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“One of the best guitarists in the world.” —The Boston Globe

Sharon Isbin, guitar

BRITTEN: Nocturnal after John Dowland, Op. 70
MacCOMBIE: Nightshade Round
YORK: Andecy
ALBÉNIZ: Asturias from Suite espagñola No. 1, Op. 47 (trans. Segovia)
BACH: Partita in C minor, BWV 997
BARRIOS MANGORÉ: Waltz in D major, Op. 8, No. 4


Join us for a pre-concert talk at 7 pm with Benjamin Verdery of Yale University.

Sharon Isbin dedicates this concert to the memory of her mentor Rosalyn Tureck on the 100th anniversary of her birth on this date, and to the centenary of British composer Benjamin Britten.


Art of the Guitar and 92nd Street Y Guitar Institute are generously supported by The Leir Charitable Foundations in memory of Henry J. and Erna D. Leir; The Augustine Foundation; and The D’Addario Music Foundation.

An excerpt previewing Sharon Isbin: Troubadour, a new one-hour documentary produced by Susan Dangel which will debut in 2014. The film explores Isbin’s inspiring journey, with performances ranging from international concert stages to the Grammys and the White House, plus interviews with stars of the music and entertainment industries, ranging from Joan Baez to Garrison Keillor to Joan Tower.

Music video of Sharon Isbin performing Albéniz’ Asturias, included in the Dec 14 92Y program and featured in her CD, Sharon Isbin & Friends: Guitar Passions (SONY).

Prelude from Bach’s Suite in C minor, BWV 997 (performed in A minor), included in the Dec 14 92Y program From Sharon Isbin’s CD, Bach: The Complete Lute Suites, on Virgin Classics.

Korean Television broadcast of Sharon Isbin performing Barrios Mangore’s "Waltz, Op. 8, No. 4, included in the Dec 14 92Y program, January 2002.

On the Blog

(Click the names below to expand info)

From Musos Magazine:

Sharon Isbin”—First-person profile for Musos Magazin, Nov 2011. Here is an excerpt:

I had my first lessons with Segovia at fourteen and discovered up close the enchanting magic of his gemlike sound and rich, colorful tone. But I was on a fast track to becoming a scientist, dissecting every miniscule thing that moved, building cloud chambers and model rockets. My father used to bribe me by saying I couldn’t launch my rockets until I’d put in an hour on the guitar.

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Classical Guitarist Sharon Isbin on WRTI's Crossover”—Jill Pasternak interviews Sharon Isbin on Philadelphia’s classical music/jazz radio station, Oct 29, 2011.

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From San Francisco Classical Voice:

Sharon Isbin: Voyager on Strings”—Q&A with Maria Goodavage, Jan 3, 2011. Here is an excerpt:

And when you’re performing at your very best, you’re at one with the music, you’re at one with the energy and the universe—and all that is being shared with your audience. That’s what’s so amazing about live performance: everyone enters into this metaphysical state together. The goal of the musician is to bring the audience to whatever impulses and energy and feelings the composer had when writing.

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From Classical Guitar Magazine:

Sharon Isbin”—Interview with Lawrence Del Casale on her new CD, Sharon Isbin & Friends: Guitar Passions, and other topics, Nov 2011. Here is an excerpt:

So many cultures have a history of plucked instruments, which makes the guitar feel familiar and welcome almost anywhere. For example, I was just in China in June where I performed and taught as a guest of the Central Conservatory in Beijing. I've never heard so many fine students in one place before!

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Explore the Music

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A Tribute to Rosalyn Tureck

by Sharon Isbin


Photo: Rosalyn Tureck (left) & Sharon Isbin, Oxford England, 1980 (Courtesy of Sharon Isbin)
This concert is an emotional moment for me. On the very date of this concert—December 14—100 years ago, my mentor, teacher and friend Rosalyn Tureck was born in Chicago. One of the great musicians of the 20th century, her mastery of the keyboard, passionate artistry and probing Bach scholarship were unparalleled. Perhaps it is destiny that this recital should take place on this date in honor, in memory and in tribute to my long association with her.

I first met Rosalyn Tureck in 1977. I was an undergraduate at Yale University, and she had just moved back to New York after living abroad for 20 years. When I inquired about studying with her, she was intrigued with the idea of working with a guitarist on the Bach lute suites, especially given the musical/historical relationship between the lute and harpsichord. After our first lesson, she agreed to take me on as a student. I was delighted as I’d not had a regular teacher since age 16, other than summer master classes.

Our first project was Suite BWV 996. I remember going to each lesson thinking we’d soon move on to the next movement, only to discover that we would instead move on to the next level. Facing new challenges of embellishment, contrapuntal fingering, articulation, phrasing, dynamics and tempo which had never before been realized on the guitar, I learned quickly to banish the word “impossible” from my vocabulary. In fact, we spent one year working exclusively on this suite. When I performed it in my New York debut recital at Alice Tully Hall in 1979, Rosalyn was proudly in attendance. My lessons with her continued for ten years. During this time, we created and published landmark performance editions for guitar of the Bach lute suites, and I recorded our editions of the complete suites for EMI in 1988.

Rosalyn Tureck’s rich legacy continues to inform and inspire through her many recordings, videos, scholarly essays, publications, archives (located at Boston University and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts), piano competition and the Tureck Bach Research Institute, which she created (see As part of the centenary weekend, the Institute presents a public celebration in her honor on Sunday December 15, at 3 pm, at the Bruno Walter Auditorium in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.


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BRITTEN: Nocturnal after John Dowland, Op. 70


Born Lowestoft (U.K.), November 22, 1913; died Aldeburgh (U.K.), December 4, 1976
Nocturnal after John Dowland, Op. 70
Composed in 1963; 17 minutes

Considering Britten’s enthusiasm for Elizabethan music and his partiality to both variation form and night imagery, a piece like his Nocturnal seems almost inevitable in retrospect. Guitarist Julian Bream and the tenor Peter Pears, Britten’s partner, often gave recitals together, and Dowland’s lute songs were particular favorites of theirs. Britten demonstrated his own affection for the music of Dowland in 1950 with Lachrymae for Viola and Piano.

Britten completed Nocturnal in November, 1963, and Bream gave the premiere the following summer at the Aldeburgh Festival. For its basis, Britten took the song “Come, heavy sleep” from Dowland’s First Book of Songs, another example of Dowland’s melancholy, first published in 1597.

Come, heavy Sleep, the image of true Death,
And close up these my weary weeping eyes,
Whose spring of tears doth stop my vital breath,
And tears my heart with Sorrow’s sigh-swoll’n cries. 
Come and possess my tired thought-worn soul,
That living dies, ‘til thou on me be stole.

Britten works backwards, however, through eight phantasmagoric variations to the haunted source. The psychological effect has been likened to troubled sleep finally finding release in calm slumber. The headings of the variations—“musingly,” “very agitated,” “restless,” “uneasy,” “march-like,” “dreaming,” “gently rocking,”—do suggest the fluttering, flickering edges of nightmares, and they climax in an obsessive passacaglia, the eighth variation.

Texture also varies: variations one, two and four are basically single lines with chordal punctuation; variations three and five are melody and accompaniment. Variation six mixes chords and harmonics. Variation seven is in two independently notated parts which gradually cross over each other.

The passacaglia and its remorselessly repeated bass line, descending down to the guitar’s low E, ultimately slips quietly into the reverie of the Dowland song, with a ghostly little coda to keep things unsettled. After the modal chromaticism—an oxymoron that suggests the subtlety of Britten’s harmony—of the variations, the Dowland song finds the balm of E major.

Sharon Isbin recorded Nocturnal on her 1994 CD, Nightshade Rounds (EMI). She is performing it tonight in honor of the 50th anniversary of the work’s composition and the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. This year also marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of John Dowland.

© 2013 John Henken

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MacCOMBIE: Nightshade Rounds


Born Providence, Rhode Island, December 5, 1943; died Amherst, Massachusetts, May 2, 2012
Nightshade Rounds
Composed in 1979; 10 minutes

For an initially self-taught musician working in pop and commercial music (he was the pianist for the great bluesman Taj Mahal in the early 1960s), Bruce MacCombie forged an uncommonly distinguished academic career: faculty member at Yale University, Dean of The Juilliard School, Dean of the School for the Arts at Boston University, and Executive Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, among others. Among the many commissions he received were those from the Jerome Foundation, Atlanta Chamber Players, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony and 20th Century Consort.

Nightshade Rounds was written for Sharon Isbin, who gave its premiere in Alice Tully Hall in 1979. She recorded it for EMI on the same disc as Nocturnal after John Dowland. MacCombie wrote:

The title is inspired by the deadly nightshade flower, which is both beautiful and poisonous. In the manner of emerging petals, the piece gradually unfolds in a series of virtuosic arpeggiated patterns. The title reflects a kind of circular play and shading of musical materials at work, perhaps best described verbally as a slow metamorphosis from stasis to motion or motion to stasis. Ms. Isbin’s extraordinary technical abilities and innate feel for balancing a sense of timelessness with movement-in-time played a large role in the shaping of this piece.

Ms. Isbin is performing Nightshade Rounds in commemoration of MacCombie’s 70th birthday earlier this month.

© 2013 Sharon Isbin

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YORK: Andecy


Born Atlanta, GA, July 31, 1958
Composed in 1986; 4 minutes

With its brew of English, Irish and early American folk influences, Andrew York’s haunting Andecy provides the bridge from folk music of the British Isles to that of New World on Sharon Isbin’s 2009 CD, Journey to the New World (SONY). The composer writes:

In Andecy, I returned to my earliest musical influences of childhood, which were early-American folk music (largely frontier and civil war), as well as English and Irish folk tunes. My father and uncle are folk musicians and the hundreds of songs they performed were a rich source of inspiration. At this time I was limiting my harmonies in composition to this framework but striving for strong emotional content within it. In 1986 while staying in a small French village named Andecy, I improvised the foundation for this piece.

A member of the Grammy Award-winning Los Angeles Guitar Quartet for 16 years, Andrew York has had more than 50 works published for guitar solo duo, trio, quartet and ensemble. Now enjoying an active solo career, he has released several CDs, and over the last decade his concert touring schedule has spanned more than 30 countries.

© 2013 Sharon Isbin

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ALBÉNIZ: Asturias from Suite espagñola No. 1, Op. 47 (trans. Andrés Segovia)


Born Camprodon, Spain, May 29, 1860; died Cambô-les-Bains, France, May 18, 1909
Asturias from Suite espagñola No. 1, Op. 47 (trans. Andrés Segovia)
Composed in 1886; 6 minutes

Isaac Albéniz was born in Camprodón, and his exuberant talent as a pianist was evident almost from infancy. He gave his first concert when he was four years old, and at six he studied in Paris with Marmontel. His concerts were eagerly awaited, and some newspapers called him the “Spanish Rubenstein.” By petition of Debussy, Fauré and other distinguished composers, the French government presented Albéniz with the medal of the Legion of Honor.

Like a traveling troubadour, Albéniz sings of his beautiful native land, its scenery and its changing moods. Originally for piano, his gypsy-inspired Asturias is from the Suite espagnole. This transcription by Andrés Segovia is one of his most famous. It is being performed tonight in honor of Segovia’s 120th anniversary.

© 2013 Sharon Isbin

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BACH: Partita in C minor, BWV 997


Born Eisenach, March 21, 1685; died Leipzig, July 28, 1750
Partita in C minor, BWV 997
Composed c. 1740; 20 minutes

Johann Sebastian Bach's lute suites BWV 995, 996, 997 and 1006a are among the most musically rewarding baroque works in the classical guitar repertoire. This edition of BWV 997 was prepared by Bach scholar and keyboard artist Rosalyn Tureck in collaboration with Sharon Isbin, who provided the fingerings; it was published by G. Schirmer, Inc. It is being performed tonight on the 100th anniversary of Ms. Tureck’s birth, December 14, 1913.

The guitar, a close relative of the lute, is well suited to the delicate textures and part-writing of these suites. Since Bach was an avid practitioner of transcription, performing these works on the guitar is ideologically compatible with the composer's own tradition of arranging music. Two of these suites, in fact, are Bach's arrangements of works he composed c.1720 in Cothen, Germany: BWV 995 first appeared as the unaccompanied cello suite BWV 1011, and his violin partita BWV 1006 was the forerunner of suite BWV 1006a. Although these four works are commonly classified as lute suites, Bach's intended instrument of performance is clear only in title page of BWV 995.

The earliest surviving manuscript of BWV 997 was written between 1738 and 1740 by Bach's student Johann Friedrich Agricola; its title page, added later by C.P.E. Bach, specifies “Clavier,” thus suggesting the harpsichord as an instrument of performance. Other 18th-century manuscripts of this suite include Clavicembalo, Cembalo Solo and Klavier in their titles. A version of BWV 997 in French lute tablature by Johann Christian Weyrauch (1694–1771) omits that suite’s magnificently intricate Fugue and brilliant Double, perhaps because of challenges of tuning and register.

In editing this suite for guitar, Rosalyn Tureck and I have chosen to explore the instrument's unique and varied resources in ways which effectively express the structural and stylistic integrity of Bach’s music. Our goal has not been to imitate another instrument, such as the lute or harpsichord, given the differences of technique, attack, resonance, and dynamics.

Flexibility is imperative in transcription, as Bach demonstrated abundantly in his own arrangements.  In this edition, for example, I sometimes finger a trill on one string, using left hand slurs as a lutenist would. In other instances, I trill “cross-string,” on two strings with the right hand, articulating each note, thereby creating a legato similar to the undampened resonance of a harpsichord, coupled with the dynamic flexibility of a piano. These two techniques of trilling produce very different textures, and their application, in appropriate contexts, increases the possibilities of musical expression.

Similarly, cross-string fingerings, combined with the natural full- bodied resonance of the modern day guitar, can be used in passagework to recall the cascading, overlapping sonorities of the lute, harpsichord and baroque guitar. The clarity and vibrancy that these fingerings produce help to create fluid passagework and legato phrasing; they also reinforce contrapuntal textures and underscore structural concepts of phrasing.

In this edition, musical structure, manuscript notations and baroque performance practice inform all decisions regarding articulation, embellishment, dynamics, tempo rhythm and phrasing.  Original embellishment markings have been observed, and, in accordance with the practices of the time, new embellishments have been added and are varied in section repeats.

© 2013 Sharon Isbin

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BARRIOS MANGORÉ: La Catedral / Waltz, Op. 8, No. 4


Born San Juan Bautista, Paraguay, May 5, 1885; died San Salvador, El Salvador, August 7, 1944
La Catedral
Composed in 1921; 6 minutes
Waltz, Op. 8, No. 4
Composed c. 1925; 5 minutes

Barrios was one of the most original musical personalities in an era teeming with them. Part Guaraní Indian, he performed at one time in traditional dress and billed himself as Nitsuga Mangoré, Nitsuga being Agustín spelled backwards and Mangoré the name of a Guaraní hero. A precocious talent in many areas, he was university educated and well-trained musically. One of the first guitarists to record, he traveled widely throughout South America and composed over 300 works, many of which exist in multiple variants.

Barrios venerated the music of Bach, which he transcribed and performed; he also imitated Bach in his own works. He was also religious, though in a very personal way, heavily influenced by Theosophy. Bach and religion come together in La Catedral, probably his most famous work. The piece was inspired by his experience entering the Cathedral of San José in Montevideo. The grandly chordal Andante religioso supposedly represents his impressions of an organist playing Bach in the cathedral. The following Allegro, though marked “solemne” and in the same B-minor key, presents the scurrying sounds of the street after he left the peace of the cathedral, in incessantly driven arpeggios much like those that open Nightshade Rounds. (Barrios later added a “Preludio saudade” to the work.)

The Op. 8, No. 4 Waltz is characteristic of Barrios’ seemingly spontaneous grace. It offers a quite kinetic and joyful dance for the fingers—and listeners.

© 2013 John Henken

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Artist Bio

Sharon Isbin

Acclaimed for her extraordinary lyricism, technique and versatility, multiple Grammy Award winner Sharon Isbin is hailed as one of the pre-eminent guitarist of our time. She has appeared as soloist with more 160 orchestras and has given sold-out performances in the world’s finest concert venues, including New York’s Carnegie and Avery Fisher halls, Boston’s Symphony Hall, Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center, London’s Barbican and Wigmore halls, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Paris’ Châtelet, Vienna’s Musikverein, Madrid’s Teatro Real and many others. Among her other career highlights, she performed at Ground Zero on September 11, 2002, for the internationally televised memorial, and she performed at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama in November 2009.

Ms. Isbin opened her 2013/14 season in San Jose, Costa Rica, with the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional, followed by a performance of Y12: Concerto for Guitar, written for her by Tan Dun, with the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liege in Belgium. In January she embarks on a 17-city tour of the US, featuring music from her recent CD, Sharon Isbin & Friends: Guitar Passions, and with jazz guitarists Stanley Jordan & Romero Lubambo as her guests. Her spring activities include recitals in Dallas, Ft. Worth and Philadelphia, and next summer she returns to the Aspen Music Festival as director of its guitar department.

Ms. Isbin's catalogue of over 25 recordings—from Baroque, Spanish/Latin and 20th century to crossover and jazz-fusion—reflects remarkable versatility. Her 2010 Grammy Award-winning Journey to the New World included guests Joan Baez and Mark O’Connor and spent 63 weeks on the top Billboard charts. Her other Grammy Awards include 2001’s Dreams of a World and her 2002 world premiere recording of concertos written for her by Christopher Rouse and Tan Dun. Among her Grammy nominations was a 2005 disc of concertos by Rodrigo, Ponce and Villa-Lobos with the New York Philharmonic—its first-ever recording with a guitarist as soloist. Ms. Isbin performed as featured soloist in the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's Academy Award winning film, The Departed. A documentary on her, produced by Susan Dangel and titled Troubadour, will be premiered next month.

Born in Minneapolis, Sharon Isbin studied with Andrès Segovia and Oscar Ghiglia. A former student of Rosalyn Tureck, she collaborated with the noted keyboardist in preparing the first performance editions of the Bach lute suites for guitar (published by G. Schirmer). She is the author of The Classical Guitar Answer Book, and she is director of guitar departments at Aspen and The Juilliard School, which she created in l989. Her website is

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