A Look at Classical Guitarist Sharon Isbin

Sep 25, 2017

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.

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.