Sean Shibe


"Shibe gathers the listener into its unsettling, fantastical soundworld with an intensity that combines gracefulness and threat with rapier skill"

BBC Music Magazine

"Shibe is another Bream, or something close. His playing unites finesse and poetry, and beautifully suggests a continuity of idiom."

The Sunday Times

"Shibe’s music-making is masterful, beautiful and convincing in every way"

The Times

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One of the foremost guitarists of his generation, Sean Shibe brings a fresh and innovative approach to the traditional classical guitar by experimenting with instruments and repertoire.

The first guitarist to be selected for the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists scheme, and to be awarded a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship, he was selected for representation by the Young Classical Artists Trust artist between 2015-2017. In 2018, Sean Shibe became the first guitarist to receive the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Young Artists; and in 2019, he won a Gramophone Award in the newly-created ‘Concept Album’ category for his critically acclaimed recording softLOUD. Further awards include the Royal Over-Seas League First Prize and Gold Medal (2011); Ivor Mairants Guitar Award (2009); and a Dewar Arts and D’Addarrio endorsement.

Sean Shibe’s commitment to expanding the repertoire for his instrument sees him conceive imaginative programmes, heavily featuring new music, as well as newly commissioned works; recent and future performances include new music by James MacMillan, Daniel Kidane, Brian Bolger, David Fennessy, Sofia Gubaidulina, and the premiere of a reworked version of Georges Lentz’s Ingwe, in collaboration with the composer himself. New commissions include Mark Simpson, Lliam Paterson, David Fennessy, Freya Waley-Cohen, and young Welsh composer Sylvia Villa.

Highlights in the 2019/20 season include performances at the Southbank Centre in London, MiTo Settembre Musica Festival, Liszt Academy in Budapest, RNCM in Manchester, and Serefiye Cistern Concerts series in Istanbul. After a 5 star recital of electric and acoustic guitar works at Wigmore Hall in March 2020, Sean was one of the first artists to return to the Hall for their new socially-distanced concert series in June, giving a recital of Scottish Lute Manuscripts, Bach and Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, receiving 5 stars from The Guardian for his 'irresistible style and authority…a nonchalant virtuoso and boundary breaker'. Sean’s new chart-topping recording of Bach lute suites arranged for guitar was also released in May 2020 on Delphian Records. The disc received considerable attention from critics - Sean was the cover star of Gramophone Magazine’s June 2020 issue, in which the disc was named Editor’s Choice, The Times and The Scotsman both awarded the disc five stars, and Presto Classical and Europadisc both named the recording Disc of the Week’.

Sean’s debut album Dreams and Fancies was released in 2017 on Delphian; a recording that explores the fruits of Julian Bream’s history of commissioning in the 20th Century alongside music by Dowland, it was named Editor’s Choice in Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine Instrumental Choice. It was also nominated in the BBC Music Magazine ‘Instrumental Award’ category. In 2018, Sean Shibe released his second album, softLOUD, on Delphian. A revelatory and experimental programme, softLOUD includes a combination of acoustic and electric guitar, bringing together ancient and modern traditions in a collection of music ranging from Scottish lute manuscripts to electric guitar arrangements of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, .Julia Wolfe’s LAD, (originally written for 9 bagpipes) and David Lang’s Killer. The live programme resulted in Shibe being shortlisted in both ‘Instrumentalist’ andYoung Artist’ categories at the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards, and was hailed as ‘spectacular’ (Gramophone) and ‘gripping’ (The Guardian). Further recordings include solo works by Maxwell Davies on Linn with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and John Adams Naive and Sentimental Music with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on Chandos. In June 2020, he signed an exclusive, multi-album agreement with Pentatone in June 2020. His first solo recording on Pentatone will focus on Spanish impressionism and the French influences to be found in this music, presenting works by composers including Mompou, Poulenc, de Falla, and Ravel.

He has performed at internationally renowned venues and festivals including Alte Oper Frankfurt, Heidelberger-Frühling, Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Mosel Musik Festival, Musashino Hall in Tokyo, and the Bath, Lammermuir, East Neuk and Aldeburgh Festivals. He returned to the Marlboro Summer Music Festival on the invitation of Mitsuko Uchida, and has toured China extensively.

He has appeared with the BBC Scottish Symphony, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Symphony, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Royal Northern Sinfonia, Pacific Symphony, and Trondheim Symphony Orchestras performing amongst others, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and Fantasía para un Gentilhombre, the Malcolm Arnold and Villa-Lobos Concertos.

Recent collaborators include the BBC Singers, Danish String Quartet, flautist Adam Walker, cellist Isang Enders, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani and singers Allan Clayton, Ben Johnson, Robert Murray and Robert Tritschler; and performance artist and art filmmaker Marina Abramović.

Born in Edinburgh in 1992 of English and Japanese heritage, Sean Shibe studied at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and with Paolo Pegoraro in Italy. He is a D’Addario Endorsee, and performs on these strings exclusively.

This biography is for information only and should not be reproduced.

Frankfurter Bachkonzerte with Adam Walker

Frankfurt Alte Oper, October 2020

Adam Walker and Sean Shibe formed a duo that warmed people's hearts with a beautifully put together programme...such a season opener could not have been more comforting or fitting in such uncertain times...Both artists' phrasing, dynamic nuances, and precise developments were intelligent, sophisticated and full of life. Shibe elicited the finest vibrato from his guitar.

Markus Kuhn, Frankfurter Neue Presse

Lammermuir Festival

Edinburgh guitarist Sean Shibe (*****) began the festival’s evening recitals with impeccable delicacy and nuance in a clutch of pieces from Scottish lute manuscripts, before drawing a remarkable range of colour from his instrument in Mompou’s Canción y danza and slightly more fiery Suite Compostelana. With his astonishing intensity and focus, Shibe can have you hanging on his every note – though he concluded with the raucous, ear-bending dissonances and uncompromising power of Julia Wolfe’s LAD, which he’d transcribed for multitracked guitars from its original version for massed bagpipes. It was at the other end of the sonic spectrum, maybe, but just as hypnotic in its siren-like slides.

David Kettle, The Scotsman *****

Bach: pour la luth ò cembal

Delphian Records (DCD34233)

Magnificent...Has the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro ever sounded so contemporary in its nostalgic sweetness and, in the final movement, sheer unabashed joy?

William Yeoman, Gramophone Magazine - Editor's Choice, cover feature June 2020

This astonishing and adventurous guitarist plays with such depth of tone, colour and intricacies of touch that it is as though he’s at a harpsichord...Shibe’s music-making is masterful, beautiful and convincing in every way...What delights to pick out? There’s the Suite’s sarabande, filigree embellishments glinting like jewellery; or the contrapuntal play of its gigue; or the majesty of the E-flat minor Prelude and Fugue. Above all, Shibe awes us with the exquisite tone balance across the whole range, from dancing beauties up on top to bass notes that growl like a contented bear.

Geoff Brown, The Times *****

The tone is warm and rich, the playing astonishingly clean, the ornamentation delicately and imaginatively applied and Shibe's ability to voice Bach's separate lines borders on the astonishing ... I couldn't stop playing this recording - in fact it's some of the classiest and most compelling Bach playing I've heard on guitar... It goes beyond the technique and that's astonishing in places... I'm learning things about the music I hadn't noticed before because of the way Shibe voices and inflects it with such intimate understanding.

Andrew McGregor, BBC Radio 3 Record Review

There’s nothing more soothing than the sweet sound of unaccompanied classical guitar coupled with the logical weave of Bach harmony and counterpoint. Throw guitarist Sean Shibe into the mix and you have a divine threesome worth more than the sum of its parts.

Ken Walton, The Scotsman *****

Commandingly impressive in slower movements... the clarity in his articulation of the most complex counterpoints is as exemplary as his gloriously warm timbre is alluring.

Stephen Pettit, The Sunday Times

Few have recorded [these works] with such a thrilling combination of technical flair, finesse and blazingly evident musical sympathy. It’s almost as if this music was waiting for Shibe to come along, the results are that breathtaking...As throughout this phenomenal disc, Shibe demonstrates a musical maturity far beyond his 28 years, allied to a flawless technique that makes listening to it one of the greatest pleasures we’ve had so far this year. Certainly it’s one of the finest Bach discs to come our way in a long time, and another huge achievement for this uniquely compelling young artist. Recording and presentation are as exemplary as the playing.

Europadisc - Disc of the Week

Through Shibe’s sensitive playing it’s possible to discern the distinct personalities of the relatively youthful composer honing his craft and the mature master at the height of his powers...The guitar is not known for its breadth of dynamic range, but Shibe shows clearly that it is perfectly possible to achieve great sonic variety, both in volume and in texture...he achieves the seemingly impossible by successfully recreating something of the spirit of an expansive keyboard prelude...nothing short of triumphant.

David Smith, Presto Classical - Recording of the Week

Bach's music for the lute has been something of a connoisseur's speciality, but this album could change that ... hear it played on a guitar with the intelligence, fantasy, and palpable love that Shibe brings ... Fugues are unfolded with faultless attention to line. But more importantly, they live and breathe, and everything glows under the rich light of discovery. Stunningly recorded, this collection is a memento of a young artist on the vertiginous ascent, offering music making that is utterly ravishing.

Apple Music

A disc I never wanted to end: Sean Shibe displays clarity, structure and an innate sense of elegance … Bach was constantly re-inventing his music on other instruments, and on this disc Sean Shibe gives us a masterly and elegant demonstration of how suited it is to classical guitar. Shibe's Bach has a lovely clarity and sense of structure to it, along with his own innate sense of elegant in the playing.

Planet Hugill *****

Wigmore Hall solo recital

March 2020

Billed as “emerging talent” by the Wigmore in this recital, the Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe presents himself as someone fully emerged. Here three probing works performed on acoustic guitar were woven together in an absorbing odyssey. On a technical level, the trip took us through the tiny gradations of timbre and dynamics that Shibe is capable of with his instrument — feats that never seem pedantic, but honestly felt...The raw chords and wailing motifs [of Georges Lentz's Ingwe] — often at rock-gig volume — had a logic to them, and what Shibe retained was his craftsman’s curiosity, making the colours of this instrument dazzle as well as daze. It finished with a monumental series of chords taking us nowhere except the abyss.

Neil Fisher, The Times *****

A mesmerising journey from light to dark… The spell, as always with Shibe, was total; no other guitarist that I know of is working at this artistic level.

David Nice, The Arts Desk *****

I don’t expect that Wigmore Hall had previously heard anything quite like the primal scream that exploded from Sean Shibe’s electric guitar at the start of the second half of this recital…a performance of astonishing stamina, commitment, discipline and technique wizardry by Shibe, whose absolute immersion in Lentz’s music was spellbinding…one cannot but admire Shibe for his courage to challenge and unsettle, as much as for his expressive commitment and technical excellence. Such qualities were similarly communicative in the first half of the recital, during which Shibe’s acoustic guitar provided palette-cleansing pristineness and stillness before the raging, at that point unforeseen by many in the Hall, to follow… At the extremes of both silence and shock-wave, this was miraculous and mesmerising music-making.

Claire Seymour, Seen and Heard International

softLOUD at the Hayward Gallery

Southbank Centre, Jan 2020

[Julia Wolfe's] 17-minute LAD (2007) requires the unusual combination of nine bagpipes, but Sean Shibe has adapted it as an electroacoustic piece for guitar, and it concluded his beautifully performed solo recital at the Hayward Gallery. This, given twice on the same evening, was part of a concert series there coinciding with, and exploiting, the stimulating backdrop of the Bridget Riley retrospective. Before the energised interlocking of circles that is her wall painting Composition with Circles 4 (2004), Shibe unfolded an original sequence... instantly seductive.

Paul Driver, Sunday Times

Britten recital with Allan Clayton

Wigmore Hall, January 2020

Performing Dowland's songs is a knack, being able to scale the voice down to an intimate level whilst keeping the expressivity and bringing out the wonderful musical detail. There was a relaxed sense of partnership between the two performers, with Clayton adding ornaments in later verses of the songs... It was an intense, magical experience and I do hope that we hear more lute songs from the two... [In Britten's Nocturnal after John Dowland] Shibe played with lovely tone and quiet intensity, creating a series of vivid sketches by turns eerie and magical in the variations, of this dark and sometimes edgy music. The inventive and virtuosic passacaglia drew us onward, with some remarkable colours and timbres from Shibe, with the Dowland song coming as something of a release.

Planet Hugill

Clayton’s tenor was light and airy, subtly picking out selected words and nuances - “I sit, I sigh, I weep, I faint, I die” first swelled with urgency, then, when repeated, retreated to a floating whisper - above Shibe’s pristinely elaborate polyphonic accompaniment... In a mesmerising performance if Britten's Nocturnal after John Downland, that was, paradoxically, both introspective and deeply communicative, Shibe seemed to venture ‘inside’ the music itself, as the semitonal conflicts wrought themselves into ever greater complexities before releasing their knots in tentative melodic fragments. Britten’s resourcefulness with small means is astonishing but Shibe’s performance held the Wigmore Hall audience spellbound. Cradling his instrument, head bent low, the Scottish-Japanese guitarist put me in mind of Dr John Dee: for this was musical magick, as if the spirit of those Elizabethan alchemists had returned to play upon our ears and hearts and minds - mesmerising us with terrifyingly quiet pianissimos, the player almost lost in improvisatory meditations which were broken by surprising, frightening declamations of eloquence and eeriness.

Claire Seymour, Opera Today

Musica Adventus with the Scottish Ensemble

Dec 2018

Guitarist Sean Shibe appeared for a solo performance of Kapsberger’s Toccata arpeggiata, all softly flowing broken chords, joining the group for Vivaldi’s Concerto for lute and 2 violins in D major, the Ensemble in a supportive role carefully balancing the sound while maintaining lively excitement in the outer movements. The slow Largo was especially effective, with Shibe’s guitar dreamily floating out high notes over wistful long-bowed strings, a touch of melancholy before the energetic final movement arrived, with its playful exchanges between soloist and ensemble and busy continuo.

David Smythe, Bachtrack ****


Delphian Records (DCD34213)

[He] is an artist blessed with grace to spare, and a roar that is fearsome.

Paul Riley, BBC Music Magazine, Instrumental Choice *****

The talented young Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe brings this bracingly original concert programme featuring music for acoustic and electric guitars into the recording studio. The results, like the performances themselves, are spectacular.

[There is] something about cumulative effect. About taking the music of the past and transforming it. Or deconstructing it. Or dissolving into it. Or just plain smashing it.

William Yeoman, Gramophone

...a definitive performance of Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint

Erica Jeal, The Guardian

…the second Delphian album is the sort of release for which the potential audience is vast... The first hard-to-ignore contender for the Scottish Album of the Year award from a classical label? I very much think so.

Keith Bruce, The Herald

This disc works on so many levels.

Graham Rickson, The Arts Desk​

In serving such a mixed menu, Shibe is showcasing his extraordinary versatility...All performances find Shibe in impressive form.

Classical Guitar Spring 2019

The early works are drawn from sources including the Wemyss, Balcarres, Rowallan and Straloch Manuscripts, and are presented by Shibe on modern guitar without apology. It is pure delight to hear Shibe—unburdened by any sense of historicist orthodoxy—taking full advantage of the modern classical instrument and stamping his own artistic ownership all over them...Entirely deserving of the attention and awards it has begun to receive,softLOUD is something you’ll want to listen to in two halves, as well as straight through. It’s absolutely riveting. It’s the most eloquent musical scream on record.

David Lee, Scottish Review of Books

Naïve and Sentimental Music

Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Chandos Records (CHSA5199)

A word of warning: in these desolate stretches, Sean Shibe may steal your heart with his guitar solo.

Patrick Rucker, Gramophone Magazine ​ ​

Dreams and Fancies

Delphian Records (DCD34193)

In his debut solo album...Sean Shibe performs with superb artistry some of the now classics that Bream inspired.  Prime in any such catalogue is Britten’s 1963 Nocturnal after John Dowland, and Shibe gathers the listener into its unsettling, fantastical soundworld with an intensity that combines gracefulness and threat with rapier skill.

BBC Music Magazine, Instrumental Choice *****

Mesmerising... Shibe brings an electrifyingly discursive quality ... balanced by an even-tempered yet intensely reflective grace. 

Gramophone Magazine, Editor’s Choice

This is the best solo guitar disc I've heard. That it comes from a soloist in his twenties makes it all the more astounding ... Remarkable stuff, and the range of colours which Shibe draws from just six strings is extraordinary.

The Arts Desk

What is it about the young Edinburgh-born Sean Shibe that marks him out as one of the foremost guitarists of the young generation? It is quite simply that rare symbiosis of technical mastery and innate musicality. The evidence is there from bar one of this latest album, which is a golden representation of the old and new in English guitar music.

The Scotsman

The most seductive of charmed sounds… Shibe is another Bream, or something close. His playing unites finesse and poetry, and beautifully suggests a continuity of idiom.

The Sunday Times

Everything here is rich in melody and Shibe is as articulate a virtuoso as Bream, communicating the precision of these intimate chamber pieces with real passion. It also speaks volumes of an adventurous musician that, singularity of instrument aside, the album could hardly be further from the music Shibe played at the East Neuk Festival on the road to a week’s run at the Edinburgh Fringe.  Both incarnations of his performing are unmissable.

The Herald​

It's not often a guitar recital leaves me slightly stunned, but this one did. Just listen to the sound, the way Shibe changes the colour even during a phrase... what a seductive sound, incredibly clean playing, and almost miraculous changes of colour and timbre, never empty gestures, always to articulate the counterpoint and phrasing. Shibe manages to highlight Walton's inventive brilliance, Dowland's harmonic modernity, Lennox Berkeley's elegance in his Sonatina, Malcolm Arnold's extrovert quirkiness in his Fantasy and he ends with an extraordinarily articulate and compelling performance of Benjamin's Britten's Nocturnal after John Dowland. Inspired by Julian Bream's pioneering spirit perhaps, but this is playing on an exalted level and the recording gives everything a resonant halo that allows the sound to bloom beautifully. If you only by one guitar recital this year - it's called Dreams & Fancies.

Andrew McGregor, quoted from BBC Radio 3’s Record Review​ ​


East Neuk Festival (June 2017)

Shibe [is] an infallible galvaniser as well as something completely different… that soft, hauntingly inflected and coloured soft playing at which Shibe, more than any other acoustic guitarist I’ve ever heard, truly excels… Only Shibe could have thought of asking her [Julia Wolfe] if she minded his transcribing it for nine electric guitars: genius, a term which should rarely be applied to performing musicians, but at 25 he has it.

David Nice, The Arts Desk

LAD by US composer Julia Wolfe, originally for nine bagpipers and getting its UK premiere in a new version by Shibe for multitracked electric guitars... Shibes towering textures of mournful, slowly rising harmonies, which made their mark almost physically in the intimate space of Anstruther’s Dreel Halls.   But it was the work’s uncompromising monumentality that made it really memorable.

The Scotsman​

Wigmore Hall Recital

Wigmore Hall (February 2014)

From the very first note he plays, Sean Shibe immediately draws in the attention of the audience… Sean Shibe created a magical atmosphere; he seems to intimately understand the meaning behind every note which he plays.

​Classical Guitar Magazine​​

Rodrigo – Concierto de Aranjuez

Scottish Chamber Orchestra (September 2012)

A prodigious technician and supremely expressive player, Shibe gave a masterful account of this much-loved work.

Bachtrack​ ​

Maxwell Davies – Mill Runes & Farewell to Stromness

Linn Records (CKD 534)

The beautifully executed guitar interludes are supplied by Edinburgh’s Sean Shibe; Hill Runes is based on a cryptic five-stanza poem by Orkney poet George Mackay Brown, while Farewell to Stromness is an arrangement by Timothy Walker of the piano original.

BBC Music Magazine​ ​

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