Erkki-Sven Tüür is a contemporary Estonian composer, perhaps the most well-known from his country. His music, which consists of eight symphonies, nine concertos, an opera and a variety of chamber music and orchestral works, is characterized by its intense energy and transformations. One of Tüür’s goals is to prompt the listener to ponder age-old existential questions, including “What is our mission?”. Furthermore, he appreciates that the abstract nature of music allows for every listener to form their own visions.
Tüür studied both flute and percussion at the Tallinn Georg Ots Music High School from 1976 to 1980 before attending the Tallinn Conservatoire from 1980 to 1984, where he studied composition with Jaan Rääts. In addition, he studied composition privately with Lepo Sumera in Tallinn and pursued the study of electronic music in Karlsruhe.
Between 1979 and 1983, Tüür was active with the progressive rock ensemble In Spe, which he founded. He served many roles within the group, including composer, flautist, keyboardist and vocalist. At this time, Tüür was heavily influenced by the music of King Crimson, Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis, Mike Oldfield and Frank Zappa. He went on to work as an adviser at the Estonian Composers’ Union from 1983 until 1985, becoming musical director of the Vanalinnastuudio Theatre for three years, beginning in 1987. Tüür also served as a composition teacher for a short period (1989-92) at the Estonian Academy of Music, where he taught Helena Tulve.
After leaving the Academy of Music in 1992, Tüür focused solely on composing. His works have been commissioned by many virtuoso performers and ensembles abroad, and as a result, are often introduced to foreign audiences before being performed in Estonia. There are also a number of Estonian ensembles with which Tüür regularly collaborates, including the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, the YXUS Ensemble (which was formerly known as the NYYD Ensemble) and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra.
Tüür was one of the artistic directors of the International New Music Festival NYYD from 1991 to 2011 and was the featured composer of Musica Nova Helsinki in 1998, Vale of Glamorgan Festival in the UK in 2002 and Klangspuren Schawz in Austria in 2003. In addition, Tüür served as composer-in-residence at the Auftakt Festival in Germany in 2007, the Davos Festival in Switzerland in 2008 and at the Bruno International Music Festival Moravian Autumn in 2015.
Tüür’s compositional style is quite fascinating and diverse, drawing from an array of sources such as Gregorian chant, minimalism, linear polyphony, microtonality, twelve-tone music and sound-field technique. Using these techniques, he is able to combine and contrast many opposites, resulting in a musical language he calls “meta-language”. This language is prevalent in many of his compositions from the 1990s, including Zeitrum (1992), Architectonics VI (1992), Crystallisatio (1995) and the Symphony No. 3 (1997). He is also influenced by the works of J.S. Bach and Gustav Mahler, the two composers he considers most important to him for their emotional scope and abstract narratives, respectively.