Lewis Spratlan: Invasion – Music and Art for Ukraine
With its discordant thumps, Invasion is not an easy listen and nor should it be. Written in response to the invasion of Ukraine, this album has been curated by pianist Nadia Shpachenko to convey her emotional response to the destruction of her home city of Kharkiv. Working with her long-time collaborator, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Lewis Spratlan, she commissioned the title work for piano, saxophone, horn, trombone, percussion and mandolin. It’s a strange but compelling piece with a lyrical middle section that allows each instrument a moment of expression. Meanwhile, pulsating piano chords continue the sense of unease before the piece explodes again into rage, grief and a whirl of emotions that must resonate with all these musicians, as well as the people of Ukraine.
After the initial swirling chaos of emotions, the album continues into solo piano music by Spratlan, and there is a clarity to Shpachenko’s performance here that took me by surprise. With precision she takes us on a journey through music in all its forms, from delicate moments in the Piano Suite through to the athletic prowess of the Piano Sonata’s first movement. However, it is her ability to convey the humour and sadness juxtaposed at the heart of ‘Six Rags for Solo Piano’ that shows Shpachenko’s true musical genius.
This is one of those multi-disciplinary productions, and an extensive booklet of artwork adds extra layers of meaning to the music. For the booklet, Shpachenko not only commissioned well-known Ukrainian artists working in different media, but also curated artworks by the children of Kharkiv that record their responses to the war. Shpachenko will also donate 100% of proceeds from the album to humanitarian aid organisations working in Ukraine.
Invasion is a truly contemporary album, with piano, war and raw emotion at its centre. This is not an album to put on in the background, it is something to really listen to: music to make you think, and art at its most powerful.