BRATTLEBORO—After more than 20 years, Zon Eastes, the former conductor of the Windham Orchestra, Brattleboro’s community orchestra, is finally making a dream of his come true: forming a musical ensemble that will play music especially close to his heart.
Founded and conducted by Eastes, Juno Orchestra is a newly-established chamber orchestra made up of professional musicians from the area around Brattleboro, including Vermont, New Hampshire, and Western Massachusetts.
“I was really thrilled with being able to produce this chamber orchestra,” Eastes says. “Juno Orchestra is the embodiment of a long-term dream, one that comes true only with the help of a group of truly wonderful musicians and friends. This little orchestra holds great promise. I am deeply honored and quite excited.”
On Sept. 30, at 7:30 p.m., there will be a pair of debuts. The first-ever public concert in the Brattleboro Music Center’s new auditorium at its new location at 72 Blanche Moyse Way (across from Living Memorial Park) will mark Juno’s public debut.
The concert program of works for chamber orchestra will include Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 7, in B-flat Major and Bach’s Sinfonia from Cantata 42. Also on the evening’s program will be J. Mark Scearce’s “Endymion’s Sleep”; Astor Piazzola’s Fuga y misterio, arranged by Andy Stein; Haydn’s Symphony No. 45, Trauer (Mourning);and Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in B-flat Major, KV 191, with Natalya Rose Vrbsky.
Recently appointed to the Rochester Philharmonic, soloist Vrbsky (who grew up in Guilford) plays second bassoon with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and performs frequently with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Opera Company of Philadelphia, and with the Harrisburg and Delaware Symphonies. In addition, she has performed with orchestras across the U.S. and abroad.
The mission of Juno Orchestra is “to expand southern Vermont’s cultural and economic vitality through chamber orchestra performances designed to enrich and engage,” as Eastes writes in a news release.
Just the right size
But what exactly is a chamber orchestra?
“You could say it is the kind of orchestra one would find in Haydn’s time,” Eastes says. “Juno certainly won’t look like the large New York Philharmonic that’s equipped to play works of Mahler and Bruckner.”
Eastes says that a chamber orchestra usually ranges from 20 to 25 players.
“Our size also will vary around that number depending on what we will be playing, although we have a central string section which will remain constant,” he adds.
Eastes says he has long been attracted to a chamber-sized orchestra because much of the music repertoire he loves is played by orchestras of that size.
“In future concerts of Juno, for instance, you will be sure to be hearing many of the astounding Sturm und Drang symphonies of Haydn,” he says. “These middle symphonies of Haydn are full of character, really brilliant. Of course, we plan to perform much of Bach and Handel.
“Other classic works not specifically written for a chamber orchestra can be arranged for this group, as Piazzola’s Fuga y misterio has been arranged by Andy Stein for this upcoming concert at BMC. But we are also hoping to play modern music, and even to commission new works from local composers like Paul Dedell.”
Zon Eastes has had a distinguished career in music and arts administration.
Growing up in a small western Kansas town “in the middle of nowhere, about half the size of Brattleboro,” Eastes began piano lessons with his aunt Wanda when he was five. He was introduced to the cello in fifth grade in a townwide public school string orchestra program.
“Although our town was small, amazingly enough the public school had a string orchestra,” he says. “I never would have stumbled on the cello if not for that. Equally amazing was that we also had in town a cello teacher who gave me private lessons.”
Eastes eventually studied both music history and cello in a college in New Mexico “about 200 million years ago,” and later got a graduate degree at Stony Brook University in New York.
“The Stony Brook program included the opportunity to do a finishing residency anywhere you liked,” explains Eastes. “That is how I ended up in Brattleboro, when sort of randomly I chose to finish my studies in Vermont.”
A cello from 1720
Based in New England, Eastes has performed as chamber musician and festival participant across North America, in Europe and China. As a cellist, he has performed with numerous ensembles, including the Arcadia Players, New England’s Period Instrument Ensemble, for which he performed on a rare 1720 cello made in England which his student gave him (more about this in a moment).
Eastes has conducted professional and community orchestras on both coasts. During his tenure as director of the Windham Orchestra, Eastes featured many guest soloists, including winners of the annual concerto competition for high school students (a program initiated by Eastes).
Eastes taught cello and coached chamber music at Amherst, Dartmouth, and Keene State colleges, as well as at the Brattleboro Music Center, the Putney School, and Northfield Mount Hermon. He was Blanche Moyse’s right hand in the New England Bach Festival for nearly 10 years.
“Blanche was an incredible musical mentor,” Eastes says.
About a decade ago, Eastes relinquished his post as director of the Windham Orchestra to relocate to Seattle to work in arts administration.
“The job looked great,” he muses, a bit ruefully, “But after the financial crash in the 1990s, I lost my post when the program was eliminated by the city.”
Eastes subsequently moved back to Vermont, ultimately to work at the Vermont Arts Council, where he is director of outreach and advancement at the Vermont Arts Council.
“At the Council, I don’t work with grants, which you usually expect in an organization like this,” he says. “Rather, I deal with issues around communication and public relations.”
For a long time, Eastes has wanted to establish a chamber orchestra in Southern Vermont, but only now did circumstances make it feasible to present one with the very good players who live in the region.
“For the inaugural concert, all but one musician lives or grew up within an hour of Brattleboro,” Eastes says.
‘A Scottish term for sweetheart’
The deciding factor for establishing the chamber orchestra now was contingent on the aforementioned historic instrument Eastes used when performing in ensembles like Northampton’s Arcadia Players.
“About 25 years ago, an adult cello student, Elizabeth (Jo) Dorchester, gave me a cello.” Eastes writes. “Because Jo purchased a newly built cello from Marten Cornelissen, a respected luthier in Northampton, she presented me with her older cello built in 1720 by Peter Wamsley, in England.
“I used this older cello for many years whenever I performed in early instrument ensembles. I no longer perform early music as much as I used to, so the instrument deserved a new owner. As the instrument was quite valuable, I began to think: ‘Hey, why not turn the resource from its sale back to the community.’
“The gift of Jo’s cello and its sale now provides that all-important element to start an orchestra, money. I am thrilled to be able, as the beneficiary of a wonderful gift, to pay it forward. So with the sale of the cello and another sizable gift, Juno has been established.”
The name of his chamber orchestra is to honor Eastes’ benefactor.
“Jo = Juno Orchestra,” he writes. “The word Jo is a Scottish term for sweetheart. It also has archaic connections to the word Joy. Juno was the top goddess for the Romans, and NASA calls one of its signature explorations Juno. All good reasons to honor Jo Dorchester and her spirit of generosity.”
Juno is operating in collaboration with BMC, which graciously has allowed the orchestra to perform in their new hall.
“It’s a wonderful space,” says Eastes. “The hall holds around 250 people, which works nicely for the scope of the music we are performing.”
“It’s really exciting to anticipate working with this new local orchestra,” adds Concertmaster Kathy Andrew. “This region is full of wonderful musicians, and I’ve always loved making music with Zon. I’m very excited that he will be on the podium again. I look forward to performing with friends in the new BMC concert hall!”
Inviting community support
Eastes is envisioning his Juno as a project that is rather small is scope, lasting perhaps five years.
“The fact is I do not want to set up an orchestra in perpetuity,” he confesses. “It is so much work and heartache getting together a board of directors for development to ensure its continuing life. Rather, I want to pursue something that may be more temporally instituted but less stressful.”
Nonetheless, even on this scale, outside help is still needed to keep Juno alive.
“We are inviting community support,” Eastes says. “ In a system sort of like a CSA, Juno is offering free tickets to concerts and other benefits if you join us at a certain level of support.”
Right now, Eastes is waiting to see if his chamber orchestra will succeed.
“I think it will,” he says. “We are hoping to have a second concert this year, and then maybe perform two concerts a year. The Brattleboro area is a musical mecca. For years, I have dreamed of establishing a chamber orchestra, to celebrate the area’s musical assets we all know and to delve into a compelling repertoire.”