Celebrating Guitar Virtuoso Sharon Isbin
PBS documentary and 5-CD box set celebrate the career of classic guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin.
Sharon Isbin is widely regarded as one of the foremost guitar players in the world. Though she’s primarily known as a classical guitarist, she’s collaborated with and cultivated the respect of musicians from numerous genres outside the classical genre.
To celebrate her extraordinary career thus far, American Public Television will be premiering the documentary Sharon Isbin: Troubadour on public television stations throughout the United States now through March. Warner Classics has also released a 5-CD box set with music from the film, Sharon Isbin: 5 Classic Albums, and the DVD/Blu-ray of the documentary will be released in March by Video Artists International. Here is the trailer for the documentary and a brief Q&A with Isbin that offers some additional insight into a remarkable musician.
Talk about about how you discovered the guitar. What drew you to classical music as opposed to other genres?
Our family moved from Minneapolis to Italy for a year when I was nine. The experience opened me up to languages, history, Europe…and the guitar. When an older brother requested guitar lessons—hoping to become the next Elvis—he soon learned the teacher had studied with Segovia and played classical. He bowed out and I took take his place by default. I knew only that I loved folk music and imagined this couldn’t be too far afield!
Throughout your career you’ve demonstrated an incredible passion for your craft as well as a tenacity for pushing yourself forward. Where does that drive come from?
I love what I do, and have always been motivated by a pioneering spirit. As a young girl with two older brothers, I was determined to enjoy the same rights and privileges they had. As a guitarist, I believed in the beauty and power of the instrument, and that it deserved the respect afforded other classical instruments like the piano and violin. This meant broadening horizons by commissioning leading composers to write for me, embracing new collaborations and genres, and cultivating a playing style that celebrates lyricism, color and nuance, as well as virtuosity.
It’s been said that you’ve shattered boundaries for both women in music and guitar in the classical genre. Do you feel like you’ve had to overcome certain kinds of obstacles pertaining to to this throughout your career?
One summer as a kid at the Aspen Music Festival, I was one of only two girls out of fifty guitar students. It was a challenge, but one that motivated me to study even harder to eliminate any questions of gender. I’ve been a soloist with orchestras that either had never had a guitarist before or not for decades. I’m still the only guitarist to have recorded with the New York Philharmonic, and the sole female guitarist to have won a classical GRAMMY! Long before it was fashionable, I mixed genres and worked with jazz and rock artists. The last two seasons, I toured my Guitar Passions trio with jazz greats Stanley Jordan and Romero Lubambo, who, along with rockers Steve Vai, Nancy Wilson from Heart, and Steve Morse, join me in a CD by the same title. Last April, I premiere a concerto written for me by jazz artist Chris Brubeck.
How do you feel the new Sharon Isbin: Troubadour documentary captures the essence of your career? What messages do you think it gets across to the audience?
Viewers are drawn to the personal, spontaneous and fun nature of the film, and the variety of musical styles shared with artists like Joan Baez, Mark O’Connor, Steve Vai, Tan Dun, Chris Rouse, John Corigliano, Rosalyn Tureck, and non-musicians like Martina Navratilova and First Lady Michelle Obama. Producer Susan Dangel and editor Dick Bartlett accomplish the remarkable by making the audience feel as if they are invisible participants in a truly unexpected journey, whether backstage at the GRAMMYs or launching rockets. People have told me they feel ever more inspired to pursue their dreams, undaunted by roadblocks, empowered by their passion.
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