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bond

Haylie Ecker first violin Eos Chater second violin
Tania Davis viola Gay-Yee Westerhoff cello
(and a whole battalion of unnamed backing vocalists, keyboardists, percussionists, and two orchestras etc)

DECCA 467 091-2
[61:27] full-price
 

 


bond

BORN


Quixote Magnus Fiennes
Winter Yoad Nevo & Gil Brown
Victory Tonci Huljic, mix by Magnus Fiennes
Oceanic Magnus Fiennes
Kismet Gay-Yee Westerhoff
Korobushka Trad, arr Brian Gascoigne
Alexander the Great Tonci Huljic
Duel Tonci Huljic
Bella Donna Eos
The 1812 Tchaikovsky, arr Gareth Cousins & Julian Kershaw
Dalalai Tonci Huljic
Hymn Magnus Fiennes
Victory (remix) Tonci Huljic, arr Mike Batt

 
 


 
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Meet bond. Following in the footsteps of present-day pop-oriented artistes comes bond - fashionably spelt in all lower-case, which probably tells you something about their attitude. bond is a quartet of classically-trained Anglo-Australian twentysomething females ("dames bond") who are, among other things, on a self-styled crusade to end the "Proms-style snobbery" surrounding classical music.

No argument from me there. The press kit describes these ladies, with their come-hither killer looks, as "glamorous role models that young people who might be interested in playing classical instruments can identify with". (Wither Hilary Hahn?) But I start to have a sense of disquiet when their 'bondography' goes on to promise that "they will be a breath of complete fresh air - although classical in its instrumental make-up, the quartet will not be constrained by existing genres or traditions. Standard classical procedures go out the window..."

Concocted by Mel Bush, the man who invented Vanessa-Mae's splashy image, bond is the result of an 18-month, £600,000 gestation, including a publicity junket to Cuba and a sell-out concert at Royal Albert Hall. Dickon Stainer, head of Decca UK, said that "what attracted us to them is that they are a unique concept - Vanessa-Mae meets The Spice Girls. They are a variety act, an entertainment act, not the cutting edge of rock or garage." Alarms bells should be gonging away like mad by now.

Fans of Vanessa-Mae's tangy music - and I don't mean the classical recordings here - will take to bond like ducks to water; indeed, so will anyone who likes their music with a Europop beat. Make no mistake: this album contains thirteen tracks, none of which have opus numbers or modal keys. This is not a classical album in any recognizable sense of the word.
 

The bond classical chart saga

On October 15, 2000, shortly after their debut album Born was released, CIN (Chart Information Network) - the organization that tracks and tabulates sales ratings in the UK - expelled bond from the classical charts.

CIN had allowed them in the week previously before a proper audition was made because the review album arrived late. bond were in number two on the classical charts at the point of removal. Upon entering the pop charts, their position fell to thirty-sixth, although subsequently they climbed up ten places.

The bond publicity machine kicked in: "Deemed too raunchy for the classical music charts," drooled the Daily Telegraph. bond cellist Gay-Yee Westerhoff indignantly proclaimed, "We belong in the classical charts, that's where people would expect to find us. The pop charts are diverse; they have everything from U2 to Steps. Why shouldn't classical charts be the same ?"

Added first violinist Haylie Ecker, "We're all classical musicians who have trained for 20 years; we have degrees and won prizes; we play in the classical tradition and we are a string quartet. We have a poetic license to entertain people all around the globe, which is what our album Born does - it is a classical musical mixture of sounds and rhythms from around the world... Six men are dictating to the public. It sucks."

CIN then clarified its position, explaining rather reasonably that, "The music should be composed by a recognized classical composer and be in a classical idiom or form. But their music is not by a recognized classical composer, and the dance beats mean it is not really a classical idiom." The motion to throw bond out was carried by six to one. Neither bond nor their producers, at any point, produced a reasonable explanation as to how Born could possibly qualify as classical under these guidelines.

Other orthodox classical institutions followed suit. Not all expressed their decisions as vehemently as critic Michael White ("worthless trash"), but even Radio 3 politely declined, saying, "We will be delighted to play bond's music if it matches the quality of performance we demand."

Apart from sparking off yet another round of what constitutes classical music - which in the modern-day context has included music from soundtracks, musicals, quasi-pop crossovers and even new age - the greater irony here is that bond comes on the Decca label. The classical faithful will know Decca for their illuminating Entartete Musik series, but this latest offering is somewhat degenerate... albeit in a vastly different sense.

Most of the pieces have been written by Magnus Fiennes (better known for his recent soundtrack on Eugene Onegin) and the prolific Croatian, Tonci Huljic. Two of the girls, Gay-Yee Westerhoff and Eos, contribute one track each, ostensibly to display their multifaceted musical skills. Add to this a reworking of Tchaikovsky's 1812 and another track (Oceania) fecklessly plagiarised from Saint-Saëns's Aquarium from Carnival of the Animals. Another giveaway is the last piece: a souped-up remix of the nattily-named flagship track Victory. That, and the fact that bond uses a mix of both electric and standard instruments in their playing.

Victory is actually quite a catchy pop tune (loosely based on the first five notes of Rossini's Barber of Seville Overture) and the accentuated final-track remix makes for a very punchy dance number. Korobushka, here performed "unplugged", hints at a quasi-classical gypsy rhythm; Duel contains some nice instrumental interplay - which is, unfortunately, watered down under all the sugary mix of synths and pop beats.

Less could be said of the other tracks, though. Bella Donna and Dalalai might charitably still pass as souped-up versions of a (non-existent) classical idiom, but Winter and Kismet are insipid confections of artificial flavouring. The worst of the lot is, ironically, the only track which is even remotely connected to orthodox classicism: a reworking of Tchaikovsky's 1812.

The Russian maestro himself had conceded in his letters to his benefactress Mlle. von Meck that 1812 was a pastiche and had "only slight artistic value" - but the treatment it receives here is undescribable beyond words. Well, try imagining the climatic cannonade theme, played on string quartet, with an ooom-pah ooom-pah 2/4 rock beat, and overlay the entire eudaemonism with electronic chords. Absolutely hair-raising.

The local release of the album includes a bonus twenty-minute VCD containing four extra tracks: self-intros by the girls and publicity footage from the Cuban trip, two items from the Royal Albert Hall concert (Quixote and Korobushka) and the Victory music video. Great stuff, if you're a bond fan (or plan to be one).

Predictably, the MTV (an unintended pun if there ever was one) contains slicked-up quick-cut shots of the girls playing in a variety of settings and poses, including the ubiquitous standing-in-the-water-in-a-bikini: sex and violins. The footage is interposed with cinematic visuals of third-world country kids peeking shyly around doors, tracking shots of the girls trekking through Havana and hordes of slickly-choreographed background dancers.

What is strange is that given that the producers have aimed this release at the classical market, when scarcely any of the music here is even passably recognizable as such. While publicity materials have continually trumpeted that the girls are all classically-trained (and of whom two avowedly have first-class music degrees), the fact remains that bond is a manufactured pop-market product from tip to toe. This album doesn't have a track that doesn't have a pop beat or synth in it.

The sleeve jacket describes their respective positions (e.g. first violin) as "bond skills", and includes other interest-generating snippets like "superhero" (Eos: Velvet Underground), "bond talk" (Gay-Lee: "...I'd really like to learn the martial arts of the Shaolin monks") and "bond trivia" (Haylie: Loves surfing). The usual razzmatazz one might associate with boybands.

Laudable as their aims to end classical snobbery may be, the polemic here is that such an attempt - if it can be called that - to introduce newcomers to classical music is counterproductive and tends to increase the nose-peering and condescension from those who know what it really means to appreciate good music on its own terms. But, who knows, maybe bond will perform Schubert, Beethoven, Haydn or Bartok one day, and their waves of fans will follow en masse ? We shall see, but I don't think that's likely somehow.

BENJAMIN CHEE does not like his music shaken or stirred.

Also of interest:
VANESSA-MAE - The Classical Album 1 (EMI)  KENNEDY plays the Elgar Violin Concerto. (EMI)

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Reader's Comments

 


From: Whatever4 (jasonmward@ntlworld.com / Sunday, March 20, 2005 at 18:00:21)

I find this review a little harsh. I'm listening to bond-born for the first time upon the recomendation of a friend for the first time as we speak. I'm afraid I'd be declared one of the uneducated masses in as much as I'm the same with classical as I am with art and this can be summed up in that typical line, "I don't know wot it is, but I know wot I loyke!" I listen to some classical, as I listen to some punk, some pop, some rock and so on. The trouble is, because classical is not marketed to the masses, there is no easy route of expansion. It isn't sub catogorised. A person may like Pachelbel's Canon, but not everything he ever did. Divide it by a genre, (granted difficult), even in such basic terms such as fast, slow, happy, sad, and Joe public may start to seek out new composers of that type of classical music. Getting back to bond. I find I don't like the entire album. Some of the music doesn't lend itself well to this kind of makeover, but! I find I like the peices and it encourages me to find them in their clean state, therefore expanding my knowledge of classical, hence mission accomplished, score one to bond! As a medium to connect this genre of music to the masses this works. Dance is the thing, eurobeats marry this to the hoards, interest grows, as does inclination to develop that sound and who knows we may get some good modern composers out of it. To finish though, I have to say...girls, if you ever read this, please remember, less is more! A little to overdone and busy.

From: ( / Tuesday, April 12, 2005 at 09:12:28)

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From: Whatever4 (jasonmward@ntlworld.com / Sunday, March 20, 2005 at 18:00:21)

I find this review a little harsh. I'm listening to bond-born for the first time upon the recomendation of a friend for the first time as we speak. I'm afraid I'd be declared one of the uneducated masses in as much as I'm the same with classical as I am with art and this can be summed up in that typical line, "I don't know wot it is, but I know wot I loyke!" I listen to some classical, as I listen to some punk, some pop, some rock and so on. The trouble is, because classical is not marketed to the masses, there is no easy route of expansion. It isn't sub catogorised. A person may like Pachelbel's Canon, but not everything he ever did. Divide it by a genre, (granted difficult), even in such basic terms such as fast, slow, happy, sad, and Joe public may start to seek out new composers of that type of classical music. Getting back to bond. I find I don't like the entire album. Some of the music doesn't lend itself well to this kind of makeover, but! I find I like the peices and it encourages me to find them in their clean state, therefore expanding my knowledge of classical, hence mission accomplished, score one to bond! As a medium to connect this genre of music to the masses this works. Dance is the thing, eurobeats marry this to the hoards, interest grows, as does inclination to develop that sound and who knows we may get some good modern composers out of it. To finish though, I have to say...girls, if you ever read this, please remember, less is more! A little to overdone and busy.

From: ( / Tuesday, April 12, 2005 at 09:12:28)