Juno Orchestra grand finale: Zon Eastes & friends step down after five years

By Jim Lowe
Rutland Herald, June 4, 20222

Brattleboro’s Juno Orchestra is coming to an end after five years — but that’s just as it was planned.

Founder and Artistic Director Zon Eastes had financed the professional chamber orchestra’s 10 concerts, two per season, with the sale of two cellos that he had been given.

“The old cello I sold was a big deal because it made a big difference,” he said by phone. “The other one was a modern cello, and it’s been sitting in both New York and Amherst trying to be sold for the longest time. Well, it just sold a month ago,” he said.

“It’s like the universe knew I needed the money for Juno: ‘Let’s get some money over to Zon so he can close off his project!’”

The Brattleboro Music Center will present Eastes conducting the final concert of the Juno Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 10, at Marlboro Music Festival’s Persons Auditorium. The program, “Zenith!” features: Sibelius’ Impromptu for Strings, after Op. 5, No. 5 and 6; Haydn’s Symphony No. 92 in G Major, “Oxford”; and Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551, “Jupiter.”

Eastes is one of the most respected individuals in Vermont’s professional music world, as conductor, cellist, teacher and arts administrator. He led the Windham Orchestra, Brattleboro’s community orchestra, for over 20 years. He has conducted professional and community orchestras on both coasts, and taught cello and coached chamber music at Amherst, Dartmouth and Keene State colleges, among others. He was for many years executive director of the BMC and, more recently, he was director of outreach and advancement at the Vermont Arts Council.

Eastes isn’t exactly retiring. He continues his consulting work in the creative sector and schools and, two years ago, he returned to teaching cello after a 20-year break. And he’s a member of the Guilford Select Board.

What does he take away from five years of Juno?

“I think I would turn it back on the musicians and say that the biggest takeaway is the camaraderie, the feeling and the willingness for people to enter into the various aspects of this project and come along and play with so much willingness,” Eastes said. “Actually, it seemed to me anyway, people were really having a great time.”

This will be the 10th and final in-person concert of the Juno Orchestra. (Three of four Juno Singles, online videos of short new works by local composers, have been produced with one to go.) The key to Juno, besides Eastes’ fine conducting, seems to be his ability to attract excellent professional musicians,

“It was not hard,” Eastes said. “I would say it was because these are people I have known for a long time. There is only one person in the orchestra in this concert that I haven’t worked with in my life. But this person has all sorts of connections.

“And a few of them, I’ve known for 45 years — some as an undergraduate in New Mexico,” he said.

The program for the final concert had to be special. Jean Sibelius’ Impromptu for Strings, after Op. 5, No. 5 and 6, Juno performed previously.

“When we presented it, it struck a chord with people,” Eastes said. “It’s a beautiful little piece, especially in the moment we’re in, with Ukraine and Uvalde, so it’s just a great way to start.”

Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 92 has a special place in Eastes’ heart.

“It’s the first Haydn symphony I encountered, when I was young, as a professional musician,” he said. “This piece just cracked me up from the beginning to the end. I’ve loved it forever.”

Coincidentally, the Haydn and Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony were written at about the same time, 1788-89.

“I chose the Haydn because I love it and have always wanted to do it,” Eastes said. “And I’ve known since Juno started we were going to have to do the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony. We didn’t have any choice because of Juno and Jupiter (Romans’ chief goddess and god), so this was the time to do it.”

Conveniently, the orchestrations of both are the same.

“Both pieces are very different, but they both are full of joy and uplift,” Eastes said.

Also, for this concert, the Juno Orchestra will be its largest to date.

“It’s a very good orchestra,” Eastes said. “I‘m thrilled — I feel very honored. My main goal is to make it possible for people to enjoy playing these pieces — and to do it with some character.

“If you get the right people, it will be wonderful,” Eastes said. “I feel very lucky.”

Juno’s finale is also becoming something of a personal celebration for Eastes.

“My first cello teacher from my hometown in Kansas is coming,” he said. “I have friends from my first year in college that are coming, and other people that just called me out of the blue that are coming, so it’s really a moment for me. I love it.”