For Juno Orchestra, a swan song

After five years, orchestra finishes strong with farewell concert at Marlboro’s Parsons Auditorium

MARLBORO — On Friday, June 10, at 7:30 p.m., in Persons Auditorium at the former Marlboro College, home of the Marlboro Music Festival, Juno Orchestra presents a triple-header concert that promises to be joyful.

The show will feature Sibelius' Impromptu for Strings after Op. 5, No. 5 & 6; Haydn's Symphony No. 92, (Oxford); and Mozart's Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter).

Of the pieces, Juno founder and music director Zon Eastes writes, “the Sibelius is a wondrous discovery for Juno.” It shines, he adds, “as a small, beautiful gem, inviting a look inward.”

The Haydn, he continues, is a piece Eastes has wanted to share for decades since it first “utterly delighted” him.

“I chuckled right out loud at Haydn's brilliance and wit [proving] that great music need not first be serious, but could crackle with humor and cajole,” Eastes says. Haydn's “Oxford” is, he adds, “Pure joy! Funny, delightful, human.”

The Mozart was selected because, Eastes explains, “Juno and Jupiter were spouses, or siblings, or something - certainly deeply entwined, no matter which myth you're conjuring.”

“Juno Orchestra eventually simply had to perform Mozart's final symphony,” he says. “Why not in its final concert?”

'It's a real joy'

The five-year-old Juno gave its first performance in 2017 at the newly-opened Brattleboro Music Center (BMC) hall. The June 10 event is, Eastes says, the “wrap” for the group - at least as far ahead as one can see. The orchestra assembled for this farewell is 36 strong - larger than any used by Juno before.

“Some of the players I've known for over 40 years,” Eastes says, reflecting on the journey. Some he made music with in New Mexico; others he's known from graduate school days. “Only one of the players is entirely new to me,” Eastes adds, “but he has deep connections to people and communities I know. It's an amazing group of generous people. It's a real joy: I'm a lucky guy.”

His players say the same of him.

Violinist Kathy Andrew, a key advisor for Juno, has often served as its concertmaster. Juno, she says, “is the brilliant brainchild of Zon. He's one of the great creative minds.”

Juno's different, in her experiences, for its “friendly vibe. We're all friends playing together,” having first connected through Eastes and the many musical avenues he's traversed. Andrew praises his ample rehearsal time, his spirit, and his programming.

Of the upcoming concert she says, “It's a big deal to be at Marlboro in the great hall there with a larger orchestra for a big hurrah -the end of Juno.” Or so it stands now but, as Andrew adds, “we'll see.”

“Juno has had ample support and a strong following precisely because Zon's vision and community building is so strong,” she says.

Andrew, assistant concertmaster of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and a player in the Springfield (Mass.) Symphony Orchestra, teaches in Lebanon, N.H., as well as in Brattleboro, where she first came to work with Blanche Moyse, founder of the BMC and longtime music department chair at Marlboro College.

Alison Hale, who'll play in the Mozart and Haydn, has been a well-regarded flutist in the area for over three decades, though her work has been mainly out of town with the Portland (Maine) Symphony and teaching at Amherst, Bennington, and Mount Holyoke colleges.

Of the June 10 event she says, “It's going to be very special. Zon is a wonderful musician, as are all the members of the orchestra.”

Heather Sommerlad, one of the youngest players in Juno, has been in Brattleboro for 10 years where, in addition to teaching at BMC, she makes her own music, recording as a singer-songwriter.

Called to a range of musical genres, Sommerlad says of classical music that it “connects to the deepest parts of feeling. Other types of music will capture you for a few minutes; classical sustains you on a journey for a long time.”

“Zon asked me to be in one of the first projects,” she explains, “and I was thrilled.”

She's been a regular with the group ever since. Working with Juno, she says, “The joy is palpable. I can't describe Juno without saying 'joy.' The camaraderie makes it so special.”

A long career

Eastes himself began piano lessons at age 5 in a small Kansas town and was introduced to the cello in fifth-grade through a town-wide public school string orchestra program leading to a lifelong love of the cello and the wide world of music.

Having taught cello and coached chamber music at Amherst, Dartmouth, and Keene State colleges as well as at the BMC, he's performed across North America, in Europe, and in China; he's conducted orchestras on both coasts including the Windham Orchestra - now Windham Philharmonic - which he led for 20 years.

He holds music degrees from Stony Brook University and the University of New Mexico and has studied cello with Nancy Kerr, Blanche Moyse, and Timothy Eddy.

Juno Orchestra was seeded by proceeds from the sale of two top-shelf cellos that had been given to Eastes after they outgrew their usefulness. Their sale ensured the project's successful launch, which has carried on in good health supported by ticket sales, individual donors, and grants covering a yearly $50,000 to $60,000 budget.

A dozen concerts - and a pandemic pivot

Over the years, Juno presented about a dozen concerts, primarily at the BMC.

“Then Covid came,” Eastes recalls.

“During that time, I commissioned four local composers to do short pieces for string orchestra. We'd workshop each in a controlled place and make them available online until last spring when they were able to invite audiences.”

Another Covid-spawned collaboration came when Serenity Smith Forchion of Nimble Arts called to suggest their providing acrobatic responses to each of those four pieces.

The resulting works, Juno Singles, aired on BCTV and can be seen on the Juno website, Someday, Eastes says, there might be a live performance of the four pairings.

Though Juno is headed toward dormancy, Eastes hardly is.

While maintaining his music and teaching at the BMC, he chairs the Guilford Selectboard, serves on the board of DVFiber, and works as zone agent for southern Vermont in Vermont Creative Network, an initiative of the Vermont Arts Council which he helped found - advocating always for the arts.

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