TOWNSHEND -- One recent morning at 22 Riverdale Road, the sound of saws and hammers mingled with delicate notes from a piano.
These are the twin soundtracks for a new life launched by Victoria Eisen and Joseph Swensen, who together have founded Unity Hills Arts Centers International in the former Townshend Country Inn.
Even as they renovate the 15-room house, they also are kicking off an ambitious arts program aimed at reaching musicians worldwide. And it all starts this week with the center's first seminar.
"We envision our work here as the hub in a many-spoked wheel," Swensen said.
Both Swensen and Eisen are experienced, professional musicians who have followed winding paths to Townshend.
Swensen first made his name as a violin soloist who recorded with BMG Classics.
"I had a major international career from the time I was about 20 years old until the time I was 32," Swensen said.
At that point, he decided to become a conductor, which Swensen called "an amazing experience for the last 20 years of my life."
He currently is principal guest conductor and artistic adviser of the Orchestre de chambre de Paris and conductor emeritus of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Swensen also has served as principal conductor of the Malmo Opera in Sweden.
Eisen has a master's degree from The Juilliard School and played French horn in New York City, holding principal positions with Stamford Symphony, Chamber
She started a second career as a nurse and psychological counselor in 1999. Only in the past few years did she resume playing music regularly.
"The reconnection to it, for me, is so incredibly inspiring," Eisen said.
Swensen and Eisen use the same word to describe a musical seminar they held last summer at a rented home in Bennington. They had envisioned settling in Maine, but the experience convinced them to take a different path.
When the session concluded, Swensen searched online all night for a similar property.
"At 5 a.m., he found this house," Eisen said.
They incorporated Unity Hills Arts Centers International -- also called U-HAC -- in September, the same month they finalized purchase of the former inn. The transaction went quickly but not without incident, as Tropical Storm Irene's severe flooding caused heavy damage in Vermont in late August.
"Irene came through Townshend two days before our final inspection," Swensen said.
Luckily, the inn lost only a few shingles. Realizing their good fortune, Swensen and Eisen decided to launch U-HAC with a series of concerts that raised money for community causes including Irene relief.
The last of those concerts happened June 29 at Athens Meeting House. Swensen and Eisen now have turned their attention to accomplishing goals that Swensen sums up this way: "We're helping to make the world a better place through the arts."
Specifically, they want to reach as many musicians as possible. At the Townshend headquarters, that means hosting "a variety of seminars, workshops, festivals, performances and exhibitions" as well as "special residencies for individual artists (or groups of artists) with longer-term projects," the duo wrote on U-HAC's website.
"There's a horrible glut of fantastic musicians. Young people are graduating with the most extraordinary skills but have nowhere to go," Swensen said.
Some of those musicians may be attending a U-HAC seminar running from Wednesday through July 21. Called "Total Immersion in Schubert and Schoenberg," the intensive gathering is designed for a wide variety of musicians as well as for vocalists, conductors and chamber groups.
Another workshop with Swensen is scheduled for July 27 through Aug. 4. More information on those sessions and on the organization is available at www.u-hac.com.
U-HAC is expected to expand far beyond Vermont. Swensen and Eisen said they have secured infrastructure and partners in Portugal, France and South Africa for satellite locations that will offer internships.
Such programs are described in U-HAC literature as "staffed in part by a kind of ‘peace corps' of dedicated artist volunteers who want to use their knowledge and their art as a means for the economic and social revitalization of village life."
U-HAC's "home base," though, is in Townshend. And that has necessitated extensive, ongoing renovations at a 5,000-square-foot structure built in 1776.
The work has not gone unnoticed. Among the duo's partners in the Townshend community is Robert DuGrenier, a glass artist and Townshend Historical Society president, who praises U-HAC's early work in the area.
"It brings an amazing level of professionalism in the arts," DuGrenier said. "They're great people."
Swensen said he has found "a combination of entrepreneurialism and community spirit here that is ideal," adding that he and Eisen have encountered much encouragement and support among locals.
"We are so excited to be here," Swensen said. "We feel so welcomed."
As he showed a visitor around the property recently, that excitement was apparent. He talked about potential for performances in an attached barn large enough for 300 people, and he discussed a possible festival in the expansive backyard.
"We could use the rock-and-pop model for summer festivals and apply it to young people who love classical music," he said.
Taking a glance around the property, Swensen added: "There's absolutely nothing I would change about this place."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.