This concert is the result of a brilliant musical collaboration between acclaimed composer Nigel Westlake and Lior Attar, the talented young singer-songwriter whose modern music reverberates with more traditional Middle Eastern sounds.
The first half of the evening, Leaving the Western Shadows, focused on Lior’s work, including some of his better-known songs such as “Grey Ocean”, “Daniel”, “This Old Love” and “If I Lost Your Love”. Each song has been arranged to be played with an orchestra, and at Friday night’s performance at the Festival Theatre, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra was superb; it blended with each of Lior’s three octave notes, highlighted his lyrics and increased the power of every emotion.
A Lior concert is filled with joy, poetry, emotion and an overwhelming sense of beauty, and each song he performed was a perfect moment in time. He introduced one number, “My Grandfather”, which he wrote essentially for himself (and his grandfather) and had performed previously in Adelaide, but not recorded. The impact on the audience was incredible and the emotions were sky-high.
The second half of this show, Compassion, was a symphony of songs by Lior and Westlake which the pair decided to collaborate on after the tragic death of Westlake’s son. Lior researched the writings of sages from Islamic and Hebrew origins, then put them in song, and Westlake created the orchestral scoring. The result of their combined intelligence and artistry is a musical experience that takes each individual into a higher plane of heightened existence.
From the opening notes of “Sim Shalom” (Grant Peace) to the closing of “Avinu Malkeinu” (Hymn of Compassion) the audience was entranced. Not knowing the language is no barrier to appreciating the pervading sentiment and wisdom that a good person should show compassion to others.
In Compassion, Lior and Westlake have created a musical path to enlightenment. Westlake’s music is so ethereal at times that the strings transport one beyond this mortal realm, and his percussion, syncopation and rhythms are so powerful (and so well performed by the ASO) that you are well and truly confronted by one hell of a battle.
There is another reason for the tremendous emotional impact of the evening on the audience. As a result of the Eli Westlake’s death, Nigel Westlake has founded The Smugglers of Light, a charity to support Indigenous communities (Gail Mabo, daughter of Eddie Mabo, is the patron). Artistic support is provided for young Indigenous people to speak with their elders, discover their wisdom, knowledge and understanding, and to put their experience into song and videotape the result. It is a process Lior and Westlake undertook in researching and understanding ancient wisdom and finding a modern form for its expression. They have encouraged Aboriginal communities to do the same. Through his compassionate nature, Westlake lives by a true model of reconciliation.
At the conclusion of the seven songs of Compassion, the sustained standing ovation reflected the love in the room and the moved Festival Theatre audience’s appreciation of an outstanding performance. Lior rounded off the evening with a gentle, contemplative encore in which he sang about compassion being the measure of a man. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
Compassion was a superb, life-changing event for many reasons. We live in an era (and perhaps we always have) when people all over the planet need to show more understanding of the tragic circumstances others find themselves in rather than being judgemental. Lior’s thoughtful lyrics expressed in a beautiful voice, combined with Westlake’s powerful, vibrant orchestrations, will remain with me and I hope that I can heed their call.
Friday’s concert at the Festival Theatre was a one-off in Adelaide, but it was announced this morning that Lior will perform at next month’s WOMADelaide, singing songs from his new album, Scattered Reflections (being released March 7), as well as classics from his three previous albums. The Nigel Westlake/Lior album Compassion, recorded with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, was released late last year.
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