It’s difficult to over-emphasize the impact that Sharon Isbin has had on the classical guitar. She has all of the accolades of a top-shelf musician: Grammy Awards, plenty of studio albums, appearances in major motion picture soundtracks and praise from luminaries like Martina Navratilova and Michelle Obama.
But Isbin’s legacy as an educator might go even further than her personal achievements. She’s director of The Juilliard School’s classical guitar program, which she founded in 1989, and since then has trained many of the world’s most successful guitarists.
For example, Isbin’s student Bokyung Byun won the nearby Buffalo Philharmonic’s JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition this past June, and Tengyue Zhang — another student of Isbin’s — was runner-up. Last year at another prestigious international guitar competition, Zhang won first prize, and Byun took second.
At 4 p.m. Mon., Aug. 20, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, Isbin will give a concert of Latin-American music in the final Chamber Music Guest Artist Series of the season.
The performance requires a complimentary ticket, which can be obtained on a first-come basis at the Main Gate Welcome Center Ticket Office, which opens at 7 a.m. If available, tickets can also be obtained at the Visitors Center, which opens at 9:30 a.m. Seats are held until 15 minutes before the start of the performance.
This afternoon, Isbin will be joined by another former student, Colin Davin, a successful guitar soloist in his own right.
“It’s always a great source of pride for me when they launch and they end up establishing their own very prestigious careers,” Isbin said. “(Davin) is teaching on the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music and is a beautiful player, and it’s really fun for me to be able to do duets with him because we’ve worked together for so long in one context or another that there’s a real symbiosis.
The two met when Davin was just 15 years old at a master class in Buffalo, and then a year later as student and teacher at the Aspen Music Festival and School. Eventually, Davin would go on to earn his master’s degree studying with Isbin at Juilliard.
When Davin got to Juilliard, he was already playing professionally and entering guitar competitions, so he was already at a high level of performance. But while studying at Juilliard, Isbin’s extreme attention to detail pushed him to the next level, Davin said.
“I recall in particular a lesson we had on a slow movement from a Bach sonata,” Davin said. “Technically speaking, it was the easiest movement of the piece, but that was one of the hardest lessons I ever had because she was so zoomed-in on in the exact shaping of every little micro phrase and how it might fit into the larger phrase.”
The concert will feature solos and duos from composers such as Isaac Albéniz, Leo Brouwer, Enrique Granados and Francisco Tárrega. For Isbin, one of the highlights will be Brouwer’s “El decameron negro” (“The Black Decameron”), a work for solo guitar that she said has quickly taken a central place in the solo guitar repertoire since its composition in 1981.
“It’s inspired by love songs collected from Africa in the 19th century by a German anthropologist, and there are three different ballads in this set,” Isbin said. “One is about lovers fleeing through the ‘Valley of the Echoes,’ another about a warrior who is much beloved by his tribe but is then banished because he plays the harp — a good metaphor for many things — and then, about a maiden in love.”
Davin will join Isbin to perform Howard Shore’s “The Departed Tango,” written for the Martin Scorsese’s Oscar Award-winning movie, “The Departed.” The piece was written for Isbin, and she recorded it as a duo with herself for the movie.
“When Howard Shore and Scorsese began to discuss music for the film, they landed on the idea of the tango, which would be evocative of the dance of death between the Bostonian police officer and the Irish mafioso figures in the film,” Isbin said. “The tango, I think, fits in nicely with the South and Latin American flavor of this program.”