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Yale 62


Invitation to all-Spratlan program at Brooklyn’s BargeMusic, June 17, 7:00 pm
Nadia Shpachenko, piano

All-Spratlan CD INVASION.
To be released in September 2022 on Reference Recordings label.
CD proceeds to benefit Ukraine Humanitarian Aid.

PROGRAM (All World Premiere Recordings)
Lewis Spratlan

INVASION for piano, alto saxophone, horn, trombone, percussion, and mandolin (March 2022), about Putin’s monstrous slaughter of the people of Ukraine

Anthony Parnther, conductor, Nadia Shpachenko, piano, Pat Posey, saxophone, Aija Mattson-Jovel, horn, Phil Keen, trombone, Yuri Inoo, percussion, and Joti Rockwell, mandolin

Lewis Spratlan

THREE SONATAS for solo piano (2021)

I. Presto
II. Largo
III. Gentle
Nadia Shpachenko, piano
Lewis Spratlan

SIX RAGS for solo piano (2018)

I. Goose Eye Mountain RAG
II. Speck Pond RAG
III. Mahoosuc Notch RAG
IV. Mount Greylock RAG
V. Pelham Lake RAG
VI. Chesterfield Gorge RAG
Nadia Shpachenko, piano
Lewis Spratlan

PIANO SUITE NO. 1 for solo piano (2021)

I. Capriccio
II. Dirge
III. Pastorale
Nadia Shpachenko, piano
Lewis Spratlan
WONDERER for solo piano (2005)
Nadia Shpachenko, piano

Program notes


Putin’s monstrous slaughter of the civilian population of Ukraine marks a turning point in world history since World War II, so much so that the term has been heightened to include all of the music on Nadia Shpachenko’s new CD of that name.

The piece bearing the actual title INVASION is a 12-minute chamber work for piano, alto saxophone, horn, trombone, percussion, and mandolin that explores the chaos of war and the misery it generates. Midway through the piece violence pauses, allowing a contemplation of the damage and horror that have been experienced, as shown through moans and cries of grief. The chaos resumes and grows amid shouts of agony and reaches a climax of annihilation. It was composed during the period February 24-March 13, 2022.

The remaining works are all concerned, in some fashion, with observing.


These three pieces, glancing back, derive from an observation of the 555 keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757). These sonatas are, rather uniformly, one-movement works that present and develop a single idea. I have preserved this quality in the first two sonatas. The third breaks free a bit in setting up two main ideas that are then invaded by music from the first. It thus rounds out the set of three.

I. Presto. This sonata is a perpetuum mobile – virtually every 16th note is iterated – that is grounded by an imbedded pedal point. In a kind of centrifugal way new pitches spin off from the ground, eventually reaching rather far above and below the spindle pedal point before making their way home. All of this is then repeated, one octave higher.

II. Largo. This sonata presents a two-measure repeated figure in the bass (C-Bb-A) that functions as a ground for a passacaglia or chaconne, always present in some form. In the middle of the sonata the bass is inverted (C-D-Eb). The music above the bass varies widely and includes a veiled, airy figure containing only pitches foreign to the ground; a slow invocation of a familiar tonal progression; a fluent, wide-ranging, and somewhat syncopated melody; dense whole-tone-oriented clusters; the same, decorated; a fast-moving figure full of leaps; a jabbing oom-pah figure; and an extremely quick, virtuosic burst, punctuated by high chords, before ending with a slithering descent that draws things to a close with one final, extended statement of the two-bar ground bass.

III. Gentle. This music breaks from the one-idea mold in setting up two contrasting ideas, the first densely chromatic, the second a slow waltz, determinedly vocal in character. The perpetuum mobile of Sonata I abruptly invades this world, and then alternates with it several times before bringing the sonata to a close with a four-bar statement of the pedal point, but at the tempo of the “gentle” music, thus, in a way, squaring the circle.

SIX RAGS (2018)

Each of these six pieces is linked with a prominent geographical feature in New England. The first three are tied to notable locations in the Mahoosuc Mountains, a 30-mile chain, largely above tree-line, running diagonally from New Hampshire into Maine, and found just to the north of the Presidentials, home of Mount Washington, in the White Mountains. The second three rags celebrate prominent features in Western Massachusetts.


Goose Eye Mountain, one of the two highest peaks in the Mahoosucs, is a perfect cone, and rises, Matterhorn-like, from a long bare ridge. It seems always to have its own wisp of clouds hovering just above.


Speck Pond was formed when boulders became lodged in the ends of a cleavage in the ridge, creating a bowl that subsequently filled with water. It is an anomaly, lying far higher than any other body of water in the area. It is perfectly placid and crystal clear, allowing one to gaze into its considerable depths unimpeded.


Mahoosuc Notch is, notoriously, the most difficult mile on the Appalachian Trail. It is an abrupt, narrow tear in the ridge, descending thousands of feet, and filled with car-sized boulders and ice caves that give off veils of condensation, even in midsummer.


Mount Greylock is Massachusetts’s highest mountain. This rag takes us from its base to the tower at its summit, equipped with a blinking beacon.


Pelham Lake is a small body of water in the town of Rowe, Massachusetts, that has a beach of trucked-in sand, playground equipment, canoes, and kayaks. It is familyfriendly, but ringed with dark, high spruces and firs.


Chesterfield Gorge is a miniature Grand Canyon carved by the Westfield River. Its wild rapids are rimmed by towering granite cliffs. It is dark for most of the day. The sense of the various locations provides the main tissue of each piece, with ragtime music woven into the fabric, sometimes generating notes used at large, sometimes selfcontained. This music stands for the human beholder in nature.


PIANO SUITE NO. 1 (2021)

This piece reinvents staples from the Baroque suite in today’s language. Capriccio takes off from the energy and whimsy of the caprice, but falls into two distinct kinds of music. The first, marked “Frantic,” is just that, mainly a single voice with very little accompaniment that plunges or rises single-mindedly. The second, marked “Lento,” is multi-voiced, contrapuntal, and contemplative. These alternate throughout until the very end, where the frantic music prevails.

Dirge opens with a mournful three-bar bass melody that is reiterated several times with various treble accompaniments, each time a semi-tone higher. The melody is then expanded to include treble-register statements. Later it is broken into staccato fragments that eventually cohere into a sustained ostinato, which then yields to a lyrical and highly contrapuntal presentation that exhausts itself before a concluding double statement of the original three-bar melody.

In Pastorale, whimsy takes center-stage in the lilting 6/8 of the traditional pastorale. The texture is stubbornly two-voiced throughout the first two sections, and even into the contrasting quicker third section. The opening is then briefly reinvoked before yielding to a gauzy variation on a part of the first music. The concluding page is a decorated mixture of all of the previous music, leading to a loud hiccup at the end.


A kind of treble “big bang” spawns elements of this little universe, focusing at last on the footsteps of our Wonderer. These, in multiple guises, mark this quizzical and bemused figure’s presence throughout the piece, as various objects, actions, and feelings are encountered. The music following the big bang offers possibilities for continuing, but each comes up short somehow until a quick perpetuum mobile coheres and prevails. It is interrupted by a country waltz – maybe overheard, maybe remembered – that confronts the real pain beneath stylized car crashes and stolen lovers. The ensuing slow music is inspired by the Andante con moto of Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto, which, by legend, evokes Orpheus calming the raging beasts through song. In the finale a four-bar ostinato takes on three distinct temperaments, the first groping and noncommittal, the second grandiloquent and spectral, the third hyper-generic Latin pop. Each is revealed gradually, like a developing photograph or a jigsaw puzzle. But fragments of musical DNA from earlier in the piece keep us wondering even as the Wonderer’s footsteps reach apotheosis.

INVASION, THREE SONATAS, SIX RAGS, and PIANO SUITE NO. 1 were composed for Nadia Shpachenko and are dedicated to her. WONDERER was commissioned by the Borletti-Buitoni Trust for pianist Jonathan Biss.

Tickets are available through the BargeMusic website.