This work was originally commissioned by the BBC for James Galway, as a work for solo flute and tape (Orfeo I): All the music on the tape would be an electronically treated recording of James Galway playing a variety of different flutes. It was first performed by him in this version in 1976.
Shortly after, another version (Orfeo II) was written where all the music on the tape was distributed amongst 15 strings.
Orfeo III was written specially for James Freeman and his Orchestra 2001 to take on tour to Moscow in October 1993. The first performance was in the Rachmaninoff Hall in the Moscow Conservatory.
This work is intended as a simple retelling of the famous legend. The flute represents Orfeo; all the other elements and characters in the story are represented by the music for the strings. Orfeo's journey to the underworld exists only in his imagination. To heighten the effect of this separation of reality and imagination, much of the music of Euridice, the Furies, the Shades, is suggested by "memory elements" that is, quotations from the Orfeo of Gluck. They are woven into the fabric of the music. The whole work is thus focused on Orfeo; on his mourning for Euridice and his vain attempts to recover her. In the end he has to resign himself to her loss.