BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
Melbourne’s Lior Attar has taken out several ARIA awards for his hits as a singer-songwriter, though he’s never been bound by the music of one genre or era. This month, he teams up Tinalley String Quartet to premiere his new work Song Cycle, composed in collaboration with Ade Vincent. Lior is also set to present his re-imagining of Nigel Westlake’s Compassion for Quartet and Voice, which the two wrote in 2013 for the Sydney Symphony. The Israeli-born Australian musician chats about crossing over into classical music, the process of working with Ade, and sharing his personal journey through song.
Hi Lior! Congratulations on the premiere of your work Song Cycle. I read that it’s about loss, love and compassion – how do you explore these themes through your music?
When Tinalley invited me to compose this work with Ade, we discussed the overriding theme of the concert as well as this proposed work. The broad concept of transience and life cycle came up as one we that we would like to explore.
Many of my own songs strongly relate to these themes. I would usually pen the lyrics to these, so in this case not only was I excited about working with fine young composer Ade Vincent, I was interested in sourcing poetry that related to this theme, and seeing how it felt to compose to someone else’s words, something I’d never really done before as I’m usually so invested in the lyrical process.
How did you come to work with Ade Vincent, and why do you fit so well as a creative match?
Ade was commissioned to write a new work, having won a young composers’ grant. The link between Ade and the Tinalley quartet had already been made. There was a fortunate synergy where Tinalley were looking for a guest artist to join them as part of their concert series, and Ade was searching for a vocalist/composer to collaborate with.
Fortunately, I existed in a subset of their two worlds.
I know that Ade connected with my collaboration with Nigel Westlake Compassion, and this also formed a large part of why he invited me. I think the reason we have worked so well together is due to our shared love of the crossover of where classical music meets contemporary music. We are also both very much ‘idea’ driven. The compositional decisions we made needed to have a conceptual grounding.
Talk us through the process of writing this work, between you and Ade.
We both sourced various poems and discussed them both in terms of conceptual fit and how they lent themselves to be sung – their ‘lyricism’. Once we had settled on two beautiful poems – Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas, and Hours by Hazel Hall, I set out to compose melodies to them. I would send Ade melodic ideas and phrases and he would orchestrate around the voice. The process then went back and forth, each of us offering refinements to each other’s compositions until we put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
How would you describe the musical style of this work?
Ade and I both share a love of contemporary songwriting. I think we have drawn on this in terms of guiding the structure of this work. Ade has certainly brought his extraordinary compositional skills in drawing up a string quartet orchestration that feels both classic and contemporary, one which utilizes a rich palate of colours and textures from the string instruments.
One of the main reasons Tinalley is able to present this work so beautifully is due to the versatility of each of the musicians in the quartet and the wide scope of music they have performed in their respective careers, in both classical as well as more contemporary spheres.
You’ve received ARIA awards as a singer-songwriter, yet you often cross over into the ‘classical’ stream of music – such as your work with Westlake and Tinalley. What are your thoughts on genre? Do you think it’s necessary for musicians today to break the boundaries of these sorts of labels?
It is true that more than ever, it is a time where artists need to diversify in order to survive given the nature of album sales etc. A successful crossover, however, is almost always driven by a passion and curiosity.
For a long time I’ve been drawn to the musical place where contemporary song writing meets a classically grounded orchestration to enhance the power of lyric. Artists such as Nick Drake and George Martin were a big influence in this capacity. It is also true that an artist must consistently challenge themselves to reawaken the passion and inspiration that can lie dormant unless consistently stoked.
Tell us about My Grandfather, which you’ll perform with Tinalley. Why is it important for you to use music to share your personal journeys with the world?
Probably more than any of my songs, this one most strongly relates to life cycle. The song holds a real weight for me in that, given his story, my grandfather represents survival to me more than any other figure in my life. What he and his generation of Holocaust survivors had to endure in order to survive is unfathomable. Musically, I also felt the simplicity of the song would sit well amidst such a rich and, at times, complex musical landscape that this concert holds.
For tour dates and more information, visit www.tinalley.com.au.