It was with disbelief that singer Adrian Tamburini read a book by former refugee Behrouz Boochani two years ago.
"I couldn't believe that this was happening in Australia, I knew we were detaining asylum seekers but they were being treated more like prisoners," he told AAP.
Boochani wrote the award-winning memoir No Friend but the Mountains to describe his experience of detention on Manus Island and in PNG.
He was forced to write in secret, using mobile phone messages sent one by one over many years.
But it was the strength of Tamburini's reaction that inspired composer Luke Styles to set parts of the book to music.
The performance will chart Boochani's experiences during six years on Manus, including sounds that are difficult, jarring and atonal.
"But then there are parts, when Behrouz sees the beach, you can see the sun, feel the sand, and it's glorious," Tamburini said.
He's praised the Zelman Symphony Orchestra, which is mostly made up of volunteers, describing them as the "bravest orchestra in the country", for commissioning and performing the work.
But Boochani is unlikely to be hear live the music his work inspired.
He is currently in New Zealand, and it's doubtful he would ever be allowed entry to Australia.
The song cycle will premiere in Melbourne on Sunday at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, with 130 performers on stage from the Zelman Symphony and the Melbourne Bach Choir.
No Friend but the Mountains won the Victorian Prize for Literature in 2019.