BRATTLEBORO—Part of the mission of Juno Orchestra, Vermont’s newest chamber orchestra, is to present soloists who were raised in the region around Brattleboro.
“One of Juno’s clearest goals is a commitment to featuring soloists at work in the musical world, but who grew up and received formative training in this area,” says Zon Eastes, Juno’s founder and music director.
For the concert opening its second season, Juno will feature oboist and Vermonter Jennifer Slowik, who received her earliest musical training at the Brattleboro Music Center.
Born in Livonia, Michigan, Slowik moved to Vermont at the age of 6, growing up in South Newfane and Williamsville. Beginning on the recorder, she took lessons at BMC with Marion Lowe before taking up both the oboe and the saxophone in the seventh grade.
Slowik attended Leland & Gray Union High School, participating in the Youth Wind Ensemble at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the New England Conservatory.
“Jennifer now lives and works in the Boston area, but some of us remember when she shone brilliantly as a budding oboist,” Eastes says.
Slowik is currently principal oboe with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Odyssey Opera, Monadnock Music Festival, assistant principal with the Orchestra of Indian Hill, and a member of the weekly Bach cantata series at Emmanuel Music.
As a soloist and chamber musician, she has appeared with the Chameleon Arts Ensemble, Collage New Music, and ALEA III. She is also a frequent recitalist in Trinity College’s Summer Chamber Music Series in Connecticut and a continuing member of Juno.
The Juno Orchestra Project is a chamber orchestra made up of professional musicians from the area around Brattleboro, including Vermont, New Hampshire, and Western Massachusetts. This year, Juno has been designated as orchestra in-residence at BMC.
Eastes for a long time wanted to establish a chamber orchestra in Southern Vermont, but only last year was he able to gather the forces (and finances) to make his dream a reality.
As Eastes writes at the orchestra’s website, junoorchestra.org, “The Juno Orchestra Project exists because of several interconnected energies: the region’s finest musicians, a growing and appreciative audience, a spirit of willing collaboration, and inspiring funding. These forces, coming together, add to the region’s cultural and economic well-being.”
“I was really thrilled with being able to produce this chamber orchestra,” Eastes told The Commons last year. “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.”
Eastes says that a chamber orchestra usually ranges from 20 to 25 players. Juno certainly won’t look like the large New York Philharmonic, which is equipped to play works of Mahler and Bruckner.
“To some degree, our size will vary depending on what we will be playing, although we have a central string section which will remain constant,” Eastes says.
Eastes has lived in Southern Vermont for many years, with some time away now and then.
In Brattleboro, he directed the community’s Windham Orchestra for more than 20 years. He has also conducted orchestras on both coasts and has taught cello and coached chamber music at Amherst, Dartmouth, and Keene State colleges as well as at BMC. Eastes has performed as a chamber musician and festival participant across North America and in Europe and China.
On the heels of its very successful inaugural year, Juno opens its 2018-2019 season on Saturday, Sept. 29, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 30, at 3 p.m. at the BMC, located on 72 Blanche Moyse Way in Brattleboro.
Slowik will perform the spirited Concerto in A major for oboe d’amore and strings by Johann Sebastian Bach.
“We are delighted that Jennifer will play the A major concerto with Juno,” Eastes says. “Her performance will be wonderful.”
The concerts will also include two sinfonias for strings. The first is a highly charged piece by Bach’s second son, Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, the Sinfonia No. 2 in B-flat major, Wq. 182. The second work was written by the 13-year-old Felix Mendelssohn, his Sinfonia No. 10 in B minor.
Also on the program are eight short and stylistically quirky pieces by Paul Hindemith, and a “Sturm und Drang” symphony by Franz Joseph Haydn, No. 39 in G minor.
As these two concerts feature works by two Bachs, father and son, Eastes thinks that it will be interesting to compare the works by two different generations of the Bach family.
“J.S. Bach has three very talented sons, whose music was very different from his illustrious father,” Eastes says. “C.P.E. Bach’s music is quirky, very expressive and galant [light, elegant music]. While living in Hamburg, C.P.E. Bach wrote six string works for string orchestra, a commission by Gottfried van Swieten. Unpublished during C.P.E. Bach’s lifetime, van Swieten kept them for his own personal use. We will be playing one at the September concerts.”
On practically every program Eastes schedules for Juno, he plans to include one of the “Sturm und Drang” symphonies by Haydn, since to perform these works was a major impetus for forming Juno in the first place.
Eastes contends that these symphonies aren’t performed much and thus are not widely known.
“Nonetheless, these middle symphonies of Haydn are full of character, really brilliant,” Eastes told The Commons last year. “Haydn wrote about 20 to 25 of these remarkable symphonies when he was the court musician for the wealthy Esterházy family at their remote estate, where he had access to a small orchestra. That orchestra was about the same size as Juno, with string players, two oboes and two horns.”
All the music on this concert will be German and Austrian, which Eastes didn’t consciously plan. “It just ended up making sense as a coherent program for an evening’s performance,” he says.
As Juno moves into its second season, Eastes is delighted that his orchestra continues to grow.
“You can tell our improvement from the first series of concerts to the start of rehearsals for the second concerts,” Eastes says. “Everyone in that time got to know one another better, and develop trust. Now we can focus on what we are doing musically quickly and more deeply. We understand that we’re going to have a good time working together.”
Eastes had taken time off of music-making before forming Juno, working as an arts and creativity advocate at the Vermont Arts Council, where he still is director of outreach and advancement. In that capacity, he led the establishment of the Vermont Creative Network.
Juno has been his chance to get back to conducting.
“I don’t think of myself so much as a conductor of Juno as a facilitator,” he says. “I just have had the opportunity to get some incredibly talented people together, mostly from this area, to explore great music. I certainly don’t see what I do as imposing my will on them.”
The dictatorial conductor may be the image of a Toscanini-led large orchestra, but Eastes believes that working with a chamber ensemble can be a very different experience. “We are actually are able to have conversation about music as we rehearse,” he says.
Eastes has planned two other concerts for Juno’s second season.
On Sunday, Feb. 10, at 3 p.m, a winter-time concert at Brattleboro downtown Latchis Theatre will highlight Juno’s string section, including the imaginative Battaglia by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, a new string orchestra arrangement of Philip Glass’ String Quartet No. 5, and the evocative Serenade in E Major by Antonín Dvorák.
“This is a very unusual concert for Juno,” Eastes says. “It will solely use Juno’s string section. With the Glass string quartet, we also are performing a work by a living composer. Hopefully this will give people the message that classical music is not just for old folks, and that Juno is no fuddy-duddy orchestra. I have had many young people come up to me and say what we do is amazing, which is very gratifying.”
On Saturday, June 1, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, June 2, at 4 p.m., at BMC, Juno’s concerts will feature a newly commissioned work by Brattleboro composer Paul Dedell. The program also includes Symphony No. 8 in D minor by William Herschel, who was not just a composer, but also the astronomer who discovered our galactic neighborhood’s eighth planet, Uranus.
“And, of course, a Haydn symphony,” Eastes says.