The Charlotte Symphony's first-chair violinist, Calin Lupanu, can't even remember when he first heard Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons." As the son of the harpist of one of the top orchestras in his native Romania, he grew up surrounded by music.
But Lupanu is sure of this much: When he was growing up, he liked to listen to music on his tape player when he went to bed. One of his favorites was a cassette of "The Four Seasons" featuring Henryk Szeryng, a Polish-born violinist whom Lupanu eventually met.
By the time Lupanu was a budding violinist in the Bucharest Conservatory, he soloed in Vivaldi's four compact concertos on tour with one of the school orchestras. That, it turns out, gave him a jump on the Charlotte Symphony.
When Lupanu and the orchestra play "The Four Seasons" this weekend, Lupanu will return to music he last performed in the early 1990s. But the orchestra, even though it was founded decades before Lupanu was born, is only now playing "The Four Seasons" for its first time.
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The orchestra has enlisted a Charlotte actress, Susan Roberts Knowlson, to preface each of the four concertos by reciting the sonnet that Vivaldi attached to the scores. The poems - which may have been written by the composer - reveal exactly what Vivaldi meant his music to evoke, from walking gingerly on winter's ice to a summer to peasant dancing celebrating harvest time to a summer slumber disturbed by pesky bugs.
"It's one of the most imaginative pieces ever written for the violin," Lupanu says. Even though he has known the music since he was a boy, it holds onto its freshness for him.
"You get a little more thoughtful about the music with age," he says. "You find new things in it."
Lupanu points to a section of the winter concerto, where the music describes someone stepping gingerly across icy terrain. Rather than play it in strict time, Lupanu's idea is to start out hesitantly - just as someone walking might.
"You don't know if you're going to fall," Lupanu says. "Then you gradually gain confidence."
Besides the music's appeal to listeners, Lupanu says, it offers fiddlers "an encyclopedia" of violin technique. For the summer scene describing a shepherd resting fitfully as he's pestered by insects, Lupanu will represent the bugs with a technique called ponticello - having the bow cross the strings right next to the brace that suspends them above the violin's body. The result is eerie.
That wouldn't serve for the serene melody in Vivaldi's winter scene by a fireside. But "The Four Seasons" demands a violinist who can not only sing out melodies but paint pictures - complete with "the heat, the cold, the animals and birds and insects," Lupanu says.
"I try to show all the emotion," Lupanu says, "and all the images."