Victoria Bond has been on a pedestal—or rather a podium—for the past two years. Barely 30, she is the assistant conductor under André Previn of the Pittsburgh Symphony, one of the best in the land. She won the post in rigorous competition against 30 applicants (all but one of them male), having proven herself in command of standard classical repertoire and popular scores. She even passed an ear test for detecting wrong notes in chamber works. Becoming the first female second baton with a major U.S. symphony did not exactly diminuendo Bond’s confidence. When asked her chances of becoming the first of her sex to take over a leading orchestra, the redhead waved her coffee spoon as imperiously as Toscanini and replied, “I expect to be the one.”
Yet come August 31, Bond will be without a regular job. “It seemed better that she move on,” says Marshall Turkin, the Pittsburgh’s managing director. “There are no ill feelings.” Orchestra members, however, are more forthright. “She probably deserved everything she got,” said one cellist, adding, “She sometimes let us get out of control, and if we had played what she conducted she would have been fired right there.” Another player pointed to Bond’s occasional haughtiness and suggested that her stage presence and good looks “have gotten her too much too soon.”
Bond openly confesses her zeal, especially as it helped carry her through the stodgy and male-dominated ranks of classical music. Many female conductors—including Boston’s Sarah Caldwell—were schooled to lead operatic or choral groups. “I was trained as a symphony conductor from the ground up,” stresses Bond.
The daughter of a radiologist father (who also was a professional singer good enough to appear with the New York City Opera) and concert pianist Jane Courtland, Victoria debuted at 7 in the chorus of a production of Carmen. In high school, after the family had moved to L.A., Bond recorded with a rock group, Joe Byrd and the Metaphysical Circus. Later, at USC, she enrolled in the voice and composition program. It was as an 18-year-old summer student at the celebrated Aspen Music Festival that she took her first conducting course with Leonard Slat-kin, who now leads the St. Louis Symphony. “I felt a bubble released inside of me,” she recalls.
Yet instead of encouragement, Bond felt patronized. Back at USC she was considered “the nice little girl who wants to be a conductor when she grows up.” The fact that she was shorter than a bass fiddle—5’2″ tall—just added to her problems.
She went on to study conducting at Juilliard with such masters as Herbert von Karajan. Greater opportunities for composing led her back to Hollywood, where she wrote scores for television—including a Jacques Cousteau special. In time came guest-conducting invitations from orchestras in Houston, Buffalo, Aspen and Pittsburgh. As her itinerary grew, so did Bond’s conviction that concert music should be brought out of the “museum environment” of the concert hall. “If that means TV and histrionics at the podium, and even popcorn,” she declares, “that’s fine with me as long as I don’t sacrifice anything in the score.”
Her freewheeling attitude conceivably cost her the Pittsburgh job. Marie Maazel, conductor Lorin’s mother and managing director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony that Victoria has regularly led, says, “Her natural gifts are high, but perhaps some men feel this isn’t a job for women. Arrogance goes with the stick. It has to.”
After she leaves Pittsburgh, Bond will be composing and guest conducting. She has bookings with the Anchorage, Hudson Valley (Pough-keepsie, N.Y.) and Eugene (Oreg.) orchestras and is mildly hopeful one of them will hire her as a principal conductor. Certainly she will be spending more time with her husband, Stephan Peskin, 37, a Manhattan trial lawyer, in their new Greenwich Village co-op. The couple met in 1972 while Stephan was serving with the mounted police auxiliary in Central Park. Walking home from Juilliard one night, she offered his horse a carrot, and he got her name and later called for a date. “Since Roy Rogers,” she cracks, “I’ve always found something magical about a man on a horse.” Though Victoria now complains that “we’ve been meeting too much in airports,” she faces challenges that preclude domesticity. “More now than ever,” Bond asserts, “I’ve got to go back and change a few minds.”