Guitarist Sharon Isbin joins the Santa Rosa Symphony this Saturday through Monday, playing the Villa-Lobos Guitar Concerto, as part of a program called ‘Dancing Across Time.’ The Grammy Award-winning Isbin, who founded and runs the Guitar department at Juilliard, actually started studying the instrument by chance when she was a child – what she really wanted to do was study science and rocketry.
There’s more information about the concerts at the Santa Rosa Symphony website.
Isbin says the Villa-Lobos concerto originally lacked one of its most memorable moments. “It was written for [Andrés] Segovia, and when Villa-Lobos first presented it to Segovia, he was a little disappointed, because it didn’t have a cadenza. So he insisted that that be added. And it ended up being one of the best cadenzas ever for a guitar concerto. So it’s kind of the prize of the piece… It comes at a moment where you are just poised to hear the guitar, in all its virtuosity and lyricism.” She’s spent her career expanding the repertoire of music written for the guitar, with a dozen or more concertos written for her, as well as many chamber works. But were it not for her brother backing out of lessons, she might not have begun. “Our family moved to Italy for a sabbatical year when I was nine, and at that time my oldest brother said he wanted guitar lessons. So my parents were amazed to find that twice a week, a fellow would commute from Milan, who had studied with Segovia and was concertizing all over Italy. So brought my brother for the interview. He said, ‘Classical? No way!’, and I volunteered to take his place…My passion really was science and model rockets. And my father used to say, ‘You can’t launch your rockets until you put in an hour of guitar playing.’ And so that’s how they bribed me to keep it up…The turning point really was when I won a competition to perform with the Minnesota Orchestra for ten thousand people. I remember walking out, I was 14 years old. I thought, “You know, this is even more exciting than seeing my little worms and grasshoppers go up into space. I think I’ll switch gears and become a guitarist,” and that’s what happened.”