Lior is no stranger to WOMADelaide. But this year’s event will be quite different, being run as a series of sunset concerts at a new location in the East Parklands; accordingly, the singer / songwriter is also taking things in a new direction on the opening night.

“This is very different,” Lior explains, “performing with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and doing a work that I wrote together with composer Nigel Westlake. I’m stepping into the role of a soloist in front an orchestra, singing in ancient Hebrew and ancient Arabic; so it fits into the world music program pretty well.”

Despite being a good fit for WOMADelaide, it was only the boutique set up of this unique 2021 iteration that has made this performance a reality.

“We’ve entertained the idea of performing this work with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra at WOMAD before, both thematically and because of the environment, it would be great for this piece. But as you can imagine, it’s such a logistical challenge to have an orchestra, a big orchestra, in an outdoor setting, and so in a strange kind of way, the fact that it has been a smaller scale WOMAD with only one stage has made it viable for us to present this show.”

The piece that Lior and the ASO will perform together is called ‘Compassion’, with original melodies and orchestrations developed around ancient Hebrew and Arabic texts that reflect on concepts of compassion and how we treat one another.

“Years ago when I was doing solo shows, I occasionally would end my show with an acapella of an edition of an ancient Hebrew hymn called ‘Avinu Malkeinu’,” he explains, “which has now become the final movement of ‘Compassion’. It’s a hymn I heard growing up and has a beautiful melody, but when I got older and looked into the meaning of it I saw this beautiful message in it which translates to something like: you fill me with a greater sense of compassion so I can be liberated. I was really taken by this idea of about compassion as paving the road to freedom. And even though people didn’t understand what I was singing, it resonated, and people felt there was something sacred and still within it.”

As well as the beautiful focus of this work, it also has a quite a moving back-story.

“The story of how I met Nigel (Westlake) is linked to the tragic loss of his son, who had a relationship with my music. I was invited by Nigel to perform at the one-year memorial of the loss of his son and I finished with this piece. It was quite a poignant moment and at the end Nigel and I discussed the idea of working together on an epic orchestration of this hymn that I had only ever sung acapella; so it was taking it to the other extreme and that’s how this started. We worked on a seven-minute piece which was an orchestrated version of ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ and that’s what we presented to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and it was only because they came back to us and felt there was a vision to create something greater that it challenged me think of how could I expand these concepts.

“What drew me to this idea was that this was a universal and humanitarian message. I thought: wouldn’t it be interesting to see if I could find a text that says the same thing from the world of Islam and hold up this common ground from two worlds that have had such a tumultuous history over time. My good friend Waleed Aly helped me find the text and said a very similar thing, and that became the blueprint for the work which now holds a collection of beautiful ancient proverbs about the wisdom of compassion from these two ancient worlds.”

‘Compassion’ promises to be a very special event to open a unique version of WOMADelaide in these strange times. Be sure to grab your tickets by heading here.

Written by Libby Parker and Matthew Trainor