COM­PAS­SION

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - ARTS - WORDS PA­TRICK MCDON­ALD

AN­CIENT HE­BREW AND ARA­BIC TEXTS HAVE PRO­VIDED THE IN­SPI­RA­TION FOR A NEW SOUL-STIR­RING

OR­CHES­TRAL COL­LAB­O­RA­TION

Sad events led to a mu­si­cal bond which ul­ti­mately has re­sulted in a pro­foundly mov­ing new or­ches­tral col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween chart-top­ping Is­raeli-Aus­tralian singer-song­writer Lior and ac­claimed clas­si­cal com­poser Nigel West­lake. “It arose from tragic cir­cum­stances, re­ally,’’ says Lior, who will per­form the work, Com­pas­sion, with the Ade­laide Sym­phony Orches­tra next month. “Nigel lost a son five years ago.’’ In June 2008, West­lake’s son Eli was struck by a car and killed. “A year af­ter his son passed away, he was with a group of friends and one of my al­bums came on. He was telling one of th­ese friends that this al­bum was much loved by his late son Eli,’’ Lior says.

“The mu­tual friend said ‘Lior is ac­tu­ally a cousin of mine’ and fol­low­ing that Nigel in­vited me to per­form at a me­mo­rial con­cert for Eli, which was also timed with the launch of a char­ity foun­da­tion.

“At the end of my per­for­mance, I chose to fin­ish with an a cap­pella He­brew hymn, called Av­inu Malkeinu, which speaks about the at­tain­ing of com­pas­sion and houses a very beau­ti­ful, uni­ver­sal mes­sage.’’

Lior’s fans who at­tended his Valen­tine’s Day pic­nic con­cert with the ASO at the Botanic Gar­den in 2009 may re­mem­ber that he also closed that show with the same hymn, of­fered then for vic­tims of the Vic­to­rian bush­fires. “It’s a hymn that I’ve sung over the years and I tend to fin­ish spe­cial gigs with it – usu­ally it’s a spur of the mo­ment thing,’’ he says.

It was not un­til af­ter Eli’s me­mo­rial con­cert that Lior re­ally met West­lake for the first time. “The hymn seemed to have a pro­found ef­fect on the au­di­ence and Nigel and I en­ter­tained the idea of writ­ing a full or­ches­tral ar­range­ment to it, in stark con­trast to the a cap­pella way that I had done it,’’ he says.

“From there, the seed grew. We ini­tially thought that we would cre­ate a short ar­range­ment and present it to the Syd­ney Sym­phony … they loved the idea and ac­tu­ally of­fered us a com­mis­sion to write a full work.’’ The full 45-minute piece – which was pre­miered re­cently by the Syd­ney Sym­phony Orches­tra and has just been re­leased on CD – is based on both He­brew and Ara­bic an­cient texts.

Lior, whose sur­name is At­tar, was born in Is­rael’s fourth-largest city Ris­hon LeZion in 1976 and moved with his fam­ily to Syd­ney at age 10. He says the texts talk about com­pas­sion in a po­etic and hu­man­i­tar­ian way. “It’s not and was never meant to be a re­li­gious pre­sen­ta­tion but rather is draw­ing from two an­cient cul­tures which have had such a tu­mul­tuous his­tory, un­cov­er­ing th­ese beau­ti­ful texts, writ­ing melodies to them and or­ches­trat­ing them,’’ he says.

Lior is de­lighted to be re­turn­ing to per­form the work with the ASO, which was the first orches­tra he ever sang with as part of the Aus­tralia Plays Broad­way con­cert at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2009. The fol­low­ing month, he played his first full-length or­ches­tral show with the ASO at Botanic Gar­den, which he fondly re­mem­bers as a trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

His re­turn con­cert with West­lake will be di­vided into two parts. The first half, en­ti­tled Leav­ing The Western Shad­ows, spans pieces from Lior’s first three al­bums, along with some new songs from his next solo of­fer­ing which is due out in March. “Most of them have new or­ches­tral ar­range­ments which were drawn up by a range of com­posers – Ben­jamin Northey be­ing one of them, Iain Grandage as well, and Nigel West­lake also drew up a cou­ple,’’ he says.

Lior says his fans will find com­mon threads be­tween Com­pas­sion, which com­prises the sec­ond half of the pro­gram, and his pre­vi­ous works. “With a lot of my own songs I’ve subtly in­fused traces of my own her­itage, par­tic­u­larly through the vo­cal in­flec­tions and things like Be­douin Song. There’s a cer­tain spir­i­tu­al­ity that I tap into just per­son­ally through my own mu­sic, and this re­ally is an ex­ten­sion of that,’’ he says.

While the col­lab­o­ra­tion slowed progress on his own fourth al­bum, Lior says it also has ben­e­fited from the ex­pe­ri­ence. “I can look back and there’s a very clear pro­gres­sion and rich­ness to my own mu­si­cal vo­cab­u­lary and reper­toire that work­ing with Nigel has given me, and I think that’s ac­tu­ally fed into the al­bum in a great way,’’ he says. Lior & West­lake per­form Leav­ing the Western Shad­ows and Com­pas­sion with the Ade­laide Sym­phony Orches­tra at the Fes­ti­val The­atre on Fe­bru­ary 7

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