The American guitarist, Sharon Isbin, began her guitar studies at age 9 in Italy. She was a student of Andrés Segovia, Oscar Ghiglia and Alirio Díaz. A former student of Rosalyn Tureck, Isbin collaborated with the noted keyboardist in preparing the first performance editions of the Bach lute suites for guitar (published by G. Schirmer). She received a B.A. cum laude from Yale University and a Master of Music from the Yale School of Music. She was the 1st Prize winner of the Toronto Guitar 1975 competition, a winner of the Madrid Queen Sofia, and the first guitarist ever to win the Munich Competition.
Acclaimed for her extraordinary lyricism, technique and versatility, Sharon Isbin has been hailed as “the pre-eminent guitarist of our time”. She has given sold-out performances throughout the world in the greatest halls including New York’s Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls, Boston’s Symphony Hall, Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, London’s Barbican and Wigmore Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Paris’ Châtelet, Vienna’s Musikverein, Munich’s Herkulessaal, Madrid’s Teatro Real and many others. She has served as Artistic Director/Soloist of festivals she created for Carnegie Hall and the Ordway Music Theatre (St. Paul), her own series at New York’s 92nd Street Y, and the acclaimed national radio series Guitarjam. She is a frequent guest on national radio programs including All Things Considered, St. Paul Sunday, and Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. She has been profiled on television throughout the world, including CBS Sunday Morning and the A&E Network, and was a featured guest on Showtime Television’s international hit series The L Word. She has been featured in periodicals from People to Elle, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, as well as on the cover of 35 magazines.
Sharon Isbin performs 60-100 concerts a season, and her 2005-2006 highlights include a month-long USA tour with the Zürcher Kammerorchester, as well as performances in New York’s Town Hall, Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, Boston, St. Paul, Madison, Rome and many other cities. 2004-2005 highlights included performances with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Pacific Symphony (Los Angeles), Memphis, Maryland, Oklahoma and Milan Verdi orchestras, a tour with the Tonkünstler Orchestra in Vienna’s Musikverein and throughout Austria, recitals in New York’s 92nd St. Y, St. Louis, Aspen, California, Indiana, Italy and Prague Spring Festival, and a week of concerto and recital performances presented by the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, including a world premiere composed by and performed with rock guitarist Steve Vai. On September 11, 2002, she performed at Ground Zero for the reading of the names memorial and internationally televised broadcast, which included Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham and the Juilliard String Quartet.
Sharon Isbin has appeared as soloist with over 160 orchestras, including in the USA with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony, Houston Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, Phoenix Symphony, Utah Symphony Orchestra, Memphis Symphony, Honolulu Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Brooklyn, and Buffalo Philharmonics, as well as the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, New York Chamber Orchestra, and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
Sharon Isbin has toured Europe annually since she was 17, and has also toured Canada, Japan and the Far East, New Zealand, South America, Mexico and Israel appearing in recital and as soloist with such orchestras as the London Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Zürcher Kammerorchester and Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Gulbenkian, Prague, Milan Verdi, Mexico City, Jerusalem and Tokyo Symphonies. Festival appearances include Mostly Mozart, Aspen, Ravinia, Interlochen, Santa Fe, Mexico City, Bermuda, Hong Kong, Montreux, Strasbourg, Paris, Athens, Istanbul, Prague Spring and Budapest International Festivals.
As a chamber musician, Sharon Isbin has performed with Nigel Kennedy, Denyce Graves, Benita Valente, Susanne Mentzer, the Emerson String Quartet and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, among others. She performed a “Guitar Summit” tour with jazz greats Herb Ellis, Stanley Jordan and Michael Hedges; she made trio recordings with Larry Coryell and Laurindo Almeida, and duo recordings with Carlos Barbosa-Lima. She has also collaborated with Antonio Carlos Jobim and Steve Vai, and shared the stage with luminaries from Aretha Franklin to Muhammad Ali.
Sharon Isbin has been acclaimed for expanding the guitar repertoire with some of the finest new works of the century. She has commissioned and premiered more concerti than any other guitarist, as well as numerous solo and chamber works. Her American Landscapes (EMI/Virgin Classics) with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra conducted by Hugh Wolff is the first-ever recording of American guitar concerti and features works written for her by John Corigliano, Joseph Schwantner, and Lukas Foss. (In November 1995, it was launched in the space shuttle Atlantis and presented to Russian cosmonauts during a rendezvous with Mir.) She has also recorded the Schwantner with Leonard Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. In January 2000, she premiered the 9th concerto written for her: Concert de Gaudí by Christopher Rouse with Christoph Eschenbach and the NDR Symphony Orchestra, followed by performances with Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and David Zinman at the Aspen Music Festival. Among the many other composers who have written for her are Joan Tower, David Diamond, Ned Rorem, Aaron Jay Kernis, Howard Shore and Leo Brouwer. In 2003, Sharon Isbin premiered the Joan Baez Suite written for her by John Duarte. 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.
Sharon Isbin’s catalogue of over 25 recordings - from Baroque, Spanish/Latin and 20th Century to crossover and jazz-fusion - reflects remarkable versatility. She received a 2005 Latin Grammy nomination for “Best Classical Album” and a 2006 GLAAD MedAward nomination for “Outstanding Music Artist” (alongside Melissa Etheridge) for her Billboard Top 10 Classical disc with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and concerti by Mexican composer Manuel Ponce and Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos. This marks the Philharmonic’s first-ever recording with guitar, and follows their Avery Fisher Hall performances in June 2004 with Ms. Isbin as their first guitar soloist in 26 years. Her Dreams of a World: Folk-inspired Music for Guitar soared onto top classical Billboard charts, edging out The 3 Tenors, and earned her a 2001 Grammy Award for “Best Instrumental Soloist Performance” making her the first classical guitarist to receive a Grammy in 28 years. Baroque Favorites for Guitar with the Zürcher Kammerorchester features concerti by J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Tomaso Albinoni, including four world premieres, and remained on the Billboard Top 10 Classical Chart for over 16 weeks. Her world premiere recording of concerti written for her by Christopher Rouse and Tan Dun (composer of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) debuted as #6 on the Billboard charts and received a 2002 Grammy Award for the concerto by Rouse, and earned Isbin her third nomination (“Best Instrumental Soloist with Orchestra”), as well as Germany’s prestigious Echo Klassik Award for “Best Concert Recording”. Her Journey to the Amazon with Brazilian percussionist Thiago de Mello and saxophonist Paul Winter, a Billboard best-seller in the USA and the UK, received a 1999 Grammy nomination for “Best Classical Crossover Album”.
Other recent CDs include Artist Profile, Wayfaring Stranger with mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer, Greatest Hits (EMI/Virgin Classics), and Aaron Jay Kernis’ Double Concerto (Argo/Decca) with violinist Cho-Liang Lin and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) which received a 2000 Grammy nomination. Her eight best-selling titles for EMI/Virgin Classics include J.S. Bach Complete Lute Suites and concerti by Joaquin Rodrigo which the composer praised as “magnificent”. She is also featured on the Grammy Foundation’s Smart Symphonies™ CD distributed to over five million families. Her recordings have received many other awards, including “Critic’s Choice Recording of the Year” in both Gramophone and CD Review, “Recording of the Month” in Stereo Review, and “Album of the Year” in Guitar Player. She is also the winner of Guitar Player magazine’s “Best Classical Guitarist” award. Sharon Isbin is featured 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.
Isbin is the founder of Juilliard’s guitar department. In 1989, she created the master of music degree, graduate diploma and artist diploma (becoming the first and only guitar instructor in the institution’s 100-year history), and in 2007, added the bachelor of music degree and undergraduate diploma. She is the author of the Classical Guitar Answer Book.