It was cold and snowy on my 18th birthday, but that didn’t stop me from following through on my first decision as an adult: I would take myself to see the Maryland Symphony Orchestra. Internationally renowned classical guitarist Sharon Isbin would be joining the MSO to play “Troubadours,” a piece for guitar and orchestra, and my aspiring-musician self was anxious to hear something sure to be beautiful, exciting, and passionate. Isbin and the MSO, under the skillful conducting of Elizabeth Schulze, did not disappoint.
As I sat in the beautiful Maryland Theatre, home of the MSO, I was mesmerized by Isbin’s long, agile fingers floating across the fretboard of her guitar. She plucked and strummed the heartstrings of all in attendance, giving a masterful performance. I remember watching those fingers and thinking to myself that she had found that part of herself that was special, nurtured it, and transformed herself into a truly exceptional musician.
In the years since, Isbin has acquired several Grammys and even more accolades. She’s been called “the pre-eminent guitarist of our time” by Boston magazine, performed for the Obamas, and was the subject of a documentary, aptly titled “Troubadour,” just to name a few of her many accomplishments.
Recently Isbin returned to Maryland to perform again with the MSO. Isbin and the MSO have collaborated many times over the years, including the 2015 world premiere of “Affinity: Concerto for Guitar & Orchestra” by Chris Brubeck, a Grammy-nominated composer. Last week Isbin, Schulze, and the MSO teamed up to record “Affinity,” described by MSO executive director Stephen Marc Beaudoin as a “vibrant, jazz-flecked” piece that he calls “an important new American composition.”
“Affinity” marks the first professional MSO recording that will be made available to listeners worldwide on Isbin’s new upcoming album, available in early 2020.
Beaudoin and I discussed this historic milestone and what it means for the MSO and the community it calls home. He remarked that “the needs, challenges, opportunities, strengths, and hopes of our regional community have changed … so, likewise, will the MSO continue to evolve” to better serve and represent our community. “Affinity” is a testament to this evolution – a contemporary composition for guitar and orchestra that challenges what audiences have come to expect from classical music ensembles like the MSO.
Beaudoin and the MSO believe “communities are stronger and healthier when everyone has access to and is engaged in music and creativity.” They’ve been meeting with the community and making connections, even performing at Hagerstown Pride. Ticket sales are up and their new season shows a commitment to diversity both in their choice of programs and featured performers, including local artists. Beaudoin says that the MSO is here to serve the community, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.
He went on to say that “the MSO believes creativity is a key to unlocking our full potential” and that they “are in the business of strengthening communities and making lives better.”
This is why music and the arts are important. They are a cultural reflection of society, a mirror that reveals parts of ourselves we may have never noticed before. And, once we see ourselves reflected, there is an implicit question: what is possible?
I learned this firsthand the cold, snowy night I became an adult. You see, Isbin was not born a virtuoso – she became one. Somehow this meant everything to me, a young man eager to find his place in the world. To see with my own eyes that greatness is possible gave me hope; realizing that greatness requires hard work gave me motivation. In hindsight, this was the greatest birthday gift I didn’t know I needed.
Sharon Isbin – Doyenne of American guitarists
- Brian George Hose has been an advocate for LGBTQ persons and issues all his adult life. He holds a Bachelor of Social Work from Shepherd University and looks forward to pursuing a Master's of Social Work with a focus in mental health. A former musician, Brian served as minister of music for New Light MCC for several years and incorporates music into social work practice. He lives in rural Western Maryland where he has amassed a sinful number of books, yarn, and books about yarn. He has been writing for Baltimore Out Loud since February 2016.