Sharon Isbin and John Corigliano

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Tuesday, October 8, 2019

1991 was a big year for American composer John Corigliano. The Metropolitan Opera premiered his opera “The Ghosts of Versailles” and the 53-year old composer won two Grammys and the Grawemeyer Award for his Symphony No. 1. Corigliano was increasingly recognized as one of the leading American composers of his generation, and was deluged with commissions for new works.

But about 10 years before all that, guitarist Sharon Isbin had asked Corigliano to write a concerto for her, and kept on asking him. On today’s date in 1993, her persistence paid off when, with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and conductor Hugh Wolff, she gave the premiere performance of Corigliano’s “Troubadours — Variations for Guitar and Orchestra.” This piece was inspired by the courtly love tradition of the medieval troubadours, whose songs combined sophisticated word play with simple but elegantly communicative melodies.

“For composers the idea of true simplicity — in contrast to chic simple-mindedness — is mistrusted and scorned,” wrote Corigliano. “But the guitar has a natural innocence about it… So the idea of a guitar concerto was, for me, like a nostalgic return to all the feelings I had when I started composing — before the commissions and deadlines and reviews. A time when discovery and optimistic enthusiasm ruled my senses… Troubadours is a lyrical concerto.”