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Calin Lupanu, concertmaster, Charlotte Symphony 

Charlotte Symphony maestro Christof Perick discovered Calin Lupanu during an off-season gig at the Colorado Music Festival and hired him as Symphony's new concertmaster just before the strike-plagued 2003-04 season. Tuning up for his fifth year, Lupanu is slated to handle guest soloist honors at Belk Theater in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto next May 9-10, the last of Symphony's classics concerts this season.

That's nothing new for Lupanu, who has traversed three of Mozart's five violin concerti with the Symphony -- two in roving Neighborhood concerts, and a Mozart #2 on the Belk mainstage in 2004-05 -- and soloed here and in Colorado on a Saint-SaÎns. Do the math and you realize Lupanu does a concerto every season.

What is new this year is the instrumental role Lupanu is playing in the search for Perick's successor. Last November, Perick announced he was outta here after the 2008-09 season, two years before his contract ends, lambasting Charlotte's stingy donor community as the prime cause of his frustrations.

Lupanu is one of the musician reps on the Symphony selection committee. As the parade of aspiring guest conductors files through the Belk this season and next, his reactions to the candidates will go straight into the ears of Symphony board members at monthly meetings.

Already, the Romanian-born virtuoso has become involved in the decision-making, helping to formulate the criteria by which the candidates will be judges and even deciding what pieces they will conduct.

"Christof is not selecting the repertoire for the guest conductors," Lupanu reveals. "It's a combination between what we would like to hear, the committee and the musicians, and what the candidates have in their repertoire, what they feel comfortable with. It's a little bit of both."

Each of the candidates, Lupanu says, gets a generous workout so his or her musicianship can be properly scrutinized. Each will be conducting at least one modernistic piece and one warhorse, leveling the playing field. Look for Griffes' The White Peacock when William Eddins arrives (January 11-12), a Shostakovich symphony when Stefan Sanderling wields the baton (February 8-9), and two Barber clippings when James Gaffigan auditions (April 18-19).

That Firebird is part of a season-long celebration of Stravinsky's 125th birthday. You won't have to wait long for your first Igor fix as the season opener (September 28-29) includes the Russian revolutionary's Symphony in Three Movements. And more Russian fireworks:

"Olga Kern has played in Charlotte several times," Lupanu points out, "and always with a huge success." She'll rock the house with Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #2 after the Charlotte premiere of Jennifer Higdon's Blue Cathedral.

Can't wait until May for Lupanu's bravura? Catch a free sample when Symphony's concertmaster plays first violin in the bodacious Mendelssohn Octet for Strings, the December edition of the ever-popular First Tuesday chamber music series. Lunchtime or afterwork, December 4 at St. Peter's Episcopal Church.

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