Described by the Boston Globe's Michael Manning as a musician who plays "beyond virtuosity," guitarist Sharon Isbin has been a consistent challenge for critics, who struggle to find the right superlative that would do justice to her exquisite playing.
"In her hands," wrote Anne Midgette in The New York Times, "the guitar takes on the precision of a diamond, each note a clear, shining facet that catches, prism-like, a glimpse of the spectrum." In essence, a performance by Isbin is like a painting by Vermeer: a formally impeccable and inexhaustible work of art. A Renaissance woman of the guitar, Isbin performs worldwide at famous venues and commissions new work from distinguished American composers (more than any other guitarist) for her instruments, collaborates with a wide variety of musicians, and indefatigably searches for new music to play. As a child, Isbin wanted to be a scientist like her father. However, she started guitar lessons at the age of nine (the family was living in Italy at the time) and found her vocation. Her teachers included Andrés Segovia and harpsichordist Rosalyn Tureck. With Tureck, Isbin worked on the first performance edition, for guitar, of J.S. Bach's Lute Suites. This project eventually resulted in a critically acclaimed disc. In 1989, Isbin founded the guitar department at the Juilliard School of Music and became that institution's first professor of guitar. Isbin's recordings have consistently been assessed as groundbreaking musical events. In 1995, her disc was the first ever American guitar concert presented to a Russian cosmonaut during a rendezvous between the space shuttle Atlantis and the Russian spaceship Mir. Journey to the Amazon, performed with Brazilian percussionist Thiago de Mello and saxophonist Paul Winter, earned Isbin a Grammy nomination in 1999. She received a Grammy in 2001 for her Dreams of a World: Folk-Inspired Music for Guitar. Significantly, this was the first classical guitar Grammy in 28 years. In 2002, Isbin got another Grammy for her extraordinary performance of concerti by Christopher Rouse and Tan Dun. The concerti featured on this world-premiere disc were dedicated to Isbin. Spanning various styles, genres, and periods, Isbin's other recordings include Aaron Jay Kernis' Double Concerto (with violinist Cho-Liang Lin), Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjues, and Sharon Isbin Plays Baroque Favorites for Guitar. The last-named album features a truly astounding performance of a transcription of Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor.