Violinist Michi Wiancko and composer Judd Greenstein are opening their farm to the public for a celebration of music.
Antenna Cloud Farm is a 100-acre former dairy farm on a hilltop in Gill, Mass., just a few miles south of the Vermont border, where the married couple lives with their young daughter.
That’s where Wiancko and Greenstein will premiere a music festival and artists’ retreat, beginning in July.
Five internationally-acclaimed resident musicians and groups have been chosen for the initial season, which runs through October 2017. Concerts and other public events will take place every 3-5 weeks throughout the summer and early fall.
Antenna Cloud aims to present world-class public concerts and artistic events to the local community as well as the greater New England region.
“We love Franklin County and the surrounding area, and have found it to be an inspiring place to make art, while deepening our connection to the land through farming, gardening, and conservation activities,” Wiancko said.
‘Beautiful and inspiring’
Wiancko and Greenstein want to provide visiting musicians and artists with “a beautiful and inspiring environment in which to focus on their art and to develop projects.”
“To bring different communities together to share in a special cultural event in a beautiful setting is very much a dream of mine come true,” Wiancko said.
Each artist will be in residence for a week-long retreat leading up to his or her respective concert. The farm will be open two hours before each concert for picnics, strolls around the property, and enjoyment of the wide hilltop views. Light refreshments will be available at intermission and during the post-concert reception that follows each performance.
A Juilliard-trained violinist, Wiancko has a highly acclaimed and wide-ranging career that includes debut concerto performances with the Los Angeles and New York philharmonic orchestras.
She makes regular appearances with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, as well as with Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and the band EL VY, whose work she arranged and performed with the band on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Locally, Wiancko attended the Marlboro Music Festival in southern Vermont for three years and toured several times with Musicians From Marlboro.
“After a successful career in classical music, I got antsy,” Wiancko said. “I loved collaboration and wanted to work more in chamber ensembles. I also longed to explore music outside the classical repertoire.
“So, I did things like forming a band. I have played with YoYo Ma, as well as worked in pop music and with indie groups. Consequently, I have become more versatile at reflecting my broad taste in music.”
Deep musical roots
Wiancko’s husband, Greenstein, has been commissioned by major institutions such as the Minnesota Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, and the Lucerne Festival for his compositions.
Through his work as the co-founder of New Amsterdam Records, as well as his curatorship of the Ecstatic Music Festival in New York and the Apples & Olives Festival in Zurich, Greenstein has been a central figure in the rise of the independent post-genre contemporary music scene in the U.S.
Locally, Greenstein attended Williams College and the Tanglewood Music Center, and has been in residence at Mass MoCA with both Bang on a Can and Roomful of Teeth.
The idea for Wiancko and Greenstein to found Antenna Cloud Farm festival arose from a fortuitous combination of events.
“My husband and I were visiting friends and found that we really liked the area,” Wiancko said. “Frankly, we were becoming overwhelmed with living in New York, and were ready to start a new chapter of our lives. I had spent so much time touring as a freelance artist, going from airport to hotel, that the dream of being grounded seemed quite fulfilling.”
Nonetheless Greenstein and Wiancko wanted to stay connected to a musical community like the one they had in Manhattan. So they developed the idea of opening their farm to musicians for a music festival.
“We had a vision to create a space where we could do what we love and build a community like we had in New York,” explained Wiancko.
Greenstein and Wiancko then began looking for property in the area.
“Soon we found a gorgeous place in Gill which we fell in love with,” said Wiancko. “It had been on the market for a while, and we were eager to make it our home and the site for the music festival.”
But the couple wanted to do things right.
A receptive Selectboard
“We immediately went to the Gill Selectboard to tell them what our project was,” Wiancko said. “I was not sure if they would want a music festival in their backyard. But it turned out that they were open and enthusiastic. Then, and ever since, we have had great vibes from the board.”
Already on their property were a couple of barns which Greenstein and Wiancko plan to renovate into concert space. For this season, however, they are having the concerts in the great room of the main house, which seats about 50 to 60 people.
“We also plan to build single-family cabins to accommodate the musicians in the future,” Wiancko said, “but for now they will be put up in our guest house.”
Although both Wiancko and Greenstein are classically trained musicians, the music at Antenna Cloud Farm won’t be solely focused on classical music. The initial run of concerts this year includes artists from across the musical spectrum, from classical to folk to experimental indie pop to jazz.
“The music we will present will certainly be eclectic,” conceded Wiancko. “You might call it classical music with a twist, and even that wouldn’t be right.
“What we will be offering may begin with classical, but it mixes in so many other genres of music that such a label really does not fit what we will be presenting. We hope to have something to offer that is new and exciting and on par with what you would find in New York City.”
The residencies will provide artists with an opportunity to pursue their own work in a beautiful and distraction-free environment.
“For each of the artist residencies, we’ll pamper and cook for the musicians, so they can use all their time to work on their project,” Wiancko said. “That may mean preparing a public concert, or if they come with one already prepared, to relax and use the atmosphere of farm to intensify their music-making.
“They can do whatever they want, maybe meditate or do yoga. We see the residencies as open-ended.”
Importance of outreach
One thing that Wiancko and Greenstein would like the residencies to include, however, is artists’ taking part in educational outreach and community engagement activities, such as visiting the Franklin County Jail and local educational institutions.
“Another central goal that the Antenna Cloud Farm project has is to give back to our new home town,” Wiancko said. “We want to collaborate with other local musical and arts organizations in the area, perhaps even go out and play in the schools. We want to become a vital component of the cultural and civic life of this area that we have chosen to call home.”
The first concert this season at Antenna Cloud Farm will be on July 8 at 7:30 p.m.
Ayane Kozasa and Michi’s brother Paul Wiancko, a viola/cello duo, will present repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries, including a piece by Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, as well as a new work called “American Haiku,” composed by Paul himself, which recently premiered in Japan.
“Although he is my brother, I can confidently say that Paul is fabulous as a cellist and composer, as is his partner who plays the viola,” Michi said. “They both play, at a very high level, contemporary classical music — that is work by living composers. Both are quite engaging performers when they play. They take the time to speak to the audience, making the concert an interesting experience with spectacular music-making.”
Future concerts at Antenna Cloud Farm include:
• July 29, at 7:30 p.m.: Violinist/singer Eliza Bagg, known for her work with the indie pop band Pavo Pavo and the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, will perform a duo show of her own music for vocals, vocal processing, violin, and synthesizers.
• Sept. 2, at 3 p.m.: Michi Wiancko herself will present a selection of classical to folk to electronic works for both acoustic and electric solo violin (with loop machine), as well as an original composition called “Franklin,” inspired by her move from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Franklin County.
• Oct. 1, noon: Violist Melissa Reardon and cellist Raman Ramakrishnan will bring together an all-star cast of musicians for an evening of classical chamber music.
• Oct. 14, at 3 p.m.: 9 Horses, the spectacularly virtuosic trio of Joe Brent on acoustic and electric mandolin, Sara Caswell on violin and 10-string fiddle, and Andrew Ryan on upright bass, will present a concert blurring the lines between jazz, classical, and folk music.
With this initial music season at Antenna Cloud Farm, it’s fair to say that the dream for Wiancko and Greenstein is just beginning.
The couple says they hope to expand the music festival into a venerable institution on par with other arts organizations in the area, such as Sandglass Theater in Putney, the Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro, and Vermont Performance Lab in Guilford.
“We aspire to one day reach the Yellow Barn in Putney,” confesses Wiancko, who is good friends with Yellow Barn’s Artistic Director Seth Knopp.
“But we’re a different kind of place. In the future, I see us expanding and experimenting with things like electronic or even site-specific music.
“I envision one day setting up a concert in a big field to fully connect with the special environment around us. In short, we hope to continue to present music we love and believe in, music that is exciting, that has a new intensity, and that pushes the borders of classical music into other genres.”