Seven Desires for Guitar was written in 2002 for Sharon Isbin, who gave the work its world premiere in November 2002 in New York City’s Kaufmann Concert Hall, 92nd St. Y.
For Tan Dun, one of the most important elements in writing music is “balance and counterpoint”: not only note-to-note in a single style and tempo, but also the broader relationship of styles, tempos, timbres, dynamics, structures-even of different ages, of the converging worlds of East and West. Through the Yi-Ching (the Chinese philosophical work Book of Changes, 5th century B.C.), he had become aware that change is continual, that ways of balancing the existing and the potential are unlimited.Read More
The whimsical, multi-movement collage Seven Desires for Guitar (2002) is the solo piece spawned from Tan’s guitar concerto Yi2, likewise written for, premiered, and recorded by Sharon Isbin (Teldec Classics). Conceived as a “counterpoint of styles,” Yi2 had blended and contrasted the different traditions, relationships, and characteristics of two plucked instruments- Spain’s flamenco guitar and China’s pipa (lute). A “cultural counterpoint” developed within the concerto’s solo part itself, which was no longer coherent as either flamenco or pipa music; it had been transformed by the mingling and exchange of these distinct cultural traditions. Something entirely new had been created which didn’t echo tradition, but nevertheless retained the shadow of its roots.
In “Seven Desires,” Tan spins this idea into a musical mini-drama: the guitar now “desires” to become a pipa. It emulates the pipa’s sound by bending pitches microtonally; it uses a wealth of articulation techniques to sculpt and color individual notes expressively, in a typically Asian manner. Metaphorically, the guitar desires not just to emulate the pipa, but to achieve oneness with it, perhaps even an erotic union.
(c) 2002 Mary Lou Humphrey
And few new works are as adventurous as “Seven Desires for Guitar,” written for Isbin by the Chinese composer Tan Dun. Combining flamenco-style foot-stomping with the bent notes of the ancient Chinese pipa, it’s a freewheeling work with a kind of elemental energy and anything-goes, postmodern lack of inhibition.
— Stephen Brookes,The Washington Post, March 2013