A middle-eastern celebration bounds to life in this cross-cultural collaboration between composer and songwriter.

The collaboration of Australian composer Nigel Westlake and Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Lior seemed a slightly unusual pairing from the outset. Throw the Sydney Symphony into the mix and a new work inspired by traditional middle-eastern texts, and the partnership promised to return some unexpected results.

Amidst the throes of federal election weekend, the composer and songwriter took to the Opera House concert hall stage in front of a diminutively-sized SSO. Lior, an immediately likable character, thanked the audience for their attendance and expressed his gratitude to be performing alongside the orchestra with Nigel conducting at the podium.

The first half, featuring Lior’s songs accompanied by orchestra, began with Daniel – the inclusion of tubular bells and a range of percussive interjections adding spice to the contemplative ballad.

Other highlights of the set included Grandfather – Lior’s clear voice and delicate vibrato recounting intimate memories from childhood – and Bedouin Song, solo guitar warm and comforting in this poignant tribute to new beginnings.

While the setlist nicely showcased Lior’s talents as a songwriter, the second half’s premiere performance of Compassion promised something a little more exciting. Co-written by Lior and Westlake, the work’s lyrics were taken from a variety of Jewish and Islamic texts, with traditional melodies then expanded upon and transformed into more sophisticated orchestral fantasies.

The work’s first movement, Sim Shalom (Grant Peace), provided a sombre and cinematic adventure. Lior’s impressive vocal range was on full display, with luxurious violin solos from concertmaster Sun Yi featured throughout.

The second movement, Elize Hu Chahcam? (Who is Wise?) came as a breath of fresh air as the first real piece of drama thus far that evening. Aggressive pizzicato in lower strings, syncopated accented interjections from brass, crashes from percussion and jagged semiquavers in violins provided a thrilling sojourn into characteristic Westlake territory. In peaceful contrast was the remorseful third movement, where Lior’s tranquil voice floated high above, wandering like a dream through the slow, regular heartbeat provided by the double basses.

Overall, the song cycle proved a triumphant and exciting achievement by songwriter and composer – a collaboration that will hopefully occur again soon.

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