Sharon Isbin & Mark O'Connor

Sharon Isbin & Mark O'Connor
Grammy winners O'Connor and Isbin perform a new arrangement of Strings & Threads Suite, a violin and guitar journey through the history of American folk music.


Gregory Sullivan Isaacs looks back at the best music and opera performances of 2011.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs
published Monday, December 26, 2011

Sharon Isbin and Mark O'Connor, Allegro Guitar Series at Texas Christian University, Ed Landreth Auditorium, Fort Worth  (Feb. 13)

Guitar concerts are well attended by guitar aficionados but normally fly under the radar of many concertgoers. Not so when Sharon Isbin (guitar) and Mark O'Connor (violin), performed under the Allegro Guitar Series banner.  The hall was packed, no matter which name attracted them, and the two world-class artists certainly didn't disappoint. Ms. Isbin's playing was sheer perfection; subtle, musical, and precise. But what she does better than anyone is to separate out the voices inherent in the pieces she played. Mr. O'Connor comes from a completely opposite place from the Spanish music Ms. Isbin presented. His style, he only plays his own music, is a unique amalgamation of the American Folk traditions and classical music. Fiddle meets violin, as it were. The final work on the program was most certainly the highlight of the evening. It is a piece that O'Connor wrote for the CD Journey to the New World that Isbin released in 2010, and won a Grammy that year.  The composition, called "Strings and Threads Suite," is a collection of 13 short pieces that traces American folk music from its immigrant roots to the present day: jigs, reels, bluegrass, blues, ragtime, and even some be-bop. In fact, it is hard to think of an evening of music where it would not be the highlight.

Sharon Isbin, Joan Baez, Mark O'Connor
JOURNEY TO THE NEW WORLD  -  Sony Classical 88697-45456-2
           Mark O'Connor's superb Strings and Threads Suite for violin and guitar, is spectacular, offering brilliant virtuosity in a framework of authentic folk intensity. O'Connor's impeccable violin playing is frequently reminiscent of the sonorous precision of Stéphane Grappelli and as a composition which breathes utter spontaneity, the suite provides an abundance of emotional contrasts and dazzling colours.
Graham Wade


Strings & Threads Suite for violin and guitar

Strings & Threads Suite is a piece comprising of thirteen tunes composed by Mark O'Connor. In 1986, the Tennessee Dance Theater commissioned the "Suite" from O'Connor to be performed at Nashville's Summer Lights Festival. Twenty years later in 2006, Mr. O'Connor created a new arrangement of the piece for violin and guitar duet for his good friend, guitarist Sharon Isbin. She later recorded the duet for Sony Classical Records.

The individual tunes in the suite are in various folk styles appearing in a chronological form for which O'Connor says not only represents the evolution of American folk music, but also mirrors his own family's migration from Ireland and Holland to America. It traces the family's route through the thirteen colonies initially, and then eventually out West during WWl nearly 300 hundred years later. O'Connor wrote the pieces in a manner and style in which he felt his family could have heard along the way. The "Suite" begins with Irish music, maybe similar to what O'Connor's family brought with them.

Then in a thoughtful progression, reveals music they must of encountered living in early America. "Strings & Threads" musically describes how folk music styles hundreds of years apart are interconnected - possessing a common thread, from an Irish reel to jazz.



Isbin and O'Connor provide mellow pleasures at the Harris
Mon Mar 08, 2010 at 8:36 am

By Gerald Fisher -

Guitarist Sharon Isbin and violinist Mark O'Connor made their Chicago duo debut Saturday night at the Harris Theater, and O'Connor's eclectic music proved to be the most substantial fare on the program.

Both artists are prodigiously accomplished instrumentalists as well as experienced collaborators, so the two-hour recital went by in a flash. A nice balance between solo and duo turns kept up the interest, and the mixture of styles and genres was as stimulating as it was engaging.

Sharon Isbin opened the program with some guitar recital standbards, including the much-played Segovia transcription of Albeniz' Leyenda and Tarrega's Recuerdos de la Alhambra, her technical mastery redeeming the conventional choices.

Andecy (1986) by the American guitarist-composer Andrew York and the virtuosic Waltz, Op. 8, no. 4, by legendary Paraguayan Agustín Barrios concluded the set. Particularly impressive was Isbin's communicative command of the audience, which remained quiet and rapt throughout – no small feat for an acoustic guitarist.

O'Connor then had his solo shot in which he knocked off four contrasting compositions including the lyrical Poem, a snippet from The Call of the Mockingbird (part of a longer piece), an arrangement of Amazing Grace and Caprice No. 4, a more ambitious abstraction spotlighting his technical prowess.

The first half of the program concluded with the world premiere of an arrangement for violin and guitar of O'Connor's most famous work, the Appalachia Waltz trio from 1993, a piece which he originally recorded with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer. In this version, arranged for Isbin, the violin and guitar take turns at leading and supporting roles and although the genius of the music remains, the technical demands of the transcription made for some tentative moments.

On the second half of the program, the artists extracted two longer works from Isbin's Grammy-winning album Journey to the New World. Isbin's solo effort was the Joan Baez Suite, written for her by the late English composer, John Duarte. Incorporating into its seven sections themes taken from English and American songs associated with the folk singer, it is a somewhat episodic piece which interweaves folkish themes with startling counter melodies deriving from such sources as Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, the bugle call Taps and the Dies Irae.

Two shorter works by O'Connor — another Caprice and a set that showcased the violinist's stunning technique and brought the house down with their rapid-fire dynamism.

The final piece on the program, O'Connor's Strings and Threads Suite (written in 1986 and here adapted for violin and guitar) is an attractive chronological string of 13 short pieces representing perhaps the best type of crossover music – an infusion of popular styles and genres utilized in their original forms without condescension or attempts to improve on the original material. The strand of small gems was inspired by his own family's migration from Ireland to the Midwest with toe-tapping jigs, reels, waltzes, spirituals, blues, western swing and jazz riffs all tied together by the common thread of the folk tradition. It was, of course, impeccably played by both artists.

The single encore was a reprise of Appalachia Waltz, this time without any unsteadiness, as the performers brought their collaboration to a close on a mellow note.


Isbin and O'Connor Offer Rich Folk Images in Virtuosic Performance
Elliot Mandel -

Isbin and O'Connor Offer Rich Folk Images in Virtuosic Performance
Mar 7, 2010

In guitarist Sharon Isbin and violinist Mark O'Connor, the music world has two of the most versatile artists, each capable of presenting a varied and engaging solo recital.  Additionally, each has a compulsion for collaboration, and a large audience at the Harris Theater Saturday night found the duo bridging both formats.

Sharon Isbin opened the concert with the haunting colors of Isaac Albéniz's Asturias: Leyenda, originally written for piano, though impossible to tell by the ease with which the guitarist performed.  Her intimate sensitivity drew hushed attention from the audience, and her warm tone was evenly applied to enchanting imagery of Francisco Tárrega's Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Agustín Barrios' Waltz, Op. 8, No. 4.  As a prelude to the rest of the concert, Isbin performed Andrew York's Andecy, a piece fusing folk traditions of England, Ireland, and the United States; its mournful harmonies and resolve would be echoed in works to follow.

O'Connor, the acclaimed fiddle virtuoso, dazzled in his first appearance of the evening, performing four original works for solo violin with a flair made possible only by his flawless bow control and blurring dexterity.  His lyricism and concerto-like riffs blended with trills, drones, syncopation, and slides of a more rustic tradition.  Isbin joined O'Connor for the premier violin/guitar arrangement of his Appalachia Waltz, a soothing melody over a folksy drone.  The arrangement is a natural pairing, as are its performers, with the guitar's point complimenting the violin's sustained tones.

The second half of the program began with John Duarte's Joan Baez Suite, a piece written for Isbin in 2002.  A combination of folk tunes from England, Scotland, and the 1960s American folk music revival, the suite further strengthened the theme of the evening.  O'Connor's Strings and Threads Suite in thirteen parts for violin and guitar closed the program by tracing the musical journey of Irish immigrants across the Atlantic to Appalachia and points south.  Isbin's mellow guitar drove the harmonic progression beneath the composer's boisterous fiddling.

Isbin and O'Connor reprised Appalachian Waltz for the encore, closing a program of rich imagery inspired by a variety of folk idioms and proving that those traditions are still alive and vibrant.

updated 3 years ago