first decided on music as a career. I think that's one reason for my success in Roanoke."