The Dover String Quartet’s recording of Dreams from life awake is now available via Amazon, iTunes, and streaming services.
Duo for Harp & Oboe-written for the Czech duo of Katerina Englichová and Vilém Veverka-was recently premiered in Prague.
dreams from life awake (string quartet)
Eric Sessler may prove to be the American composer of his generation capable of linking together the contrasting strains of post-romantic melody and harmony with the post-modern manipulations of Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, John Adams and others. His “Quartet” began as an extension of and homage to Barber’s classic sense of beauty and developed seamlessly into an intelligent use of slurring, harmonic alterations, and Nietszche-via-Reik’s eternal recurrence. Here, Sessler achieved a delicate balance between the rounded romantic development of mood and motif and a post-modern sense of music that’s paradoxically linear in its non-linearity and constant in its change— a song without a singer.
Once again, as in the Beethoven Opus 135, the melodic line rather than contrapuntal interaction is central. Sessler’s music flowed like a river that cascades over waterfalls and moves around in eddies and undercurrents.
Victor L. Schermer, Broad Street Review (December 7, 2013)
The young quartet - Joel Link, violin, Bryan Lee, violin, Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, viola, Camden Shaw, cello - programmed not only that work, but also the full string quartet from which the Adagiocomes. Along with a Beethoven quartet and an appealing new piece by Curtis professor Eric Sessler, the crucibles seemed to multiply: Could the Dover be both of Curtis and the first great full-time string quartet to come out of the city since the old Curtis String Quartet faded away more than three decades ago?
Controlled and polished, the Dover is nothing if not perfectly unified. Could there be a finer, more homogenous pop than the one the players produced in the pizzicato section at the end of Beethoven's Opus 135String Quartet in F Major? Nothing could have remained on a composer's wish list by the end of Sessler's 2013 String Quartet, whose first movement was full of reverberations and refractions on optimism and sincerity, and the same kind of American vibe that infused Barber.
Peter Dobrin, Philadelphia Inquirer (December 7, 2013)
That new work was a quartet the Dovers commissioned from composer Eric Sessler, a New Jersey-born teacher at Juilliard and Curtis (cellist Shaw, in remarks prompted by audience member Jan Winkler, said Sessler taught some of the members counterpoint); it was first performed in October, meaning the pages are still virtually wet from the printer’s inkjet.
And it is a very fine piece of contemporary string quartet writing. Oriented around guitar tunings, this vigorous, bright music was redolent of ninths in particular, and that gave it an attractive, warm sound overall. But it didn’t pander to pop styles — Sessler has managed to write an integrated American music that while tonal, is recognizably of its time, and pays homage to the heritage of the quartet (particularly Dvořák) while not being pastiche.
Sessler’s four-movement quartet follows relatively traditional lines as far as general character, too: A forceful, energetic first movement, tender and reflective second, a lighthearted third and an all-out finale. It offers each of the four players spotlight work, and the generally pastel colors of Sessler’s writing showed them off well.
In the second movement, the Dovers demonstrated their exceptional ensemble as they moved seamlessly from a loud to a soft dynamic in the space of a millisecond, and in the third, violinists Link and Lee played a charming Scotch-snap phrase over chattering pattern in viola and cello that was most effective. So, too, was the opening of that movement, in which the four players were admirably unified for a series of slides up and down, which, because of the serious approach this group has to its work, did not sound comic or like a stunt, but instead like an invitation to listen further.
Surely this is as close to an ideal performance of this music as could be hoped for, and Sessler must be delighted. The quartet performed it with an ease and mastery that suggested long acquaintance with the music, and yet its premiere was only two months ago.
Greg Stepanich, Palm Beach ArtsPaper (December 11, 2013)
Few chamber music performances are interrupted by shouts from the audience. But just as the musicians sat down to perform Eric Sessler’s 2013 String Quartet, which had been commissioned by the Dover ensemble, a man yelled, “Before you play, why don’t you tell us something about the piece, how you relate to it. Hook us up!”
“Uh, sure, that’s a really good idea,” said cellist Camden Shaw, who went on to relate to the audience how Sessler had been one of their teachers at Curtis and how the third movement attempts to evoke the guitar through the use of dense chords and slides.
The Sessler quartet is an accessible but by no means simple work. The first movement had a broad, big-boned American tone, with lots of open strings, big chords and rhapsodic flights of melody in the cello and first violin. In the lyric second movement, the melody moved from instrument to instrument, punctuated by dissonances that were unresolved but never harsh.
The third movement, as advertised, contains riffs that seemed to evoke the guitar, although the music got more interesting when the guitar motifs seemed to disappear and the music transformed into quick passages and soft-edged chords. The last movement was the most immediately appealing, with a constant rapid figure of notes that bounced from instrument to instrument, powering the movement like a miniature steam engine.
David Fleshler, South Florida Classical Review (December 10, 2013)
On Sunday, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra presented its second concert of the season led by Mischa Santora in the Mayerson Theater at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, Over-the-Rhine. The highlight was a world premiere flute concerto, performed by the principal flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Jeffrey Khaner. The orchestra commissioned the Flute Concerto by Eric Sessler of Philadelphia. Two of the movements are named for the alternate guitar tunings that inspired his music: DADGAD/Poetic and Orkney. But aside from that — which was not obvious to those of us who don’t play guitar — the work was immediately appealing. It had a distinctly mid-century American feel, in the vein of Aaron Copland and Roy Harris, with a few moments of minimalism. It seems destined to find a home among the established repertoire for the flute. What a joy it was to hear one of the world’s great flutists. Khaner carried on a lively dialogue with the orchestra in the first movement, and sailed through imaginative, free-flowing cadenzas. The second movement, “Jeff’s Song,” was meditative and soaring. The flutist projected a warm, beautifully focused timbre throughout its gently ascending, lyrical theme, while the orchestra provided a backdrop of pulsating chord clusters. The soloist tackled the flourishes of finale, “Blazing Orkney,” with an easy virtuosity. Santora and the orchestra gave it a convincing performance, and both composer and soloist took bows to a standing ovation.
Janelle Gelfand, Arts in Focus, Cincinnati.com
(November 23, 2011)
The main reason for excitement on the release of this new album is that it is the recording debut of Eric Sessler’s scintillating new (2006) Organ Concerto. That it was commissioned by the Curtis Institute for Alan Morrison, the superlative artist who premiered it in 2007, is a definite plus. Morrison worked closely with the composer through the time of its premiere at the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ in Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, and is credited by Sessler as being “ a major factor in the creation of this piece.” The work itself is a stunning conception, being both a display piece for the organ and a solid concert work for the orchestra, which remains an equal partner with the soloist throughout the 18-minute piece, so that it is an organ concerto in every sense of the word. In the outer movements, inspired writing for the orchestra, particularly the strings and percussion (read: ‘drums’) is matched blow-for-blow by glittering arpeggios, pungent parallel melodies, and dazzling pedal work from the organ. These outer movements, named “Electric Daydreams” and “Momentum” (and how!) enfold a slow movement in the form of a fantasia entitled “A Child’s Night Journey,” in which the organ clearly occupies center stage with the muted strings and soft percussion filling in the slowly moving harmonies and subtly underscoring the mood of nocturnal mystery. As in childhood itself, not all of all these slumbers are untroubled, but happily there are no nightmares.
Phil Muse, Sequenza 21 website (June 9, 2010)
The title of this release refers not to a piece of music but rather to the organ recorded: the much-anticipated Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ in Verizon Hall of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The instrument, opus 76 (2006) of Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, is the largest mechanical-action instrument in an American concert hall. Superb organist Alan Morrison (a faculty member at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia) has programmed a CD intended to show off the various capabilities of the instrument. Morrison has always been a champion of living American composers, and the major work on the CD is the organ concerto of Eric Sessler (one of Morrison’s faculty colleagues at Curtis). Morrison had recorded a solo piece of Sessler (b. 1969) on one of his previous CDs and when a commission from the Curtis Symphony arose, Sessler decided to write an organ concerto for Morrison to premiere on the Verizon Hall instrument. The work contains three movements: “Electric Daydreams” (inspired by the electric guitar music that pre-occupied Sessler’s youth); “A Child’s Night Journey” (a nocturnal fantasy inspired by watching his daughter sleep); and “Momentum” (a movement originally left untitled until Morrison, while listening to a computer demo of the work in his car, found himself unwittingly driving 90 miles per hour by the time the music finished). The piece is appealingly colorful, and the organ and orchestra are well-integrated. The recent years have seen more organ concerti being created than the available performance opportunities probably justify, but Sessler has written a work that deserves future hearings.
Carson Cooman, Fanfare Magazine 34:1 (Sept/Oct, 2010)
Eric Sessler's Organ Concerto (with strings and timpani) received its premier with Alan Morrison, its dedicatee, as soloist. It comes in three mood-distinct movements: an ecstatic first, a quiet and churchy second, and an austere if fast third. Sessler's music is not harshly dissonant, but not harmonically obvious either. At Curtis he studied with Ned Rorem. But it was another Curtis personality whose influence was more strongly felt in the second movement, when the string writing approached the Francophile beauty of Samuel Barber.
Peter Dobrin, Philadelphia Inquirer (February 6, 2007)
The third movement [Organ Concerto}, interestingly, was the only section without a title that invited mental pictures. The composer titled it Momentum after he wrote it, as a straightforward description of its musical nature. It was just as loud as the first movement but combined all that massive organ volume with changes of pace, storms of responses from the strings and timpani, and displays of skill, such as a passage in which the organist dropped his hands and demonstrated his prowess with the foot pedals.
Tom Purdom, Broad Street Review (February 17, 2007)
Organ Concerto. Our protagonists were the superb organist Alan Morrison, and David Hayes at the podium, both Curtis faculty members. Morrison certainly seemed to be having a good time at the console, and Sessler gave him a dazzling feet-only solo.
The middle movement, titled A Child's Night Journey, avoided the balance problem by virtue of the softer soundscape. This was the most effective music in the new work; exotic clouds of harmony wrought from strings and billowing organ tones, with, perhaps, a distant storm sounding in the timpani.
Peter Burwasser, Philadelphia City Paper (February 6, 2007)
David Hayes conducted the Curtis Symphony Orchestra in a Sunday afternoon concert that was highlighted by the world premiere of Eric Sessler'sOrgan Concerto, composed especially for the new Dobson pipe organ in Verizon Hall. Performed by Alan Morrison, the head of Curtis' organ department, the three-movement work bristles with energy throughout most of its pages but occasionally stops to sing a delightful tune.
Michael Caruso, Chestnut Hill Local (February 8, 2007)
sonata No. 1 (guitar)
The premier was Eric Sessler's Sonata No. 1, commissioned in memory of the young guitarist Randall M. Hoffman. Concise and demanding glassy articulation in the quick movements, the work covered itself with an elegiac mood. The middle movement, using lower tunings, evoked a mood of longing and distance as the melodic line wove through the harmonic darkness. That mood was held in different degrees through both outer movements. Sessler takes the guitar through harmonic coloration's and shifts in mood, ending with a flurry of notes that brought both the player's hands together over the sound hole.
Daniel Webster, Philadelphia Inquirer (January 24, 1998)
autumn (string orchestra)
Eric Sessler's Autumn music was neatly built on a three-note motif that grew through evocations of strong light and undertones of menace. It had a life of its own, even as it moved beneath the leafy photography of Sandy Sorlien.
Daniel Webster, Philadelphia Inquirer (November 12, 1996)
songs of the king
As intricately crafted as Eric Sessler's Songs of the King may be, it communicated its emotional message as clear as a bell. Premiered last night by the Music Group of Philadelphia, the choral work, whose text is taken from Alfred Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King, is heraldic one minute, poignant the next.
Sessler, 25, a resident of Feasterville, takes great care in choosing the right music for his Arthurian text. There are few universally recognized connections between the words and music- a Stravinskyesque trumpet blows as the poem proclaims Blow, trumpet, and the Dies Irae appears when the subject of death comes up. No, Sessler is interested in something much more subtle and instinctive, reflecting meaning in his music the way composers like Britten and Faure were able to do so well in their vocal music.
Peter Dobrin, Philadelphia Inquirer (May 13, 1995)
Sean Deibler's Music Group recently premiered a new work by Eric Sessler that is built around an idea that is just as creative as Cage's radios. Sessler had a stroke of genius, in fact, when he decided to write a group of songs based on the story of King Arthur. For many concert goers, traditional texts such as the Mass have lost most of their meaning. The saga of Camelot is a traditional subject too, but the tradition is still alive. Most of us have had some contact with contemporary books and movies that have stamped the essence of the legend on our brains.
Sessler took his texts from Tennyson's Idylls of the King and his music is full of unexpected touches that surround Tennyson's words with vivid emotional overtones. The opening text is a lengthy battle cry that seems to call for full-throated choruses and big trumpet fanfares. Sessler has the trumpet swing and sway instead, and his choruses are breathless and subdued. The result is an unforgettable image of excited people rushing into a dreamlike haze of combat while the trumpet plays over their heads like a standard.
Tom Purdom, Philadelphia Weekly (June 14, 1995)
three pieces for string orchestra
New or relatively new pieces don't appear often on the Concerto Soloists' programs. So it was refreshing on Sunday to hear the ensemble perform Three Pieces for String Orchestra, a remarkable 1991 work by Eric Sessler, at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Rittenhouse Square.
Sessler, a 25-year-old Feasterville resident, once studied at the Curtis Institute of Music. Three Pieces typifies his stunning success of late; in May two area ensembles are to premiere two of his works. And he has won a number of major awards. Sessler wrote Three Pieces in tribute to composer David Diamond, with whom he now studies at the Juilliard School in New York. In it, Sessler, like Diamond, relies on compositional techniques of the past-but finds his own remarkably inventive voice in the process.
Sessler shows his finest colors in Gold, a set of variations on a theme from Nothing Gold Can Stay, a Sessler song that uses a text by poet Robert Frost. Curiously that theme doesn't appear until the end of the movement; in most theme-and-variation movements, just the opposite is true.
Among other things, the variations feature a hauntingly beautiful viola solo accompanied by string players tapping the wood of their bows against the strings in double and triple meter, a rollicking tango-like section, and some fast-and-furious Klangfarbenmelodie, in which various sections play parts of the same melody in rapid succession. In general, too, Sessler's compositional style reveals a master's knowledge of string instruments' colors and capabilities.
Ken Keuffel, Jr., Philadelphia Inquirer (April 11, 1995)
the changeling (incidental music)
Director Gage Johnston's decision to treat the play as a "spoken opera" works beautifully. Eric Sessler's haunting and witty original score [Incidental music for The Changeling], played by a superb ensemble of five musicians, all discreetly on stage in elegant formal dress.
Sometimes the musicians are treated as invisible and sometimes as an ironical presence, providing sound effects on cue and supplying props. The Changeling is well worth catching.
Toby Zinman, Philadelphia City Paper (May 6, 1994)
A talented cast, also including Anthony Byrnes and Michael Lee Sharp, keeps The Changeling moving quickly and clearly, with a quality the director refers to as "spoken opera," many of the speeches cadenced deliberately to Sessler's delicately expressive music.
Mark Cofta, Main Line Times (April 21, 1994)