A Night of Compassion was an inspiring and transcendental evening

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A Night of Compassion was an inspiring and transcendental evening


It is often within life’s darkest periods that illuminating sounds and words offer us a lifeline on which to grasp and allude us to the healing propensity of musical and artistic forms.

It was superb singer-songwriter Lior’s performance of the ancient hymn of compassion, ‘Avinu Malkeinu’, at a fundraising concert for a foundation that acclaimed composer Nigel Westlake formed in memory of his son Eli that led to the formation of their exemplary artistic partnership.

The revelatory Compassion album that the two released nine years ago was inspired by a shared belief that the beauty and wisdom found within many works of art and philosophy attributed to religion are not exclusive to those who subscribe to its faith and have much to offer to those who might accept them without judgement or bias.

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Using the concept of compassion as a common theme and drawing from the ancient texts, poems and proverbs of Judaism and Islam was an extraordinary task and one that has moved audiences in the years since its release. On this special evening, Westlake’s incredible orchestration together with Lior’s breathtaking three-octave vocal range transported the audience to the shores of the Red Sea, through ancient tombs and sites, and majestic mountains across the Middle East.

Presented by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and Festival of Jewish Arts and Music (FOJAM), the beautiful evening at Melbourne Town Hall began with the extraordinary musical pairing of sublime soul singer and Gumbaynggirr woman Emma Donovan and masterful pianist and MSO Composer in Residence Paul Grabowsky AO who performed songs from their country and gospel collaboration, The Old Rugged Cross.

Donovan and Grabowsky moved the audience in their performances of ‘I’ll Fly Away’ (Albert E. Brumley), ‘Miracle Man’ (Micko Donovan) and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ (Paul Simon; Arrangement: Alex Turley) with the MSO.

Ukrainian-Jewish-Australian opera singer Billie Tumarkin brought a transportive majesty in her unique and exceptionally beautiful interpretation of traditional songs in which she was accompanied by violin virtuoso Alex Burkoy.


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Dressed in the colours of the Ukrainian flag, the supremely talented Tumarkin and Burkoy performed ‘Poviy vitre na Vkrainu (Повiй, вiтре, на Вкраiну) (Blow, Wind, to Ukraine)’ – a Ukrainian folk melody with text by Ukrainian poet Stepan Rudansky, ‘Rivkele Di Shabesdike (Rivkele the Sabbath Widow)’ – a Yiddish song and poem written by Polish-Jew Pesach Kaplan in the Bialystok Ghetto in 1941, and ‘Nich Yaka Misyachna (What a Moonlit Night)’ (Arrangement: Nicholas Buc) with the MSO.

For this magnificent ‘A Night of Compassion’ concert, Lior, Westlake and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra brought their masterful musicianship to a spiritual and philosophical work of art.

Delving into the themes of peace, wisdom, love, inner beauty, kindness, mercy, and compassion, the beautiful seven-movement song cycle featured four movements in Hebrew – ‘Sim Shalom’ (Grant Peace), ‘Eize Hu Chacham?’ (Who is Wise?), ‘Al Takshu L’vavchem’ (Don’t Harden Your Hearts) and ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ (Hymn of Compassion) and three movements in Arabic – ‘La Yu’minu’ (Until You Love Your Brother), ‘Inna Rifqa’ (The Beauty Within) and ‘Ma Wadani Ahadun’ (Until the End of Time).

After several rounds of applause, the concert closed beautifully with Lior’s ‘Safety of Distance’ in which he poignantly sings: “Compassion is the measure of a man”.

Headed by concertmaster Sophie Rowell, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra was captivating in channelling the eerie and tranquil and delivering the majestic and celestial. The meticulous precision and fervour of percussionists John Arcaro and Robert Cossom proved exhilarating.

From the mournful and sombre to the sublime and transcendental, Westlake’s soul-stirring arrangements were evocative and enchanting in their live performance.

The ambitious, melodic and rhythmic intensity of the work soared to grand heights while exuding a sacred and deeply meditative spiritual gravity. Lior’s voice was utterly sublime and the immaculate skill and passion with which he communicated the Hebrew and Arabic lines was inspiring.

In an often volatile and fractured world with devastating conflicts continuing around the world, the belief that music and art can deliver a sense of healing was palpably felt on a night in which all were profoundly moved by the depth of musicianship and emotion, and in which the virtue of compassion was so gracefully articulated as the noblest of human qualities.

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