Erkki-Sven Tüür, born in 1959 in Kärdla on the Estonian island of Hiiumaa, is one of the most remarkable composers of his generation. Largely autodidact, he studied percussion and flute at the Tallinn Music School from 1976 to 1980; later, from 1980 to 1984, he studied composition with Jaan Rääts at the Estonian Academy of Music, and took private lessons from Lepo Sumera.
In 1979 he founded a chamber rock group, In spe. that soon became one of the most popular in Estonia. Tüür worked as composer, flutist, keyboard player, and singer in this ensemble. From 1989 to 1992 he taught composition at the Estonian Academy of Music.
With the onset of perestroika his music was heard outside Estonia for the first time. His first great success in Finland (e.g. with Insula deserta, 1989) led to a number of commissioned works, including Searching for Roots. Hommage a Sibelius (1990), for the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, and Architectonics VI (1991), commissioned by Helsinki Festival. Since then, he has been commissioned to compose new works for American Waterways Wind Symphony Orchestra, Stockholm Saxophone Quartet, The Hilliard Ensemble, Piano Circus, The Grieg Trio, Cologne Radio Choir and Rascher Saxophone Quartet, Estonian State Symphony Orchestra, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Royal Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Dortmund Opera (Opera Wallenberg), Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the Philharmonia Orchestra.
The essential recordings of his music can be found in the ECM catalogue.
Tüür's music is heard more and more frequently all-over Europe, but also in North America, Australia, and Japan. Paavo Järvi, artistic director of the Cincinnati Symphony, toured with Tüür’s Exodus in the repertoire in the USA in March, 2003, performing it, among other venues, at Carnegie Hall, New York. His Violin Concerto was performed with Isabelle van Keulen, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and Paavo Järvi at the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall, London, in August 2003.
Several new commissions are on the list, among them his Piano Concerto, Accordion Concerto, and large-scale works for orchestra. His works have also been performed in festivals such as Bang on a Can (New York), Border Crossings (Toronto), Musica (Strasbourg), Stockholm New Music, Vale of Glamorgan Festival, Berlin Festwoche, Salzburg Festival, Lockenhaus Chamber Music Festival, Luzern Festival, Klangspuren, Wien Modern, Gstaad Festival, Emerging Light (London), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and Musica Nova Helsinki, among others.
Among Tüür's many awards are the Cultural Prize of the Republic of Estonia (1991 and (1996), and the Art Prize of Baltic Assemble 1998. Today he is a freelance composer based alternately in Tallinn and on the island of Hiiumaa.
"My work as a composer is entirely concerned with the relation between emotional and intellectual energy and the ways in which they can be channelled, accumulated, liquidated, and re-accumulated. My pieces are abstract dramas in sound, with characters and an extremely dynamic chain of events; they unfold in a space that is constantly shifting, expanding, and contracting, Not so much like a mosaic, but rather in the manner of a block of sculpture. I have been interested in a combination of opposites - tonality versus atonality, regular repetitive rhythms versus irregular complex rhythms, tranquil meditativeness versus explosive force - and especially in the way they gradually change from one to another. However, my recent compositions since 2002 (Oxymoron, Meditatio, 5th Symphony, and Noesis) are composed with a different approach. I have invented a method I call 'vectorial writing', as the principle of voice-leading in the wider sense follows projections of vectors in different directions. At the same time, the basic material is given by a certain numerical code which acts like a gene in forming the whole composition with all possible mutations and transformations. This technique allows me to achieve much more variety in harmonic sense without losing coherence." (E-S. Tüür)