Video Pick of the Week: Curtis Institute Quartet Plays Eric Sessler’s ‘Shift and Riff’

Here’s something a little different: A quartet of highly talented students from the highly regarded Curtis Institute of Music guitar program in Philadelphia playing a very interesting and attractive recent piece composed by Eric Sessler. The ensemble consists of (right to left in the video): Alec Holcomb (guitar I); Xiabo Pu (guitar II), Yunxiang Fan (guitar III), Hao Yang (guitar IV), and conductor David Starobin who, along with Jason Vieaux, are Curtis’ permanent guitar instructors.

The composer tells us a bit about the work and himself: “The piece was commissioned to celebrate the Curtis Institute guitar program; it’s a quartet because usually there are four students in the department,” he says. “Guitar I and IV are standard. Guitar II uses a capo at the first fret and Guitar III has the capo at the third. This allows the music to shift (and riff) between the sound worlds created by the three sets of open strings. However, for the Curtis performance [this past January] Xiabo playing guitar II tuned his entire guitar up a half step to avoid using the capo.


“I was a guitar student a long time ago in the late 1980s at Manhattan School of Music but I went over to the ‘dark side’ of composition ever since then! I teach full-time at Curtis and once a week at Juilliard Pre-College. [He received his Doctor of Musical Arts and Master of Music degrees from Juilliard.] I have been fortunate to write works for Jason Vieaux (two solo pieces); David Starobin (the guitar quartet); Nicholas Goluses (flute & guitar duo with Bonita Boyd) and others. My harp & guitar sonata was recorded by an excellent German guitarist named Maximilian Mangold who performs with Mirjam Schroder, harp.” —Blair Jackson