Julie Amacher, Classical MPR
In the span of just four months, guitarist Sharon Isbin recorded three new projects. In 2020, she'll release a recording that highlights her first tour to India. In 2021, she'll share her tribute to jazz innovator Dave Brubeck. And, most recently, she's been collaborating with Pacifica Quartet. Isbin always keeps the door open for these new opportunities, and she has a secret weapon to help her focus on one at a time.
"I've practiced transcendental meditation since I was 17. Doing that twice a day really gives me mental stamina and an ability to release stress, so that I'm able to focus on my own inner core and put myself to the maximum focus."
The recording that you've just released with Pacifica Quartet is called Souvenirs of Spain and Italy. It features works by Italian composers who also have a connection to Spain. Will you talk about the theme of this recording?
"One of the rarely heard — and rarely recorded — works was written for Segovia in 1950 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. He considers it one of the best works of chamber music that he ever wrote. We each get to be expressive with the lyricism of the different themes, almost in a concerto style. That's why it was so hard to put together, but we had the luxury of many rehearsals and many performances before we went in to record this in January.
"I discovered, several months before the recording, that Castelnuovo-Tedesco's granddaughter, Diana, lives just a few blocks from me in New York. We got together, and she regaled me with fantastic stories about her grandfather that were so inspiring. She gave us a manuscript copy in his own handwriting of this quintet. We could consult that for notes and the many, many dynamic markings that he wrote in it. I felt like Mario was there and that I was part of the family. I can't tell you how that influenced my playing and my whole approach to this project.
"All of these composers are connected in different ways. For example, Vivaldi was from Italy, but it was a Spaniard, Emilio Pujol, who arranged this particular piece. He added a viola part to set the guitar in the prominent role that it now has as a concerto form, and I chose to do it with just three instruments in this case: one violin, one viola, one cello and guitar.
"When you cross over to Boccherini, you have a whole other experience with an Italian composer, who from the age of 18 lived in Spain and composed in the court of the king. As a cellist, he wrote many works for cello and string quartet. He decided to set some of these quintets for guitar. The most famous is this particular one with the fandango last movement. If you're familiar with [Giacomo] Casanova's quotation, when he first saw this being danced in Madrid, it blew his mind, and he wrote in 1767, 'This dance is the expression of love from beginning to end, from the sigh of desire to the ecstasy of enjoyment.'
"In fact, we invited a virtuoso castanet and tambourine player from Brazil, Eduardo Leandro, to improvise to this particular movement. He had such a sense of color and rhythmic spirit and feeling. I think both Casanova and Boccherini would have loved what Eduardo did."
To hear the rest of my conversation, download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.