During a week that began with Solar Eclipse 2017, it feels apropos to mention Sharon Isbin didn’t want to be a guitarist when she grew up; she wanted to be a rocket scientist. Her father told her, however, that in order to launch rockets, she would have to practice at least an hour a day on the guitar. So Isbin followed her father’s rule and slowly the idea of launching rockets into space dissipated. What got launched instead was a brilliant career that has taken Isbin on musical journeys far and wide and established her as one of the preeminent classical guitarists of our time.
Isbin told Beth Ruyak on Insight in 2016 that she stumbled on guitar lessons after her brother was supposed to take them. When he found out that the lessons were not rock-related (he wanted to be the next Elvis Presley), Isbin told her father that she would gladly step in. She was nine. When she was 14, she found herself studying with the legendary Spanish guitarist, Andrés Segovia.
Isbin made her first appearance with a major orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, also when she was just 14. Since then she has performed all over the world, won three Grammy Awards and released nearly 30 albums. She says it hasn’t always been easy, telling Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion, “It’s always a duality with this instrument and being a woman playing it. In the guitar world, I always had to fight as a woman, and in the music world, I always had to fight as a guitarist.”
Yet, Isbin has risen to the challenge. She won a Grammy Award in 2001 becoming the first classical guitarist to do so in 28 years and the first female guitarist to accomplish such a feat. In 1989 Isbin established the classical guitar program at Juilliard in New York City and continues to head the program she founded. Isbin has performed with leading artists inside and outside the world of classical music. In 2015, Isbin was the subject of a PBS special called Sharon Isbin: Troubadour which has been broadcast on over 200 public television stations.
Isbin's newest album is called Alma Espanola; a title she says that her counterpart on the record, mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard came up with. The name is fitting because New York-born Leonard is of Argentinean ancestry and grew up speaking Spanish. And, the bulk of Isbin's guitar repertoire is rooted in Spain. Isbin said it was helpful to have Leonard’s input on the album because of her deep understanding of the text. When you listen to the new album you can tell the two artists are on the same page musically. Isbin's guitar meshes beautifully with Leonard's voice. It's almost as if Isbin were also a robust mezzo soprano, so in sync are these two artsits on this excellent recording.
Tune into Morning Classical all week long between 7 and 9 a.m. to hear Sharon Isbin perform the works of Granados, Rodrigo, Vivaldi and many more.