In the 10 years since classical guitarist Sharon Isbin came out publicly as a lesbian, she’s won a Grammy Award, and has had one recording after another hit the Billboard charts. So much for the dangers of living an open life.
Isbin has become the preeminent classical guitarist of our time on her own terms – by studying Bach but also embracing world music, and by commissioning some of today’s most adventuresome composers while also paying homage to another heroine of the instrument, Joan Baez, as she did with last year’s “Joan Baez Suite.”
With her latest CD, Isbin tackles the great Latin guitar concertos of Joaquin Rodrigo, Heitor Villa-Lobos and Manuel Ponce. Each of the pieces exudes heat, sensuality, and romanticism and Isbin’s performances are crisp, heart-felt and ultimately flawless.
Rodrigo’s famous “Concierto de Aranjuez” from 1940 is especially significant to Isbin. A broadcast of her performance in 1979 prompted the great Spanish composer to contact Isbin and was the start of a 20-year friendship. The piece’s languid slow movement was also a favorite of Isbin’s brother Neil who died of AIDS in 1996. “It is impossible to not to think of him in this music,” she says in the notes to the new CD.
And in June 2004, when Isbin returned to the Rodrigo concerto for concerts with the New York Philharmonic in preparation for this recording, it was the first time a guitarist had played with the illustrious orchestra in 26 years. From start to finish it’s some powerful and persuasive music making.
A version of this story originally appeared in The Advocate.