A symphonic song cycle for voice and orchestra, Compassion is a collaboration between two treasured Australian artists, singer-songwriter Lior and acclaimed composer Nigel Westlake. It draws from the rich worlds of Judaism and Islam to present a collection of profound and poetic messages surrounding the idea of compassion between human beings. Using the strengths of their individual artistry, Lior and Westlake express the wisdom of compassion through a combination of music with ancient Hebrew and Arabic texts. Their similarities are immense, universality undeniable, and Compassion is their gift to a world struggling with divisiveness. Compassion will be performed with a 54-strong Adelaide Symphony Orchestra tomorrow night for the opening of WOMADelaide 2021. Hi Fi Way speaks to Lior about playing WOMADelaide on Friday.
It must be great being able to talk about playing live shows and heading over to Adelaide for WOMADelaide?
It sure is, it will be my first gig back and almost a year to the date since my last gig. The whole notion of certainty has changed though. We continually hope that everything goes ahead.
Do you feel more optimistic about the year ahead or is it still a week by week proposition?
I do feel optimistic, I myself have a pretty busy year because there are a lot of things that got rescheduled and there’s a lot of new stuff. There is a real hunger from audiences again for live shows so if everything goes to plan it will be a great year.
How did you navigate your way through the chaos last year?
At some point it became apparent that gigs were not going to happen so I looked at it as an enforced sabbatical. I tried to focus on things that I wouldn’t otherwise have time for with the demands of touring. I would have liked to use that time better for writing but unfortunately it wasn’t a particularly inspiring period. Speaking to a lot of my fellow artists as well, we had a lot of time on our hands but not a lot of inspiration to draw from. It isn’t so much what is happening around you but more the lack of human connection. Human contact and the experiences we have in the outer world, it isn’t about writing about that directly they just fill us with a feeling that inspires us to create music. I can only describe it as feeling emotionally full and wanting to pour that on whatever art medium you operate in.
Does being on the road or being in the right place at the right time provide that inspiration?
Certainly being on the road connecting with people but just in everyday life. I’ll speak for myself, a lot of artists are social beings and interaction with people are the things that light fires. Being exposed to stories and other peoples experiences, looking out of your inner shell to connect with the world. If you take that away we are left in our own little bubble. It feels like the rise of the creative fuel is coming back.
Did you learn a lot about your own personal resilience during this period?
I wouldn’t say that there were revelations but more of an affirmation of what I’m talking about in terms of how much a social animal I am and that creatively I don’t thrive at all in a domestic environment. It affirmed the fact in order for me to be creative I really need to be out there mixing with people and having rich experiences through collaborations to light those fires.
So it must be a huge relief to be playing WOMADelaide?
Yeah, I love WOMAD and this is my third time in Australia. I have done several around the world as well. It is just a magical festival. We entertained the idea of doing this show, Compassion with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and in a normal year of WOMAD there are so many artists and so many stages that the logistics of getting an orchestra up and happening on one of the stages made it a challenge. I guess the upside of everything happening around us and the smaller size scale of WOMAD being all local artists and all one stage has given us the opportunity to work together to getting this orchestral show on the road.
How much work goes in to a show like this?
It is a show which I Have performed several times with the major state orchestras here in Australia and internationally. A lot of work has been done in setting up this particular piece. I think I performed this with the Adelaide Symphony in 2014 at the Festival Theatre so there will be musicians who have played it before. Given the nature of how difficult it is to get an orchestra together we generally have to cram it all in and wedge it all up in three days before the show. I’ll be coming to Adelaide early but it will be heads down tails up and working all day on it.
The show theme Compassion takes on greater meaning now that ever before, was that part of the intention of doing the show now?
Nigel and I premiered this work at the end of 2013, my motivation was to present a universal humanitarian picture of the wisdom of compassion from these two ancient worlds that have had such a volatile history and relationship over time trying to find common ground about what they express about how we should treat one and other. It really resonated with people in quite a magical way and has had the greatest resonance that either him or I have done in our respective careers. So much of what has happened in the last few years has made this theme so relevant. It is always relevant. We need to be reminded about being more compassionate beings. It is something that needs to be practiced.
Is this the most creatively fulfilled you have been playing a show like this?
In some ways it is, there is a certain sense of fulfilment that I get doing a intimate set of solo songs that I have written. There are some things about this show that offer me creative fulfilment like nothing else. For one, I’m standing in front of an orchestra and all the power and harmony of it is unmatched. To be able to step in to the role of a soloist and you’re in front of an orchestra with my good buddy Nigel conducting it is quite a thrill. We Tapped in to something that is both universal and has some originality. From our experience audiences have really connected with that amazingly without understanding the words that I am singing. It still seems to have a poignant resonance with them that feels pretty good.
Are the rehearsals an exciting place to be?
They can be! They can also be a grind but at the end of the day it comes to the attitude of the orchestra and the sense of positivity and enthusiasm they bring to it. There’s no doubt they are virtuosos of their instrument and are very capable, no doubt at all, at the end of the day it comes down to how emotionally invested they are in what they are doing and how much they want to give. When you are in the rehearsal room and know that everyone is behind me, everyone is chasing one way and giving everything they have got, you feel that, you can’t fool that. It is either there or it’s not and when it is it is pretty thrilling.
Interview By Rob Lyon
For tickets, show times and other information head to WOMADelaide…