Wednesday, March 8, 2023



William Cooper

Ngapa William Cooper.

Composed and written by Nigel Westlake, Lior, Dr. Lou Bennett and Sarah Gory. Australian String Quartet Dale Barltrop, violin Francesca Hiew, violin Christopher Cartlidge, viola Michael Dahlenburg, cello. Adelaide Town Hall, March 7 2023.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Lior and Nigel Westlake

Although the Adelaide Festival’s performance of Ngapa William Cooper is primarily about Yorta Yorta activist William Cooper’s protest against the treatment of the Jewish people in Nazi Germany, the evening of magnificent composition, musicianship and song is a commentary on the evils of oppression and displacement as well as cultural eradication. It is also a joyous celebration of courage and compassion and the healing power of empathy. It is a euphoric symphony to the power of goodness in humanity 

 The first piece is Bryce Dressner’s fiercely sinewy Ayhem (Homeward-a homage to the diaspora experience of Dressner’s Jewish grandmother).  Composed for strings it comprises hard, sudden accents creating a feeling of protest and defiance before subsiding into a sustained sound reminiscent of ancient winds across a vast landscape and the persistent force of resistance. Dressner’s composition, played with stirring agility and verve by the four members of the Australian String Quartet  serves as a prelude to Nigel Westlake’s beautifully conceived and composed tribute to Ngapa William Cooper with singer Lior and  Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung musician, researcher and social activist  Dr. Lou Bennett AM.

The second piece is Philip Glass’s String Quartet No. 3 “Mishima” Glass’s distinct minimalism is inspired by Paul Shrader’s film ”Mishima” in which the famous Japanese novelist kidnaps a commandant in an attempt to restore dignity and the distinctive cultural heritage and national essence to the nation. In one way it echoes Ngapa William Cooper’s advance on the Nazi Germany consulate in 1938 . The comparison does draw a long bow, but it does highlight the call to preserve a people’s cultural heritage, diminished after World War 2 by occupation and by genocide and displacement in Germany after Kristallnacht and since the arrival of British colonization in Australia.

Dr. Lou Bennett AM
 After interval vocalists Lior and Lou Bennett are accompanied by the Australian String Quartet and Andrea Lam on piano, Rebecca Lagos on percussionand  Kees Boersma on Double Bass in  Nigel Westlake’s most extraordinary and uplifting composition in tribute to Grandfather William Cooper.  To say that this half of the evening’s programme was transformative does not fully express the impact of the work and its significance.  Jewish singer songwriter Lior and First Nations singer and musician  Lou Bennett join together to sing six songs written with Westlake and Sarah Gory to tell the story of William Cooper and his stance against the persecution and annihilation of the Jewish people, already in train after the infamous Kristallnacht of 1938 throughout Germany and Austria. The News is a lament for Cooper’s son Daniel who fought for Australia in World War 1 and was killed. He died unheralded and without citizenship, Lior’s haunting and soulful voice captures the pain and the horror of the impending holocaust while Bennett waving the eucalypt branches of the smoking ceremony echoes the song of bereavement. In The Silence Lior cries out through the silence “If all backs are turned. If all eyes look away There will be no way to know we are sinking” Lior and Bennett sing from the heart their songs of experience. It is the song of sublime compassion. Yakapna (Family) sung with such passion by Bennett affirms the conquest of hate by love and a resilience that will not harden the heart. In The Meeting, when Cooper summons his brothers and sisters to join him for the march to the consulate Lior’s song is interwoven with the recording of Cooper’s call to arms with “a pen for a spear and the courage to use it.”  The Protest closes with “Dark is the heart that closes its doors” in condemnation of the consulate’s refusal to see the protestors or heed their call for empathy. In the final song, At the end of my Days Lior and Bennett join together in a moving tribute to a man whose wisdom, courage and compassion stand as an inspiration to all.

In the true spirit of reconciliation it is time to learn from Ngapa William Cooper. It is time to hear and listen to the voice of a people who in spite of the wrongs suffered and the injustice inflicted upon them “will be the first to speak up and the last to be silent”. Ngapa William Cooper is a magical and unique experience transporting the listener to a state of meditative contemplation. Lior’s Hebrew heritage and Lou Bennett’s song of her Yorta Yorta people fill the Adelaide Town Hall with the songline of two cultures rich in culture and humanity. Ngapa William Cooper is an unforgettable evening of sublime musical performance, transformative song, uplifting composition and inspiring themes.

They did not listen to William Cooper in 1938.  In this Adelaide Festival world premiere Nigel Westlake with creative lyricist Sarah Gory, vocalists  Lior and Lou Bennett and members of the Australian String Quartet with percussion, piano and double bass musicians  create a night of transcendental experience. It is time to listen and for the voices to be .heard.