Guitarist Sharon Isbin celebrates 25 years on Aspen faculty |

Guitarist Sharon Isbin celebrates 25 years on Aspen faculty

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Guitarist Sharon Isbin will perform Wednesday at the Aspen Music Festival with Stanley Jordan and Romero Lubambo.
J Henry Fair/Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: Guitar Passions with Sharon Isbin, Stanley Jordan and Romero Lubambo

Where: Harris Concert Hall

When: Thursday, Aug. 6, 8 p.m.

How much: $65


What: Sharon Isbin Guitar Master Classes

Where: Bucksbaum Campus

When: Friday, Aug. 7, 1 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 9, 11 a.m.; Wednesday, Aug. 12, 9 a.m.; Friday, Aug. 14, 1 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 16, noon; Wednesday, Aug. 19, 9 a.m.

How much: Free

More info:

What: Classical Guitar Recital

Where: Scanlan Hall, Bucksbaum Campus

When: Thursday, Aug. 20, 6 p.m.

How much: Free

More info:

Sharon Isbin has performed on the Grammys and for the Obamas at the White House. She’s released 27 albums and soloed with nearly 200 orchestras. She’s blazed a trail for women in the world of classical guitar and is generally regarded as the instrument’s best living practitioner.

And her musical journey began in Aspen, where she first arrived as an Aspen Music Festival and School student in the 1970s, and where this summer she is celebrating her 25th year running the school’s guitar program.

The Minnesota native’s time as a teen here, studying under Aspen guitar program founder Oscar Ghiglia, began a career-long relationship with the school. The Aspen experience, Isbin said in a recent interview, has shaped her musical sensibilities and her adventurous guitar forays across genres and cultures.

“There’s really no place like it in the world where you can have such focused concentration on your area of study plus an exposure to amazing musicians from the orchestral world, the vocal world, from chamber music, not to mention the forays into jazz and bluegrass, in a setting that is breathtaking,” she said. “People are lured by the mountains as much as they are by the beautiful music. That’s inspiring to everyone who is playing. You look out at that and you say, ‘I’m going to play great music.’”

Isbin performs today at the festival with fellow guitarists Stanley Jordan and Romero Lubambo in one of the most anticipated concerts of the season.

The program, similar to what the trio performed on a 20-city world tour last year, will include classical guitar compositions from Spain and South America with a jazz-infused Brazilian style as its centerpiece. The trio performs in seven different configurations.

Isbin has collaborated with Jordan and Lubambo on and off since the 1990s, and recorded with them on her 2011 album “Guitar Passions.”

The pieces they’ve selected highlight Jordan and Lubambo’s improvisational skills and include Rodrigo’s “Adagio” concerto arranged for guitars, concluding with Jordan playing an improvisational electric guitar bossa nova.

“I love the freedom that comes with people who improvise,” Isbin said. “You never know what’s going to happen — that’s what makes it unique and of the moment. It will never be the same twice.”

Last year, Isbin was the subject of PBS’s “Sharon Isbin: Troubadour,” an hour-long documentary — five years in the making — that screened last summer at the Aspen Music Festival. The film, now available on DVD and Blu-ray, tracks Isbin’s singular career, portraying her persistence in convincing composers to write guitar concertos and include the instrument on the classical stage and her fearlessness as a woman in the male-dominated guitar field.

“In the guitar world, I always had to fight as a woman,” she says in the film, “and in the music world I always had to fight as a guitarist.”

Her first summer here she was one of just two girls among 50 guitar students.

The film highlights her collaborations with Jordan and Lubambo, along with diverse musicians from folk legend Joan Baez to composer Christopher Rouse and rock guitarist Steve Vai. A five-album Isbin box set, released last year, offers a primer on her genre-hopping approach and diverse repertoire, from Brazilian jazz to Baroque to folk.

“Troubadour” also touches on the wide pop cultural range she covers, and relationships with people outside of the classical universe, from Martina Navratilova to Garrison Keillor to David Hyde Pierce. Some may know Isbin best for her cameo role on “The L Word” and her score for Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.”

“Troubadour” also shows her with students in Aspen and at Juillard (where she founded the guitar program in 1989), capturing her attentive, uncompromising pedagogical style. (Her classes in Aspen are open to the public, and her students will perform a free concert Aug. 20).

Producer Susan Dangel and her crew followed Isbin for five years to make the film, an arrangement that took some getting used to for the musician but proved well worth it.

“She made it something that’s appealing not only to musicians but to people who have no connection to the music world,” Isbin said. “It’s inspiring because it’s about nurturing a dream and a passion. And that’s a universal story.”