Performing Arts

Classical Guitar Showstoppers With Sharon Isbin Headed to Lincoln Center

TIMEJuly 8, 2019

Classical composer Luigi Boccherini was an Italian cellist, but he’s also known for a number of guitar quintets, including one that features the famous Spanish dance “Fandango” movement.

“Audiences go nuts, because there is a pacing to the movement that is so skillful and builds in such a way, with moments of relaxation and release … there’s an excitement about it, by the time it gets to the end people just leap to their feet because they’ve had this journey that is at once exotic, Spanish, and just really exciting,” said the eminent classical guitarist Sharon Isbin, who can’t imagine getting tired of this well-worn piece.

Isbin will perform, with others, the Boccherini Quintet No. 4 with the Calidore String Quartet at Alice Tully Hall at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center on July 17. The program is part of the Chamber Music Society’s Summer Evenings, and themed around the classical style.

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The Calidore String Quartet will perform at Alice Tully Hall on July 17, 2019. (Sophie Zhai)

The classical style is perhaps the most timeless, and still influences composers today. The program begins with Haydn and follows with composers writing in his style, such as Boccherini and then Schumann, a generation later.

Boccherini, a cellist, is sometimes credited with enhancing the cello’s role in the string quartet form that Haydn invented. The Quintet No. 4 includes two other movements besides the “Fandango,” which Boccherini pulled from different quintets.

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Luigi Boccherini playing the cello by Pompeo Batoni. (Public Domain)

“They are more classical in their character, in the opening—the pastorale movement—and then the second movement is a real virtuosic display for the cellist in the string quartet,” Isbin said.

The Vivaldi piece on the program is the popular Concerto in D major for Guitar and Strings, originally for lute. It was arranged by Emilio Pujol for Spanish guitar, by merging the violin and lute parts and adding viola parts, and revised by Isbin.

“One of the most attractive features of it is the slow middle movement,” Isbin said. “The largo is a beautiful tune, people may or may not recognize but what gives me as a performer great joy and playing it is to be able to, in the style of baroque performance of the time, embellish it with my own vision when I do the repeats.”

Isbin credits her journey in learning Bach as the foundation for her understanding baroque music.

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Classical guitarist Sharon Isbin. (J. Henry Fair)

“One of the important aspects of my own life and training was to have spent 10 years studying with the great Bach scholar and keyboard artist Rosalyn Tureck,” Isbin said. Though Isbin is not a keyboardist and Tureck didn’t play guitar, through their long collaboration, they eventually recorded a landmark edition of the Bach lute suites that employed original manuscripts and techniques.

“As a guitarist, some of the richest music that we can play are the Bach lute suites,” Isbin said. There are four such surviving suites, not all written originally for lute. Bach himself transcribed music prolifically, and Isbin has an inkling that he would have been enthused to learn that his music has been continually transcribed for new instruments of the time.

“For him, the idea of transcription was something really magical and rich,” she said. “That kind of training with Bach that I did with Dr. Tureck was very important when I would approach other baroque music and did influence my playing of Vivaldi.”

For those who can’t make the upcoming concert, Isbin has also recently recorded these two pieces with the Pacifica Quartet.

The Cedille-label record will be released in August, and also includes a string and guitar quintet by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, who was inspired by Boccherini.

“[He’s] rarely ever been recorded,” Isbin said. “It’s a work by, again, an Italian composer who came by Spanish roots when his family fled the Spanish Inquisition from Spain to Italy, and then from there, Castelnuovo-Tedesco had to flee Italy with his family in 1939 from the Nazis, and that’s when he came to the United States and settled in California.”

Isbin has toured with Pacifica Quartet since 2016, since meeting them at the Aspen Music Festival where she has headed the guitar department for 26 years (she also heads the classical guitar program at Juilliard School, where her pupils have gone on to become the premier performers in their respective countries).

“Every orchestra that I play a concerto with, every string quartet, every singer, it’s always going to be different because the collaboration and the interaction and exchange of creative, musical, and artistic ideas is really a very living experience,” she said, “and one that happens in the moment. It’s always influenced by the personalities of the musicians involved.”

Her concert with Calidore Quartet on July 17 will be the first time she will play with the ensemble, and she’s always thrilled to be able to perform favorite pieces with new collaborators.

“I think we’re all going to have a lot of fun,” Isbin said.