Viola profile: Fiona Bonds

Posted on: February 5, 2021 in: Comment & Media>Player profiles

In the first of our Viola Profiles, Principal Viola Fiona Bonds tells us about how she got into playing the viola, what she enjoys about City of London Sinfonia (CLS), and life beyond the Orchestra.

What inspired you to start playing the viola?

I was about 11 and doing okay on the violin, but sound-wise my playing was always more suited to the lower register. My teacher was a viola player and was constantly on the lookout for new recruits – apparently, I had very long arms. At first, I was concerned about missing “playing the tune”, but I got taken to a concert and was mollified when I noticed that the violas were sometimes playing the tune an octave below the violins, so pride was restored! I started trying out playing the viola in our school orchestra and I loved getting to play with all the kids from much older years and being thrown in at the deep end – thinking on my feet, working out the clef. In those days people were always glad to find viola players, so you got the feeling of coming in and saving the day!

I finally made the switch to viola after a conversation with my mum, who, although was not a musician herself, sat on the edge of my bed one night and described what she noticed about the difference in sound – she was using words like “rich” and “warm”, and I remember she was wearing a cosy jumper, and smelt of coffee and chocolate biscuits. Somehow that conversation has always stuck with me, when I think of the qualities I most love about the viola sound.

Tell us about your time at CLS.

I joined CLS in 2011. My appointment was announced at the Prom we did, playing Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. What I love about CLS is the huge variety of ways in which we get to work and explore our creativity, so I couldn’t pick a favourite. I enjoy dressing up in silly costumes and playing to nursery children just as much as the challenge of concerto opportunities. I loved the vibe of the Village Underground concerts and Turn of the Screw at Opera Holland Park was a highlight, despite having to battle the elements!

Fiona Bonds, viola
Fiona Bonds at Village Underground, 2017 (James Berry)

What else to you get up to?

I am Associate Principal with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, which I love like CLS – everyone’s input feels essential since we often play without a conductor. Chamber music is my passion, and I will always turn down anything else to prioritise this. I also play guest principal for lots of different orchestras and do a fair amount of commercial sessions for film and TV. Recently I have enjoyed working with the Matthew Bourne dance company, which I have found fascinating, as there is such a collaborative approach between the musicians and the dancers.

Away from music, I like running, going for long walks with friends, reading and box sets. Having recently moved house, I am currently a bit obsessed with interiors and am attempting some of my own artwork as I can’t afford to buy any at the moment! I have also just signed up for a counselling course.

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