The Juno Orchestra, Vermont’s newest professional chamber orchestra, was inspired in many ways by the New England Bach Festival and Marlboro Music Festival, in which many of its members have participated.
“We’re coming together to work on music for some of the right reasons, not just to put it together so we can just put it out there as a product,” explains Zon Eastes, Juno’s founder and conductor. “It’s about exploring the music and learning to know it better.”
The Brattleboro Music Center will present the Juno Orchestra in its fourth concert, “Senza Zefiri” — which means “without winds (breezes)” — at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, at the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro.
Twenty-eight strings, conducted by Eastes, will perform “Battalia” by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704); String Quartet No. 5, arranged for string orchestra, by Philip Glass (b. 1937); and Serenade for Strings, Op. 22, by Antonin Dvorák (1841-1904). (The expanded size of the ensemble required the move to the Latchis from its home at the BMC.)
“It was centered first and foremost around the Dvorák because I’ve always loved that piece,” Eastes said recently by phone, referring to one of the most popular works in the repertoire.
Less known is Glass’ 1991 String Quartet No. 5. When Eastes, a cellist, played the quartet many years ago, he got the idea of performing it as an orchestra piece.
“I believe it’s the best of his string quartets,” Eastes said. “It has a multi-layered approach not unlike Bach — of course, it’s not like Bach. But the idea of the multi-layered approach works here, so I think it will really hold up well in a larger context.”
In arranging the quartet for string orchestra, Eastes had to create a bass part. To perform the arrangement, though, he needed permission from Glass’ publishers, which he received. And more instruments led to more possibilities.
“I’m able to divide things up a little differently, so there can be solo violin playing, or solo cello playing, or I can divide the orchestra for smaller bits for various things,” Eastes said, “sort of concerto grosso-like, pit things against each other a little bit — not too much.
“I’m able to get slightly different colors, and some different impressions than Glass could get from just the string quartet.” Eastes said. “You can hear the piece at a cellular level, which I think a lot of people latch onto with minimalism, and they kind of hear this little motor going all the time. So it’s definitely there.
“But there are also definite emotional phrasings and colors and adjustments throughout the piece, so it’s not just pumping at a cellular level,” Eastes said. “There’s a big framing aspect of the whole thing. It’s kind of circular, so you recognize yourself as you go through the piece.”
Some audiences sometimes shy away from Glass and minimalism, often because of its seeming repetitiveness.
“It has all that stuff. You can’t deny it, but there’s an amazing amount of power and expression going on in addition,” Eastes said. “So I think there’s a lot to offer.”
Worlds and centuries apart is Biber’s “Batallia,” scored for three violins, four violas, two basses and harpsichord, which will open the program. Though an early Baroque composer, Biber was way ahead of his time in many ways.
“Some of the ideas that you hear in this piece are ideas that we rediscovered in the 20th century — and he was doing it in the late 17th century,” Eastes said.
He describes one of the work’s eight short movements, “Die Schlact,” as “absolutely crazy.”
“It’s like all these Polish and German beer drinking songs he just mashes together,” Eastes said. “Bach at least would take a bunch of tunes and have them make sense in a beautiful way. Biber doesn’t bother. He just does it — so it’s pretty crazy.
“It’s sort of of like (20th-century American composer Charles) Ives, only in the 17th century,” Eastes said with a laugh.
For this concert, Juno has had to reach out a bit further for topnotch string players, but has relied on musicians from the Brattleboro region for the previous three.
“I would say for 15 or 20 years, there’s been a group of high-level players here,” Eastes said. “They just haven’t been out together in any real way, except in ad hoc situations. But nobody’s been able to put them together in an orchestra situation.
“That’s what I’ve been able to do,” Eastes said. “I feel so lucky to be able to do it.”