BRATTLEBORO — Juno Orchestra enters its third season with an exploration entitled “Family Connections.” Along with works appearing from well-known musical households such as Bach and Mozart, Juno also introduces a newly commissioned work by a local composer for his son.
Formed in 2017 and conducted by Zon Eastes, Juno is a chamber orchestra made up of 20 to 25 professional musicians from the area around Brattleboro, including Vermont, New Hampshire, and Western Massachusetts.
Eastes says he wanted to create a chamber-sized orchestra in this area because much of the music repertoire he loves is played by orchestras of that size.
After two years, he declares that his experience with Juno has been “nothing short of amazing.”
“We have been able to go on this amazing exploration of music-making, performed at a remarkably high level,” he says. “I think the musicians have had a good time. We have been reaching all of the goals I set for us when I created Juno, and now I anticipate things to be smooth sailing.”
The Juno Orchestra Project was designed to be a four-year musical exploration that engages top-flight area musicians and curious audiences. The project creates space and time for an expert chamber orchestra to explore and present compelling known and perhaps unknown works for small orchestra, and commissions or reveals newly-composed work.
“Our musicians come from an area that extends as far north as Hanover, south to Northampton, east to Keene, and west to Bennington,” explains Eastes. “In addition, sometimes I might invite a musician from Boston or New York. The players are never exactly the same from concert to concert, depending on the pieces we are performing and the musicians' availability.”
Eastes described the somewhat unusual origin of Juno for The Commons in a 2017 interview.
“About 25 years ago, an adult cello student, Elizabeth (Jo) Dorchester, gave me a cello,” Eastes said. “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.”
On Saturday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 8, at 4 p.m. at the Brattleboro Music Center, Juno will perform six chamber works: Stan Charkey, J/J; J.S. Bach, Sinfonia; W.A. Mozart, Divertimento in F Major, K. 138; Edward Elgar, Serenade, Op. 20; and Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony No. 46 in B Major.
“Everything we are performing in this concert has family connections,” says Eastes, explaining the title of his program. “While the multiple musicians in the Bach or Mozart households are rather well known, some of the other family connections we explore here may seem surprising.”
Juno's upcoming program includes an instrumental Sinfonia by J.S. Bach from Cantata 147.
“In a singularly superhuman, six-year outburst, Johann Sebastian Bach composed and produced a new cantata every Sunday. Every single Sunday!” Eastes writes in a news release. “And this was just one of a number of duties he had while serving as music director at St. Thomas in Leipzig.
“On some Sundays, his choir got a break from performance, so Bach would supply an orchestral opening for that Sunday's cantata. Many times, Bach reworked earlier compositions to fit the occasion. Wait till you hear this particular Sinfonia!"
Juno will likewise visit the Mozart family by way of a work from 16-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus, his “delightful” Divertimento in F Major, K. 138. There is evidence that young Wolfgang penned three works (Juno performs the third of the set) as his first “publishable” string quartets, but his exacting father selected the moniker “Divertimenti” instead.
“Whatever, dad,” remarked Eastes, “The three works are brief, delightful, and expressive. The final movement of the F Major is about as clicky as it gets."
English composer Edward Elgar grew up in an arts-favorable family. His father was a piano tuner and his mother carefully saw to her children's musical studies - Elgar was the fourth of seven children. He composed the Serenade while in his mid-30s.
Eastes said he finds its intimacy and brevity “positively charming,” while its depth and directness characterize the more mature Elgar.
Continuing with Juno's exploration of the middle Haydn symphonies (those composed about the same times as the American Revolution), Juno will feature Symphony No. 46 in B Major.
“Whenever one talks about the Sturm und Drang symphonies, one returns to words like unexpected, cascading, quirky, bedazzling. Haydn surely had a sturdy set of compositional tools that allowed him remarkable, always recognizable freedom to express his wit, his imagination, and his respect for his discipline,” explained Eastes. “Symphony No. 46 is no exception."
Eastes often gives his musicians recordings he likes of the works they are about to perform. When he sent out Haydn's Symphony 46, one orchestra member wrote back enthusiastically, “Wow, this piece has the wildest last movement of music. Haydn is crazy, nuts!”
Perhaps the most exciting selection on the Family Connections concert is a newly commissioned work by Stan Charkey, J/J, for cello and string orchestra, which features Stan's son, soloist Jacob Charkey.
“I wanted to write a piece for Jake that connects to his experiences in both the western and Indian traditions,” says composer Stan Charkey, who taught at Marlboro College for many years. “It's called J/J for Jake and Juno.”
Jake Charkey got his earliest musical training in Brattleboro starting with the violin for a year. “After a year of screeching cacophony, my father mercifully gave me a cello to try,” laughed Jacob.
That Jacob began his musical training in Southern Vermont is an important fact for Eastes. Part of the mission of Juno 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,” Eastes says.
More directly hitting home, Jake Charkey studied cello under Eastes himself, as well as Paul Cohen, Leopold Teraspulsky, and, finally, with Norman Fischer at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston.
Seeking to broaden his musical skills and vocabulary after conservatory training, Charkey took an interest in Hindustani music.
His studies began in Toronto with the sarangi player, Aruna Narayan, who urged him to adapt Hindustani music to cello rather than learn an Indian instrument. In 2010, he traveled to India with an arts fellowship to study under Padma Bhushan Dr. N. Rajam for six years. (Padma Bhushan is a civilian service award given by the Indian government.)
In India, he recorded and performed with many of the most celebrated musicians in Bollywood. His unique sound can be heard on season 2 of MTV's Coke Studio, multiple episodes of MTV Unplugged, and in a number of Bollywood soundtracks.
Since returning to the U.S. in 2016, Charkey has joined the Slipstream Ensemble at Marlboro College. He also performs with Adam Rudolph's GO Organic Orchestra and is a frequent collaborator with the Brooklyn Raga Massive.
Charkey has been an advocate for new music for solo cello, which he programs in recital alongside Hindustani music.
Jacob's father, composer Stan Charkey, is a recipient of many awards and fellowships for his compositions. Stan has received commissions for a variety of ensembles and musicians, including the Apple Hill Chamber Players, cellist Paul Cohen, pianists Luis Batlle and Michael Arnowitt, violist Michael Tree and, of course, his son.
In addition, he has written for dance, theater, and television. Vermont Headstones, 12 songs for baritone, viola and oboe, settings of headstone inscriptions in Vermont cemeteries, was performed throughout the state in recent years.
“I hope the orchestra likes the piece I wrote for my son and Juno,” Stan muses. “I hope the audience likes it, too. It's unlike anything I've ever written."
Eastes remarks, “We are very pleased to work with Stan and Jake on this project. This new work blends western and Indian elements in quite a striking way. Part Dvorák, part improvisation, the piece is built on principles of harmonic balance that allow for remarkable flexibility within a unified context. The work is entirely accessible.”
The central portion of the piece calls for an extended improvised cadenza inspired by Indian ragas. His father quipped, “Who knows what Jake will do?”
“An extended improvisation in quite unusual in Western classical, so it is very exciting to see Stan incorporate some Asian musical idioms he learned through the exploration of music in India,” Eastes says.