BWW Interviews: Sharon Isbin, Guitar Great Returns to New York

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Guitar genius Sharon Isbin with a few of her friends.

On Saturday, December 14th, 2013 at 8PM, GRAMMY Award-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin returns to the 92nd St. Y for a solo recital. The concert celebrates her 35th anniversary of her New York Debut (at Alice Tully Hall in 1979), the 25th anniversary of The Juilliard School guitar department (which Sharon Isbin created in 1989, the first in the institution's 100-year history), and honors the 100th birthday on this date of her mentor Rosalyn Tureck, as well as the centenary of Benjamin Britten.

Tickets are on sale now at

Ms. Isbin's program for this event includes J.S. Bach's Suite BWV997 from the landmark performance editions she created in collaboration with Rosalyn Tureck (December 14, 1913-July 2003), published by G. Schirmer. Ms. Isbin also performs Britten's Nocturnal, his only solo work for guitar, Bruce MacCombie's Nightshade Rounds written for Sharon Isbin, and music by Agustin Barrios Mangoré.

It's useless to try to describe Sharon Isbin's artistry with mere words, because every superlative ever invented has already been used. However, if you have never seen Sharon Isbin live, don't walk, run to the 92nd St. Y and get tickets! Her concerts are extraordinarily special events and this one will be extra special indeed.

In anticipation of her big recital on Dec. 14th, Ms. Isbin sat down for an interview with BWW Classical. As always, she was warm, witty, insightful, and disarmingly funny.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of watching your pre-concert routine. It was fascinating.

If you don't take the time to properly prepare, you are not going to have a good result. I really try to take responsibility for my audience. Years ago the guitar was beginning to get a bad name because so many artists really didn't take responsibility for their audience. Even Segovia for example simply refused to use any amplification whatsoever not matter what size hall he performed in. I like to arrive hours before the performance and even before my first rehearsal, I walk the hall to get a sense of the acoustics. If I am performing with an orchestra I may take even longer. I'll tyoically bring another guitarist in to play their guitar on the stage while I walk the space and get a feel for it. I can then set the EQs and the volume - that is of course, if the space requires any amplification - and I have two custom-made speakers behind me on the stage that I can control the volume of myself, and the sound is single source coming from immediately behind me. And as I said, if you don't take the time to properly sound check and EQ then you are not going to have a good result when you play.

I remember at that rehearsal you asked Elliott Forrest (of WQXR) to play your guitar during the sound check - but first you told him to go wash his hands!

Absolutely! It's very important because everyone has different oils in their hands and you don't want to contaminate your instrument before you go out there to play!

You have a new album out called Guitar Passions that features a vast array of wonderful musicians.

It's really an homage to some of my many guitar heroes. And in it I was able to invite guests like rock guitar guru Steve Vai, who is one of the finest guitarists in the world, and who, incidentally, I had a dream about last night! I dreamed he and I were leading a big choir of kids in a sing-a-long! I also invited another great rock player, Steve Morse of the Dixie Dreggs. I used to listen to the band Heart a lot when I was in college and on this album I do one of my favorites, "Dreamboat Annie," with Nancy Wilson of Heart. Romero Lubambo is also on the album and he is actually joining me in an 18 city Guitar Passions tour in February along with Stanley Jordan, one of the great creative minds in Jazz guitar and especially the tapping technique.

Thiago de Mello, the great melodic percussionist, is on the album also. As you know Thiago passed away two weeks ago, and interestingly enough, I received the news that he passed away while I was watching his face on a big screen, doing the sound mix for a new documentary on me that has just been completed. In fact we had just had a premier screening in Brussels only a few days later. He was such a great guy and we performed together for many many years. He was a great friend and great musical colleague, he had just turned 80 going on 50. I'm glad people can see the video the three of us did, Thiago, Paul Winter and I, when we made our first album together in 1997. I just posted it on the video page of my website, and you can get a real sense and a context of the jungle, and the animals and the indigenous sounds that make it so special. We reprised with a new work that he wrote called O Presidente, on Guitar Passions.

More On: Benjamin Britten, Elliott Forrest, Steve Vai, Nancy Wilson, Romero Lubambo, The Players, Elvis Presley.

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Peter Danish Peter Danish is a Media Marketing Consultant and Classical Arts Presenter. He is a founding member of ArtsRock, where he presented concerts with such world renowned artists as Grammy winning Classical Guitarist Sharon Isbin, Grammy winning Violinist Marc O'Connor, The Eroica Trio, The American Brass Quintet, The New York Philharmonic Brass Quintet, Alec Baldwin, Louis Black and Robert Klein. At The Riverspace Performing Arts Center, he presented such artists as Meryl Streep, Jonathan Demme, Bill T. Jones, Bill Irwin, Mike Nichols, Ani Di Franco, Eve Ensler, Pete Seeger, Ellen Burstyn, Edward Albee and Kathleen Turner. He has programmed concerts and educational programs for a multitude of local arts organizations including the American National Opera and the Westchester Hudson Opera, and has lectured on opera and classical music in schools and libraries as part of their outreach programs. For over two decades he has served as Director of Marketing for NBC, Vice President of Marketing for Telemundo, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Azteca TV Network, and Marketing Consultant to PBS. He is a member of the Dramatist Guild of America, The Wagner Society of N.Y. and Board of Trustees of the award-winning classical concert series, The Carnegie Room Concerts at the Nyack Library. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Ad Age, Ad Week and Media Week.

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by Peter Danish