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Members include Eos Chater (born in Cardiff, Wales; Education: Degree from the Royal College of Music, London), second violin; Tania Davis (born c. 1976 in Sydney, Australia; Education: Honors degree in music, Sydney Conservatorium; completed postgraduate program at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, England), viola; Haylie Ecker (born c. 1976 in Perth, Australia; Education: Honors degree in music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama), first violin; Gay-Yee Westerhoff (born in Hull, England; Education: Honors degree in music, Trinity College of Music, London), cello. Addresses: Management--MBO, P.O. Box 363, Bournemouth BH7 6LA, United Kingdom. Website--Bond Official Website: http://www.bond-music.com.
Bond, Britain's first all-women string quartet, courted and received some terrific publicity at their 2000 debut. The attractive group members have been billed as the Spice Girls of classical music because they often appear in revealing attire that includes fishnet stockings and leather corsets. Yet the four women are also conservatory-trained musicians with solid professional credentials. Their debut CD, Born, earned critical approval for its intriguing mix of classical influences and an electrified world-beat sound. First violinist Haylie Ecker confessed to U.S. News & World Report journalist Thomas K. Grose that the hype surrounding their looks is sometimes "a hindrance. People think we can't play."
Bond's members were in their mid- to late twenties at the time of their debut. Ecker is a native of Perth, Australia, who earned an honors degree in music from London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama; she later took a postgraduate degree in advanced solo studies there. Tania Davis, Bond's viola player, is also Australian; she earned an honors degree in music from the Sydney Conservatorium and, like Ecker, completed a Guildhall postgraduate program. Before joining Bond, her professional experience included appearances with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony, and the London Symphony Orchestra. Eos Chater, second violinist, hails from Cardiff, Wales; she earned her degree from the London's Royal College of Music. She already had some pop-music experience, having played with the Cocteau Twins and Mark Knopfler, among others. Cellist Gay-Yee Westerhoff, born and raised in Hull, England, and earned her honors degree in music from the Trinity College of Music in London. Like Chater, she had some nonclassical gigs to her credit, including work with the Spice Girls, Sting, and Primal Scream.
Ecker and Davis had known one another in Australia, and Westerhoff and Chater met while doing session work in London. Westerhoff had also worked with Vanessa Mae, the Thai-Chinese teen violinist who caused a stir with her titillating 1995 debut album cover. Mae was managed by music impresario Mel Bush, who was interested in forming an all-female, classically-inspired group. The Bond women auditioned together, found common ground, and agreed to form a group under Bush's aegis. Signed to Decca Records, they made their debut at London's Royal Albert Hall in September of 2000.
Born, Bond's debut release, hit record stores in the United Kingdom in October of 2000. Some of its tracks were written by film composer Magnus Fiennes, brother of actors Ralph and Joseph. Croatian composer Tonci Huljic wrote a few others, and Westerhoff and Chater each contributed a song as well. The CD climbed quickly to the number two on Britain's classical charts, but then the official Chart Information Network (CIN) committee decided to reclassify it as a pop release. A spokesperson for the committee explained that CIN members had failed to notice that the CD did not meet its criteria when it was first approved (at least half the tracks on a work must be compositions from the classical canon), and Born did not meet that stipulation. When it was shunted off to the British pop charts, the album sank to number 36. Bond's members were stunned. "In a modern world it is disappointing that the classical elite cannot embrace change," Ecker told Guardian reporter Matt Wells. "We are all musicians--nothing changes except with music we have a poetic licence to entertain people around the globe."
Despite the setback, Bond still made history, becoming the first female string quartet ever to appear on British pop charts. Similar success ensued when Born was released in the United States in the spring of 2001. Reviewers commended the unique sound of their electrified string instruments, which spun intriguing melodies drawn from both the classical canon and world music. A New York Post critic commented that the four musicians "make highly produced, eclectic music: part techno, part salsa, part gypsy." Reviewing the album in People, Joseph V. Tirella described one track, "Quixote," as "a mesmerizing combination of Romantic-period melodies set to a house backbeat." The group's first single "Victory," did well on the charts, as did subsequent releases, particularly in Asian markets and in Europe. These sales propelled them into the Guinness World Records book as the best-selling string quartet in history.
Other reviews were less kind, but Bond remained nonplussed. There was some sniping in the press when they were invited to open the Classical BRIT Awards ceremony--the British equivalent of the Grammys--in May of 2001, but as Ecker told Grose in the U.S. News & World Report article, the hullabaloo only added to their allure. "It's hilarious," Ecker said. "The more they react, the more press we get." The group and its label claimed that Bond was simply injecting a bit of verve into a otherwise stuffy classical music scene. Answering that claim, Buffalo News writer Mary Kunz asked readers to "forget the black tie and tails for a moment, and [remember that] the world of classical music has never been all that staid. Racy dancers cavorted in Richard Strauss' 'Salome' and Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring.'" Kunz went on to assert that "what ... Bond ... [is] doing amounts to an embarrassing, desperate attempt to grab at publicity in a time when not only is the spotlight more fleeting than ever before, but the competition for it gets keener every day." Guardian arts correspondent Fiachra Gibbons weighed in on the matter as well: "Selling the girls as sirens may grate with traditionalists but it is a standard part of the promotional push which has been creeping into the classical world for several years now and has worked particularly well for German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter."
By June of 2001, Bond's Born had sold a million copies worldwide, including some 150,000 in the United States. It reached number one on the Billboard classical crossover chart, and the group went on an ambitious world tour of several select markets, doing particularly well in Asia. Still, their attractive looks and revealing stage attire continued to draw some criticism, prompting British baritone Sir Thomas Allen to decry such classical-music marketing trends at a Royal Philharmonic Society awards ceremony in May of 2002. New Statesman writer Lisa Allardice defended Bond as merely a sign of the times, a bid by the classical music industry to attract more listeners. "Since 80 percent of classical CDs are bought by men," Allardice pointed out, "you might think that they should bear some responsibility--but no, the girls get all the blame."
Bond dismissed idea that their success relied upon their looks, pointing out that they were all solidly trained musicians. "Obviously, the visual part is the first point of contact," Westerhoff told the New York Post. "But it's the music that counts. You can't perform live and get by just on looks alone."
by Carol Brennan
Group formed in London, England, c. 2000; signed to Decca Records, August of 2000; made performance debut at London's Royal Albert Hall, September of 2000; released debut LP, Born, in the United Kingdom in October of 2000, and in the U.S. in April of 2001; released Shine, 2002.
- Buffalo News, January 12, 2003, p. E1.
- Guardian (London, England), August 3, 2000; October 16, 2000.
- Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2003, p. E44.
- New Statesman, May 20, 2002, p. 8.
- New York Post, April 14, 2001, p. 17.
- People, April 16, 2001, p. 41.
- Record (Bergen County, NJ), October 25, 2000, p. Y4.
- Time, February-March 2002, p. 10.
- Time Asia, March 18, 2002.
- U.S. News & World Report, May 28, 2001, p. 11.
- Bond Official Website, http://www.bond-music.com (April 14, 2003).
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