new york philharmonic
my season | log in | sign up | help | print
new york philharmonic buy ticketsmeet the philharmonicattend concertsplan your visitsupport the philharmoniclearn more

"The guitar is a very intimate instrument — it's part of your body," says Sharon Isbin, who has been playing the instrument since she was nine. "When you play the guitar, you cradle it, caress it; there's direct contact with the strings. There are no bows, no pedals, no keys. It's the flesh of the hands producing the sound, which creates a very personal kind of experience and its incorporation into your spirit."

The glamorous, Grammy Award-winning guitarist, author, and pedagogue is making her New York Philharmonic debut in the Orchestra's Summertime Classics, kicking off the new series on June 24 and 25, 2004, in the program entitled Viva España. She points out that it is the first Philharmonic collaboration with a guitarist in 26 years. "It's more of a guitar debut than my debut!" she says.

Gaining Insight
Ms. Isbin, who studied briefly with Andrés Segovia, and worked for 10 years with harpsichordist Rosalyn Tureck on performance practices of the Bach Lute Suites, is performing one of the most famous works in the guitar repertoire: the Concierto de Aranjuez by the Spanish composer, Joaquín Rodrigo, who died in 1999. Ms. Isbin met Rodrigo in 1979 in Madrid, when he sought her out after hearing her live broadcast of the Concierto as a winner of the Madrid Queen Sofia Competition. It was the beginning of a 20-year friendship and an opportunity for her to gain firsthand insight into the man and the performance of his works, and the circumstances under which he wrote his famous Concierto.

"He had already begun the concerto," she explains, "and then, when his wife had a miscarriage of what would have been their first child, it was devastating. He was mourning this loss, and then, in a short period of time, she was so ill herself from the experience that nobody knew whether she would live or die. Rodrigo would come back from visiting her in the hospital and unable to sleep, sit at the piano and just begin to express himself. And what emerged was the beautiful adagio theme from the slow movement. He was thinking of their honeymoon in the gardens of Aranjuez, where they walked hand in hand, so it was imbued with this sense of terrible loss, nostalgia, very deep love and passion, and enormous sadness. It's something that emotionally reaches people of all cultures and generations. Even if they don't know the story, they are moved by the music."

Ms. Isbin, who has performed the concerto hundreds of times, says that people frequently come up to her saying, "I don't normally cry at concerts, but I was weeping at that movement." "To me," she says, "that's the greatest compliment because it means that I am somehow able to communicate that spirit to the audience."

Numerous Passions
An intense, highly articulate, and animated woman, Sharon Isbin has undeniably brought the guitar to new heights. The Minneapolis-born musician, who holds a B.A. from Yale and a master's from the Yale School of Music, has had works written for her by Christopher Rouse, Tan Dun, Aaron Jay Kernis, Joan Tower, David Diamond, Ned Rorem, Joseph Schwantner, and John Corigliano. She has made more than 20 recordings of works of all styles and periods — from Baroque, Spanish/Latin, and 20th century to crossover and jazz-fusion — and earned a 2001 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance, the first time a classical guitarist had received a Grammy in 28 years. She performs 60 to 100 concerts a year, is the author of the Classical Guitar Answer Book, and is the director of the guitar departments at the Aspen Music Festival and The Juilliard School (a department she created in 1989). Add to that a passion for travel, especially to Latin America, where she has performed at the famous Teatro Amazonas, and watched monkeys in the wild. Ask her about the two Guenon monkeys, now living in Florida, whom she grew to love when they were just babies, and she will tell you how she gave them guitar lessons. "They never got their left and right hands coordinated," she laughs. "But they loved to strum."

Copyright © 2001 - 2004 New York Philharmonic. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy

Photo: J. Henry Fair

Sharon Isbin performs Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez in the Summertime Classics concert, Viva Espana!
June 24-25

buy tickets