ANTONIO Vivaldi was a good composer but not a particularly good poet. Violinist Daniel Heifitz and poet Daniel Mark Epstein hope to correct that problem tomorrow night when they perform Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra in the BCO's season-opening concert at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium.
"Most people don't know that Vivaldi wrote a set of poems to accompany the music," says Heifitz, the prize-winning violinist who will appear as the work's soloist. "I always thought that they appeared in terrible translations. I wanted to turn those lousy translations from the original Italian into great poetry."
So he approached Epstein, his close friend and acclaimed poet, about making a new set of translations. Epstein, who's most recent book is "Love's Compass -- A Natural History of the Heart," agreed to take on the project. "One of my reasons for doing this is because of knowing Heifitz. The poems are very bad and extremely vague but they contain seeds of poetry. It would be a wonderful thing if I could clarify some of the themes that Vivaldi translated into music but as a poet was clumsy in."
Epstein describes his translations, which aren't literal, as "imitations." His aim is to create an English equivalent to the foreign poem, only better. The challenge, Epstein says, is, " preserving the integrity of the stanza form because each stanza has a thematic equivalent in the music. What's really exciting is ,, that both Heifitz and Anne Harrigan, the conductor, said my text resolves thematic questions and difficulties that have existed in this music for years."
Heifitz readily agrees. "The words that he used exactly explained what I felt in the music but never had been translated. They fit exactly what I want to say with this music."
And there is a great deal to say with this music. Vivaldi's efforts to depict the characteristics of each season were not limited to the music and the poetry. Subtitles such as "The springs rush out" or "The sleeping drunkards" or "Striding boldly on" are placed in the performer's score at the precise moment where these events occur. Heifitz expresses amazement that musicians, both here and abroad, do not even know these markings exist. "We can hear this music in a totally different way."
To accomplish that goal, Epstein will read each poem before the movement it describes is played during the concert. Both men hope that hearing Vivaldi's images before the music will enhance the audience's understanding of its programmatic content.
O peasants celebrate with song and dance/the good harvest -- they love to drown/the fire of Bacchus's drink in drink until/they come to the end of joy and go lie down.
"The biggest challenge," says Heifitz, " is to play the music like you are painting the image and not this beautiful sound. Most performances have been emasculated. I hope I don't sound beautiful. I want to sound like a drunk falling on the floor."
The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra performs tonight at 8 p.m. at Kraushaar Auditorium, Goucher College. For more information call 366-8973.