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Sharon Isbin brings her Guitar Passions to East Bay

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You haven’t premiered a piece of music until you’ve done so in New York. That, said Sharon Isbin, is a prestigious if not always pleasant event.
And the guitarist should know. A resident of New York, she has commissioned and premiered more guitar works than any other performer.
“You can never expect anything from New York critics other than what they
typically dole out,” Isbin told me in an interview a few years back. “New York critics
love to get their viperous claws into anything they can. They get all excited when they have a chance for a feast of some sort.”
Bay Area residents accustomed to hearing Isbin perform with classical ensembles are in for a treat as her latest project pairs her with two of jazz’s most notable guitarists, Stanley Jordan and Romero Lubambo. The evening, billed as Guitar Passions, is set for February 25 at the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center’s Bankhead Theater.
The concert represents a touring production of Isbin’s latest album, “Guitar Passions.” The disc features collaborations with Jordan, Lubambo and a range of other guitarists including Steve Vai, Steve Morse and Nancy Wilson of Heart.
“Guitar Passions” is but the latest addition to Isbin’s adventurous discography. The multiple Grammy winner has long thrived on playing outside the classical box – her “Journey to the New World,” for example, featured Mark O’Connor and Joan Baez. Isbin’s discography includes Spanish/Latin music, love songs and lullabies, and a jazz-fusion collection with Larry Coryell.
The irony in all this is that growing up Isbin was not particularly taken with the instrument. Her father was a chemical engineering professor and his daughter shared that love of science. He wanted to encourage her playing, however, and threatened that he wouldn’t let her pursue her true interest – launching rockets – until she practiced her guitar.
“I was determined to be a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon and I spent many, many hours a day doing science experiments,” she recalled. “The guitar was a hobby that I enjoyed.”
All that changed when, at age 14, Isbin won a guitar competition. She soon found herself on stage with the Minneapolis Symphony, the applause of 5,000 people ringing in her ears.
“And I thought, Hey, this is even more exciting that building rockets,” Isbin said. “Then it ceased being a hobby for me. I no longer needed the threat of the rockets.”

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