Celebrated Guitarist Sharon Isbin’s Debut Sony Masterworks Album

Stars Legendary Folksinger Joan Baez and Violin Virtuoso Mark O’Connor,
Featuring the World Premiere of Joan Baez Suite, Opus 144

Recognized as “the pre-eminent guitarist of our time” (The Boston Globe) and “the Monet of the classical guitar” (Atlanta Journal Constitution), Grammy Award-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin makes her Sony Masterworks debut with Journey to the New World, to be released March 24, 2009. The extraordinary recording follows a musical progression from 16th century England, Ireland, and Scotland to the shores of America, with the music of the New World represented by Joan Baez -- Isbin’s first music hero -- and violin virtuoso/composer Mark O’Connor.

“This ‘journey,’” explains Isbin, “brings together my passion for Renaissance lute music with the country fiddle virtuosity of Mark O’Connor, a lifelong love of folk music inspired by my parents who taught folk dancing, and with Joan Baez, whose magical voice has moved me to tears for as long as I can remember.”

Journey to the New World begins with four English Renaissance lute duets (Drewrie’s accordes, John Dowland’s Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home, Rossignol, and John Johnson’s variations on Greensleeves), with Isbin performing both duet parts. Next, two songs from the British Isles (Irish sea shanty Drunken Sailor, originating in the late 16th/early 17th century, and Scottish Wild Mountain Thyme, from the 18th century). Fellow American guitarist/composer Andrew York’s haunting Andecy perfectly bridges the folk music of the British Isles with that of the New World.

The seven-movement Joan Baez Suite, which the late English composer John Duarte wrote for Isbin in 2002, represents his reactions to the spirit and texts of classic Baez folk songs. When Baez, who celebrates the 50th anniversary of her career this season, heard Isbin perform the suite, she offered to sing on the recording. She joins Isbin in heartfelt renditions of Wayfaring Stranger and John Jacob Niles’ Go Way from My Window.

Sharon's exquisite playing allowed me to revisit and fall in love with these songs all over again.” - Joan Baez

Mark O’Connor’s 13-movement Strings & Threads Suite traces the composer’s own ancestral roots in Ireland down to the 13 original American colonies, followed by the eventual migration to the American West. The work effectively brings Isbin’s Journey to a conclusion, while musically depicting how the varied folk music styles—reels, waltzes, blues, spirituals, swing, and bebop—are interconnected. Originally written for solo violin, O’Connor adapted the suite for violin and guitar, where it receives its world premiere recording.

Journey to the New World follows Isbin’s focus on albums conceived around a central theme. Her catalog of over 25 recordings shows her remarkable range and versatility, and features theme-specific titles that include Journey to the Amazon and Baroque Favorites for Guitar. Her Dreams of a World, which showcased music from Appalachia, Ireland, Greece, Israel, Spain, Cuba, Venezuela, and Brazil, brought her the 2001 Grammy Award for “Best Instrumental Soloist Performance,” making her the first classical guitarist to receive a Grammy in 28 years.

Isbin’s recordings have been characterized by the noteworthy contributions of renowned composers and collaborators. Her world premiere recording of concerti written for her by Christopher Rouse and Tan Dun, received both a 2002 Grammy Award and Germany’s prestigious Echo Klassik Award for “Best Concert Recording.” Her Latin Grammy-nominated recording with the New York Philharmonic of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and concerti by Mexican composer Manuel Ponce and Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos marked the Philharmonic’s first-ever recording with guitar, and followed its Avery Fisher Hall performances with Isbin as its first guitar soloist in 26 years.

Among the many other major composers who have written for Isbin are Lukas Foss, John Corigliano, Joseph Schwanter, Joan Tower, David Diamond, Aaron Jay Kernis, Leo Brouwer, Howard Shore (she is featured on his Grammy-nominated movie soundtrack for The Departed), and Ned Rorem (she appears in the 2008 documentary Ned Rorem: Word and Music). Key collaborators have included Antonio Carlos Jobim, Larry Coryell, Laurindo Almeida, Steve Vai, and Rosalyn Tureck, with whom she published landmark editions of the Bach lute suites.

But Journey to the New World stands out, says Isbin: “It’s one of the most unusual and creative albums I’ve ever done. It’s been percolating subconsciously for many years, because folk music was my introduction to guitar and I have been touched so powerfully by the music and voice of Joan Baez. Somehow this collaboration was meant to be—though I could never have imagined it back then!”

A soloist with over 160 orchestras, Isbin is an international concert star who tours the world constantly. Upcoming highlights include New York’s Kaufmann Concert Hall May 2, and with O’Connor in Aspen on August 15 during her participation at the Aspen Music Festival, where she has directed a guitar program for the last 16 years.

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