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A Look at Classical Guitarist Sharon Isbin

J. Henry Fair
Classical Guitarist Sharon Isbin

She dreamed of growing up to be a rocket scientist, but now Sharon Isbin explores a different universe—the repertoire for classical guitar. WRTI’s Susan Lewis profiles the Grammy winner whose recent release is Alma Española with mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard.

Listen to Susan's in-depth interview with Sharon Isbin.

Performing at The White House in 2009:

Radio script: 

[Music: Joachim Rodrigo, Concierto de Aranjuez, Sharon Isbin]

Susan Lewis: As a young girl, Sharon Isbin was captivated by a 1939 concerto by Joachim Rodrigo. 

Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez was one of the first classical pieces that I ever fell in love with.

Sharon Isbin: The Concierto de Aranjuez was one of the first classical pieces that I ever fell in love with, and I used to listen to it every night before I went to sleep, saying, one day I will play this. 

SL: She grew up to master it, along with the traditional Spanish and Latin-American repertoire.  

[Music: Bach, Concerto in A minor into G minor, Sharon Isbin]

SL: She also immersed herself in Bach: transcribing and editing his work for the guitar—an instrument she finds so versatile.  

SI: What is surprising to most people is that we are using our fingernails. So you actually have to grow them and use them in a way that they create this extraordinary variety of colors and sounds.

SL: Isbin has been equally determined in commissioning new works. Among composers who’ve written for her: Tan Dun, Christopher Rouse.

[Music: Corgiliano, Troubadours]

SI: And one of the funniest stories is John Corigliano. I had met him at a party, and then two weeks later ran into him on line at the post office. And I said, “Hey, how would you like to write a concerto for me?”

[Music: Rouse, Concert de Gaudi, Sharon Isbin]

SI: Listening to the Chris Rouse is almost like listening to a Dali painting; the gestures of Spanish music evolve into something surreal.

[Music: Tan Dun, Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra, Sharon Isbin]

SI: In the case of Tan Dun, there’s a beautiful union in his concerto between Spanish Flamenco gestures and Chinese folk music.

SL: Among her honors, her recording of concerti by Dun and Rouse won a Grammy. She’s also the subject of an award-winning documentary, Sharon Isbin: Troubadour.

Sharon Isbin also won a Grammy for her CD, Journey to the New World, with Joan Baez and Mark O'Connor. 

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.