The evening began with Mendelssohn's Fair Melusina Overture. The program note explains:
In medieval folklore, Melusina was a beautiful girl cursed to take the form of a mermaid one day each week. She married the knight Reymund, and forbade him from ever seeing her on Saturdays. He betrayed her one fateful day, spying on her in the bath, and she disappeared forever from sight of humans, although the sound of her wailing remained.
The music went from a rolling "water" theme in F major to a surging "galloping" theme in F minor, suggestive of Reymund's intrusion. It was quite poetic, if a little too pretty.
Cynthia Wong's Memorium, written in honor of her father who died of cancer, was given its world premiere. Commissioned by Orpheus as part of Project 440, the eight-minute work began somewhat obscurely, to me, but moved into improvised passages of great intensity and lyricism. In her note, the 29-year-old New York-based composer quoted Rilke as inspiration. She added these lines from the German poet to the score after each composing session:
"Even his downfall was for him only a pretext for achieving his final birth."
"It has inner light, even from a distance, and charges us, even if we do not reach it."
"I have great faith in all things not yet spoken."
"In you is a presence that will be when all the stars are dead."