Take Five with Classical Guitar Master Sharon Isbin

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Listing Sharon Isbin’s achievements, awards, concerts, and recordings would exceed any reasonable word count. Suffice it to say that her media bio is almost three pages long, each paragraph filled with names, dates, places, and more, all tracing a remarkable career. From performing at the White House to teaching at Juilliard, touring Europe since she was a teenager, appearing as a soloist with orchestras around the world, recording more than 25 albums — several of them Grammy winners — and collaborating with artists in all genres of music, Isbin’s professional timeline is endless.

Last year, a long-awaited documentary, Sharon Isbin: Troubadour, was released; since November 2014, it has been broadcast on nearly 200 public television stations. The film is now available on DVD and Blu-ray extended form with extra scenes and full-length performances.

Sharon Isbin was preparing to perform at the Kennedy Center when she took some time for an e-mail interview with Guitar Girl.

Troubadour was six years in the making and traces your life from childhood until present. Looking at the finished project and reliving your career trajectory, who was that woman then and who is she now?

When I watched footage used in the documentary I’d never seen before of my first premiere at age 21, it was almost an out-of-body experience. I recognized as my own the focus, energy, and passion in the young person on-screen. Yet it felt as if I were observing someone else, a talented, determined guitarist embarking on her journey, facing a great unknown, hopeful yet uncertain. Now I have the satisfaction and confidence that comes with experience and having accomplished most everything that I hoped for, and more.

You’ve worked with musicians across many genres, including classical, of course, as well as rock, Latin, and jazz. Are there musical areas you have yet to explore? If so, which ones, and are there plans to collaborate with artists in those fields?

It’s been amazing to collaborate with Joan Baez, Steve Vai, Stanley Jordan, Mark O’Connor, Paul Winter, John Corigliano, Chris Rouse, Tan Dun, to name a few of the artists featured in the documentary. The newest project was hatched last month when I premiered a work for guitar and orchestra written for me by Chris Brubeck, son of the late Dave Brubeck. It’s a fabulous, virtuosic, jazzy and Middle Eastern inflected piece, one I look forward to recording and to performing everywhere. It was a real challenge, however, to learn it in only two and a half weeks!

I’m excited that last week, Warner Classics released Bach for Guitar/Sharon Isbin. (http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/listPage.jsp?list_id=3978&source=isbin)

In November 2015, I’ll premiere a work for voice and guitar commissioned by Carnegie Hall in honor of its 125th anniversary, and by Chicago’s Harris Theater. Each project explores new, innovative styles and soundscapes, and inspires me to grow.

Many years ago, radio stations played a mix of musical genres. Today, everything is compartmentalized. Does the industry underestimate what audiences like, or what they might like, for example your collaborations with other guitarists?

Sony embraced, and even suggested, the idea behind our last CD, Sharon Isbin & Friends: Guitar Passions. It was great fun to share tracks on that with Nancy Wilson of Heart, Steve Morse, Romero Lubambo, Vai and Jordan. Audiences are fascinated by the variety of musical styles, millions have seen the Troubadour documentary broadcasts presented this year by American Public Television on PBS stations across the country, and positive reception greeting the film has been overwhelming. The documentary has now been released on DVD and Blu-ray by Video Artists International with an additional 30 minutes of full performances not seen in the film. It has been ranked No. 3 on Amazon.com Hot New Releases!

You created the first guitar department at Juilliard in 1989. Have students’ needs and interests changed much over the years? What do they want to know and what do they need to know?

My role is to nurture their unique voice, guide them towards artistic insight and expertise, and encourage them to create music and projects no one has ever done. I also encourage them to develop skills to promote themselves through video, websites, and social media.

Twenty-five albums, countless performances and tours, and one documentary later, do you sometimes feel that you are rediscovering the guitar when you play?

Every new musical adventure is a discovery for me, and I always hope that each performance will be a discovery as well!

To learn more about the film:  http://www.sharonisbintroubadour.com

For purchase information: http://www.vaimusic.com/category/SI.html

Cover Photo by J. Henry Fair

Watch the trailer for Sharon Isbin: Troubadour:

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