Guitarist goes south of the border |

Guitarist goes south of the border

Susannah Luthi
Special to The Aspen Times
Guitarist Sharon Isbin, an Aspen Music Festival artist/faculty member, brings a Latin-infused performance to Harris Concert Hall on Saturday. Aspen Music Festival photo/Alex Irvin.

Sharon Isbin, Grammy Award-winning guitarist and Aspen Music Festival and School alumna and artist/faculty member, brings a first-hand view of Central and South America to her audiences this week.

She will perform in a sold-out recital Saturday at 8 p.m. at Harris Concert Hall.

“I play Latin-American music on my regular concert programs because the guitar in its very nature is an instrument that comes from a culture of individual people who have used it to tell stories,” she said. “It tells about life, dreams, hopes, and struggles. Often it’s a very nostalgic instrument, but also one that celebrates with great joy.”

Latin-American music has been in Isbin’s blood since she was 14, when she studied with the great Venezuelan guitarist Alirio Diaz at a summer festival in Canada.

Then she began visiting the rainforests in Costa Rica, and in 1994 took her first trip to Brazil with composer John Corigliano to celebrate the success of a concerto he wrote for her. “But I would never have imagined that Brazil would figure in my professional life,” she said.

Three years ago, however, she took the stage in Brazil’s Teatro Amazonas ” a theater built in the 1890s to rival the great European opera halls ” with Brazilian composer and percussionist Gaudencio Thiago de Mello, whom she originally met on the stage of Carnegie Hall and with whom she recorded the Grammy Award-nominated Journey to the Amazon album. The Teatro Amazonas stands in Thiago de Mello’s hometown, and the concert they performed there was unforgettable.

“The people went completely nuts when they heard Thiago’s first work,” Isbin recalled. “It’s all inspired by life in the Amazon ” it’s evocative of birds, wind, a canoe in the water, the rain in the forest. It was a very special experience.”

Now, as she continues mining Latin repertoire, Isbin also keeps traveling in Brazil, Mexico, Central America, Costa Rica, Spain and Portugal. She has collaborated with Latin composers and artists, including Thiago de Mello, Cuban composer Leo Brouwer (works by both men appear on Saturday’s recital program and Thiago de Mello will also accompany Isbin on organic percussion), Brazilian bossa nova star Antonio Carlos Jobim, and others.

She has become a major force in bringing Latin music to the forefront. Just six months ago, a CD of her collaboration with the New York Philharmonic ” the orchestra’s first-ever recording with a solo guitarist ” was released to popular and critical acclaim. Featuring works by Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo, Mexican composer Manuel Ponce and Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, the album is a bestseller on Billboard’s Top 10 Classical Chart.

She also includes Latin-American repertoire in her recitals, whether she’s performing in the Avery Fisher Hall or in Harris Concert Hall as part of this week’s “Postcards from Latin America” mini-festival. As a teacher at the Aspen Music Festival and School ” in the early nineties she revitalized the guitar department, which had been dormant for eight years ” she also exposes her students to this repertoire.

“But I am happy to work on whatever they’re inspired about,” she said.

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