Singer Lior says his song cycle with composer Nigel Westlake has moved audiences more profoundly than anything either of them has done before.
Those who have heard either a live performance of Compassion or the recently released album won’t be surprised. The soulful songs sung by Lior are based on ancient Hebrew and Arabic writings on the theme of compassion which have been set to dramatic, soaring compositions by Westlake.
“It’s garnered much more of an emotional response than anything either of us has done,” Lior tells InDaily of Compassion, which will be performed with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra at the Festival Theatre next month.
“I didn’t think it would move people as much [because it’s not sung in English], but the beautiful thing about music is that it can do that.”
Compassion is imbued with the aching emotions from which it was born.
The genesis of the collaboration was Lior’s performance at a memorial concert in 2009 for Westlake’s son, 21-year-old Eli, who had been run down and killed the previous year. Israeli-born Lior finished his set with an a capella version of the ancient Hebrew hymn “Avinu Malkeinu”, the power and spirituality of which Westlake says left everyone present “captivated in spellbound rapture”.
The composer offered to create a symphonic arrangement to accompany the hymn, which ultimately led to a commission from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for a full song cycle for voice and orchestra.
“For him (Westlake), it very much symbolised regrowth and new beginnings, which gave the whole process so much more depth and emotional weight,” Lior says.
Compassion also gave Lior a chance to share an important aspect of his own Middle Eastern heritage.
The pair decided to work with ancient texts in both Hebrew and Arabic, drawing together the writings of two cultures – Judaism and Islam – that have lived side by side with an extremely tumultuous history. Lior consulted with academics, linguists, rabbis and others in his research, seeking out poems and proverbs that explored the theme of compassion from a humanitarian, rather than religious, basis.
“I didn’t know what I would find. I was kind of going into it blind.
“I started researching and the first Arabic text I uncovered was a poem that was really saying the same thing as ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ … I also found similarities in the language.
“It felt like I was uncovering things that did emanate from a common seed, which was a nice surprise.”
Lior – who has previously found success with his solo albums Autumn Flow, Corner of an Endless Road and Tumbling into the Dawn – acknowledges that Compassion took him out of his comfort zone. He sings without a guitar, instead accompanied by an orchestra, reaching the lowest and highest notes in his range.
He describes the collaboration with Westlake as “rich and rewarding”, saying the pair formed a strong friendship and found themselves agreeing on key aspects of the project, especially the emotive form it would take.
“Neither Nigel or I consider ourselves religious people, but we retain our spirituality through music.”
Amid all the “wise and beautiful” writings he discovered, it is a line in “Avinu Malkeinu” which still resonates most strongly with Lior:
… to instil me with a greater sense of compassion so that I may be liberated.
“It’s about finding freedom through compassion and greater understanding,” he says.
“I think that is a beautiful way of expressing the idea of compassion.”
Compassion – Lior and Nigel Westlake will be performed at the Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, on February 7, alongside the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. The first half of the show will be orchestral arrangements of Lior’s own songs, such as “Daniel” and “This Old Love”, with the second half dedicated to the song cycle Compassion.
Lior’s fourth studio album, Scattered Reflections, is due for release in March and is being funded via a crowd-sourcing campaign on Pledge Music.