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Interview with Sharon Isbin

Interview with Sharon Isbin
By Bethany Tillerson (photo credit: © Pier Paolo Cito)

Classical guitarist and multi- GRAMMY Award-winner Sharon Isbin will be featured today in our ‘Para la Guitar’ program! ‘Para la Guitar’ will celebrate the last few centuries’ best classical guitar pieces with recordings by Sharon Isbin and Jason Vieaux. Isbin participated in a short Q&A session and talked about her experiences as a long-time guitarist who dabbles in many genres.

 You’ve performed pieces from various genres–jazz, classical, ragas, etc. Are there any genres you haven’t had a chance to play that you are interested in?

ISBIN: It is an honor and joy to perform and record with outstanding artists in folk, rock, pop, country fiddle, jazz, Latin, and Indian raga, from Joan Baez, Steve Vai, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, Mark O’Connor, and Amjad Ali Khan, to Sting, as well as many artists in classical music. Each project evolved organically, with musical integrity and artistic respect at the core. All have been unexpected collaborations, which is why it is hard to predict what might be around the corner! Most recently, I recorded a work written for me by bluegrass banjo star Alison Brown, to be released on her new album in early 2023, my first in this genre.

Are there pieces you find difficult to play even now?

ISBIN: Having premiered over 80 works written for me, some of the many concerti composed by non-guitarists were especially challenging in the initial process of editing and learning them. If you listen to my recording of the latest, ‘Affinity’ by Chris Brubeck, you’d never know the many hours I still have to practice before each performance in order to leap about the fingerboard at breakneck speed from the start while coordinating offbeat jazz rhythms with the orchestra. In John Corigliano’s ‘Troubadours’, the several minutes long superfast scale presented in the opening becomes even more demanding when perambulating amidst the orchestra in a “time tunnel” entrance!

 Tapping various registers on the wood while playing actual pitches in canonic imitation was a new innovation Lukas Foss introduced in the “Wayfaring Stranger” movement of his American Landscapes concerto, Chris Rouse’s Concert de Gaudi demands laser precision in the constantly shifting meters of blazing sixteenths in the last movement, and Kernis’ Double Concerto for Violin and Orchestra has more notes on the page than any other! Honestly, everything requires hard work and dedication to make it sound easy and flowing, and the process of listening and refining is never-ending.

How do your hobbies inspire your music?

ISBIN: I was astounded to discover how treks in the rainforests of South and Central America informed my Journey to the Amazon collaboration with Brazilian composer/organic percussionist Thiago de Mello and saxophonist Paul Winter! You can hear the wind, rain, lapping of a canoe, and sounds of animals! Although practicing Transcendental Meditation since age 17 is more a way of life than a hobby, this simple and powerful daily relaxation technique increases mental stamina and facilitates the ability to perform “in the flow.” It is also a great way to access one’s inner creative core, reduce stress and navigate life’s many challenges! 

‘Para la Guitar’ airs today on The Classical Station! Listen to pieces performed by Sharon Isbin and Jason Vieaux by streaming online at TheClassicalStation.org or tuning your radio to 89.7 FM!