When Grammy-winner Sharon Isbin plays with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Thursday and this weekend, few in the audience will know how close they came to losing her to NASA.

Isbin, one of the world’s most-famous and most-recorded classical guitarists, will perform the Midwestern premiere of Chris Brubeck’s “Affinity: Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra,” which the composer wrote for her.

But it all came very close to not happening.

Before Isbin discovered the guitar at 9, she was a crackerjack model-rocket builder who launched her missiles into the high heavens.

But when her older brother, who dreamed of being the next Elvis Presley, realized his guitar instructor wasn’t teaching rock ‘n’ roll, he revolted.

“When he discovered it was classical,” said Isbin, “he bailed out. I got the lessons by default.”

It was, says the woman who created and now heads the guitar department at Juilliard, a life-altering discovery that sounds very much like love at first sight.

“For me, the guitar was very exotic,” Isbin said. “It was hand made, and I didn’t have to share it with a dozen other little kids, like I did the piano.” She added, “It felt very personal. You cradle it. You feel the vibration of the wood.”

Isbin was 14 when she won a major competition and was catapulted out of obscurity. The prize was two solo performances with the Minnesota Orchestra, playing for 5,000 people nightly.

Since then, she’s gone on to work with Brubeck, celebrated mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, violinist Mark O’Connor, as well as Joan Baez and Sting.

“Sting was lovely to work with,” Isbin said, “and we did one of my favorite Sting songs, ‘Shape of My Heart.’

Isbin was also the subject of a 2014 PBS documentary, “Sharon Isbin: Troubadour.”

She says she’s excited to be back in Detroit and playing with Leonard Slatkin again.

“I’m thrilled,” she said. “He’s such a brilliant musician.” Isbin adds that she caught Slatkin and the Lyon Orchestra last month at Carnegie Hall.

“Everyone,” she said, “was moved.”

The three concerts will also include Vivaldi’s “Concerto in D Major, RV93,” and Mahler’s Symphony No. 10.

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

‘Guitar Genius Sharon Isbin’

7:30 p.m. Thurs., 8 p.m. Sat., 3 p.m. Sun.

Detroit Symphony Orchestra

3711 Woodward, Detroit

Tickets: $15 - $100

(313) 576-5111

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