Talking with composers: Victoria Bond Photo: Anna Abolgina.

Talking with composers: Victoria Bond

Jenna Simeonov

200 years after the birth of Clara Schumann - pianist, composer, and famed wife of Robert Schumann - composer Victoria Bond’s biographical opera, Clara, sees its full North American premiere. Bond’s operatic telling of the story of Clara and Robert is onstage for two NY-based performances: November 8 at Symphony Space in New York City, and November 10 with the Rhinebeck Chamber Music Society in Rhinebeck, NY.

We spoke with Bond about what she finds so operatic about Clara and Robert’s story, and the surprising realities of life as a composer.

What about the story of Clara and Robert Schumann appealed to you? What makes the story operatic?

The story of Clara and Robert is a fascinating love story because it is so timeless and because they communicated their innermost feelings for each other in music. I quote fragments of music from Clara, Robert and Johannes Brahms, and have woven my own original music around their melodies, rhythms and harmonies.

It is a passionate story, as Clara’s father did everything in his power to prevent their marriage and the couple had to defy him in order to marry. It is also a tragic story, as Robert’s mental breakdown impacted their lives. It is ultimately a story about music itself, and its power to transform.

What do you find most exciting, and most nerve-wracking, about hearing your work premiered?

The premiere in Germany was particularly exciting because the cast had rehearsed for six weeks and performed the opera eleven times! This is unheard of for most composers, particularly American composers. We are generally lucky if we get two weeks of rehearsal and two or three performances.

As a conductor myself, I was so impressed with the skill and dedication of the cast and instrumentalists, particularly Berlin Philharmonic musician Michael Hasel who conducted the performances. I knew I was in good hands under his direction!

A scene from the premiere production of Clara in Baden-Baden, at the 2019 Osterfestpiele. Photo: Jochen Klenk.

How do you write music when you’re not feeling particularly inspired (yet)?

I try to write every day and set aside each morning. Inspiration is elusive, but hard work is constant. The best ideas often come at the least expected times, and I want to be able to act on them when they happen, so I am always ready. Besides, there are so many tasks that need to be done which require only hard work and patience. Stephen Sondheim said it so well in his song “Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George.

How do you think the perception of being a working composer compares to the reality of the job?

I am quite certain that most people have no idea of what goes into composing. It is generally not accurately portrayed in film, and so much of it is not at all exciting to watch. However, discovering a new idea, a turn of phrase, an unexpected harmony – these are the precious moments a composer lives for!

A scene from the premiere production of Clara in Baden-Baden, at the 2019 Osterfestpiele. Photo: Jochen Klenk.

Do you have a song/album/artist that you’d consider a guilty pleasure?

I am a musical omnivore and do not at all feel guilty about it. I sang lead on a rock album, (The American Metaphysical Circus), performed and recorded the principal role in Harry Partch’s opera Delusion of the Fury and performed a lot of strange and unusual works, both as singer and conductor.

Out of your body of work, what are you most proud of, to date?

That’s a tough one to answer, as my favorite work is always the one I am writing at the moment. Right now I am in the midst of an opera called The Adventures of Gulliver with librettist Stephen Greco and director Doug Fitch. I am also very proud of my opera Mrs. President and, of course, Clara!

Victoria Bond’s Clara is onstage November 8 in NYC, and November 10 in Rhinebeck, NY.

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