Massenet faced a task at once unlike and fundamentally similar to Respighi’s when he arrived at the moment in his opera Thaïs when the title character, an Egyptian courtesan who worships the Greek gods, contemplates Christianity. Depicting the ancient character of Thaïs as though she were a modern “exotic” heroine up to this point, Massenet found himself needing to blend the sensuousness of her lifestyle with the ecstasy of conversion. Many composers on tonight’s program found inspiration in words, but Massenet knew that the sort of feeling he needed transcended language. What better solution than a rapturous instrumental solo for that most adored and quasi-vocal of instruments, the violin? Today, music-lovers the world over know the “Méditation” from Thaïs not as a scene-clearing interlude in an opera, but as a standalone ode to powerful yearning. By the end of the solo, Thaïs’ desire has transferred from earthly pleasures to unity with the divine.