With a multi-genre musical background, and a diverse range of interests and influences, Erkki-Sven Tüür is one of the most original voices working in contemporary music today. In 1979 Tüür founded chamber rock group ‘In spe’, for whom he functioned as composer, flautist, keyboard player and singer until 1983. Participating in a vibrant Estonian contemporary music scene, he undertook instrumental studies at the Tallin Music School and compositional studies with Jaan Rääts at the Estonian Academy of Music.
Tüür uses in his work a broad spectrum of compositional techniques. He has been interested in Gregorian chant and minimalism, linear polyphony and microtonality, twelve-tone music and sound-field technique. To describe his attempt to contrast and combine musical opposites - tonality versus atonality, regular repetitive rhythms versus irregular complex rhythms, tranquil meditativeness versus explosive theatrically - the composer has used the term “metalanguage”.
Tüür has a well-established reputation in Estonia and has worked with leading Estonian musicians, including the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. His first great success outside of Estonia came in Finland with Insula deserta (1989). Since then he has received commissions from major orchestras and outstanding musicians from all over Europe, North America and Australia, including the hr-Sinfonieorchester, Hilliard Ensemble, Münchner Kammerorchester and Australian Chamber Orchestra.
Instrumental music makes up the main body of Tüür’s work and he particularly enjoys composing for symphony orchestra. His work has been performed by the BBC Orchestras, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Münchner Philharmoniker, NDR Sinfonieorchester and Chicago Symphony Orchestra in renowned venues such as the Wiener Musikverein, Gewandhaus zu Leipzig, Berliner Philharmonie, Salle Pleyel in Paris, the Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall and Suntory Hall in Tokyo. Tüür has formed close relationships with conductors including Paavo Järvi, Tõnu Kaljuste, Olari Elts and Anu Tali.
Wallenberg, Tüür’s only opera, was first performed in Dortmund in 2001 and was taken up by the Estonian National Opera in 2007. Recent works include his Clarinet Concerto ‘Peregrinus Ecstaticus’, commissioned by YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, which received its premiere in Helsinki in September 2013 with clarinettist Christoffer Bundqvist and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Hannu Lintu. The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra gave the world première of Tüür’s new work for orchestra, De Profundis, in November 2013. He has recently received commissions from the National Orchestra of Belgium and the Concertgebouw Orkest Amsterdam.
Tüür has been composer-in-residence at a variety of international music festivals, including Klangspuren Schwaz (Austria) in 2003, Auftakt Festival at the Alte Oper, Frankfurt in 2007 and the Davos Festival in 2008. Festivals such as the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Vale of Glamorgan Festival in Wales, Border Crossings in Toronto, Musica Nova in Helsinki, MaerzMusik in Berlin have all played host to performances of his music. In 2003 his Violin Concerto was performed by Isabelle van Keulen and the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Paavo Järvi, at the BBC Proms.
From 1991 to 2011 Erkki-Sven Tüür was artistic director of the International Festival NYYD in Tallinn, for which he received his second Annual Prize of the Endowment for Music of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia in 2005, the first came in 2003 for CD Exodus. He has also received the annual Estonian Music Prize (1987, 1988), Estonian Culture Prize (1997), Baltic Assembly Culture Prize (1998), Great Bear Prize (1996, 1997) and Annual Prize of the Estonian Music Council (2003).
Recordings of Tüür’s music can be found on labels including Ondine, ECM and Virgin Classics. A new CD featuring his Symphony No. 7 and Piano Concerto was released on ECM in February 2014.