Sharon Isbin is a multiple Grammy Award winning American classical guitarist and the founding director of the guitar department at the Juilliard School.
Personal life and educationSharon Isbin was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the daughter of Katherine Isbin and Herbert S. Isbin, a nuclear scientist and professor at the University of Minnesota and author of Introductory Nuclear Reactor Theory. She began her guitar studies at age nine with Aldo Minella in Varese, Italy, where her father had been hired as a consultant. She later studied with Jeffrey Van, Sophocles Papas, Andrés Segovia, Oscar Ghiglia, Alirio Díaz, and for ten years with the noted keyboard artist and Bach scholar Rosalyn Tureck. Isbin collaborated with Tureck in preparing and recording landmark first performance editions of the Bach lute suites for guitar.
She began practicing Transcendental Meditation at age 17. She received a B.A. cum laude from Yale University and a Master of Music from the Yale School of Music.
Performing and recordingIsbin has appeared as soloist with over 200 orchestras, and has commissioned more concertos than any other guitarist—including works by John Corigliano, Tan Dun, Aaron Jay Kernis, Joseph Schwantner, Lukas Foss, Chris Brubeck, and Christopher Rouse.
In 2015, she performed with Josh Groban on the Billy Joel: Gershwin Prize concert broadcast nationally on PBS, and in February 2015 she was featured on the Tavis Smiley PBS television series.
Isbin gave the world premiere of Blossom Suite, composed by and performed with rock guitarist Steve Vai during a week of concerts she performed at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris in 2005. Her earliest crossover collaborations began with Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida and jazz guitarist Larry Coryell with whom she recorded and performed for five years. In 2014, she performed a 20-city Guitar Passions tour with jazz musicians Stanley Jordan and Romero Lubambo.
Other composers who have written for her include Joan Tower, David Diamond, Ned Rorem, Howard Shore, John Duarte, Leo Brouwer, Bruce MacCombie, and Richard Danielpour who was commissioned to write a song cycle for her and mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard by New York's Carnegie Hall for their 125th anniversary and by Chicago's Harris Theater.
Isbin's catalogue of over 30 recordings ranges from baroque, Spanish/Latin and 20th century to crossover and jazz fusion. Her most recent release is Souvenirs of Spain & Italy with the Pacifica Quartet, which debuted at no. 2 on Billboard charts and at no. 1 on Amazon. Her Alma Espanola with mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard was honored by a 2018 GRAMMY Award for Producer of the Year, Classical. The acclaimed one-hour documentary Sharon Isbin: Troubadour, winner of the 2015 ASCAP Television Broadcast Award, has been seen by millions on over 200 PBS stations in the U.S. and abroad, and was released on DVD and Blu-ray by Video Artists International. In October 2014, Warner Classics released a 5-CD box set of her most popular albums on the label, titled Sharon Isbin: 5 Classic Albums. Her 2011 release Sharon Isbin & Friends: Guitar Passions became a no. 1 bestseller on Amazon.com, and includes guests Steve Vai, Stanley Jordan, Nancy Wilson, Steve Morse, Romero Lubambo, Rosa Passos, Thiago de Mello, and Paul Winter.
Awards and honorsBoston magazine called Isbin "the pre-eminent guitarist of our time". She is the winner of Guitar Player magazine's Best Classical Guitarist award, First Prize winner of the Toronto Guitar '75 competition, a winner of the Madrid Queen Sofia, the first guitarist to win the Munich ARD International Competition, the winner of Concert Artists Guild 2013 Virtuoso Award, Germany's Echo Klassik Award, and Musical America’s 2020 Instrumentalist of the Year, becoming the first guitarist in their 59 award year history to receive the award.
She won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist for her CD Journey to the New World, which includes guests Joan Baez and Mark O'Connor, and she was the only classical artist to perform at the Grammys that year. Ranked as a no. 1 bestselling classical CD on Amazon.com and iTunes, it spent 63 consecutive weeks on the top of the Billboard charts.
She won a Grammy in 2001 for Dreams of a World: Folk-Inspired Music for Guitar for "Best Instrumental Soloist", becoming the first classical guitarist to win a Grammy in 28 years.
Her world premiere recording of concertos written for her by Christopher Rouse and Tan Dun won another Grammy in 2002, and she won Germany's prestigious Echo Klassik Award for "Best Concert Recording".
She received a 2005 Latin Grammy nomination for "Best Classical Album" and a 2006 GLAAD Media Award nomination for "Outstanding Music Artist" for her disc with the New York Philharmonic of Joaquín Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez and concertos by Mexican composer Manuel Ponce and Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos. This is the Philharmonic's first-ever recording with guitar, and follows their Avery Fisher Hall performances in June 2004 with Sharon Isbin as their first guitar soloist in 26 years.
Her Journey to the Amazon with Brazilian percussionist Thiago de Mello and saxophonist Paul Winter, received a 1999 Grammy nomination for "Best Classical Crossover Album."
Her CD of Aaron Jay Kernis' Double Concerto with violinist Cho-Liang Lin and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra received a 2000 Grammy nomination.
In November 1995, her CD American Landscapes and her Soloette Travel Guitar was launched in the space shuttle Atlantis and presented to Russian cosmonauts during a rendezvous with Mir.
On September 11, 2002, Isbin's performance for the memorial tribute at Ground Zero was televised live throughout the world. Isbin features on the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese's The Departed, which won four Academy Awards in 2007, including Best Picture, and on the Grammy nominated score soundtrack CD composed by Howard Shore.
In November 2009, she performed a concert at the White House by invitation of President Obama and the First Lady.
An internationally acclaimed one-hour documentary on her titled Sharon Isbin: Troubadour, produced by Susan Dangel and presented by American Public Television, has been broadcast on over 200 public television stations throughout the United States since November 2014, and is the winner of the 2015 ASCAP Television Broadcast Award.
Teaching and other workIn 1989, she created the Master of Music degree, Graduate Diploma and Artist Diploma for classical guitar at the Juilliard School, making history by becoming their first guitar faculty and the founding director of the guitar department; she added the Bachelor of Music degree and Undergraduate Diploma to the program in 2007, and the Doctor of Musical Arts in 2018.
Isbin is the author of the Classical Guitar Answer Book, and is director of the Guitar Department at the Aspen Music Festival.
On November 5, 2015, the David Lynch Foundation organised a benefit concert at New York City's Carnegie Hall named "Change Begins Within", to promote transcendental meditation for stress control. Sharon Isbin participated alongside the likes of Katy Perry, Sting, Jerry Seinfeld, Angelique Kidjo and Jim James.
- 2000: Grammy nomination, Kernis: Double Concerto for Violin and Guitar with Cho-Liang Lin and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
- 1999: Grammy nomination for Best Classical Crossover Album, Journey to the Amazon
- 2001: Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist, Dreams of a World
- 2002: Grammy Award for Rouse: Concert de Gaudi
- 2005: Latin Grammy nomination for Best Classical Album, Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez; Villa-Lobos: Concerto for guitar; Ponce: Concierto del sur with the New York Philharmonic
- 2010: Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist, Journey to the New World
- Toronto Guitar competition, first prize, 1975
- Winner Munich ARD International Competition 1976
- Madrid Queen Sofia International Competition 1979
- Echo Klassik Award, Best Concert Recording 2002
- Concert Artists Guild Virtuoso Award, 2013
- ASCAP Television Broadcast Award, 2015
- Little Orchestra Society's Artistic Excellence Award 2019
- Musical America 2020 Instrumentalist of the Year Award
- Best Classical Guitarist, Guitar Player magazine