21 Apr 2023

ERKKI-SVEN TÜÜR: Concerto for Flute and Orchestra

by Jeff Counts

THE COMPOSER – ERKKI-SVEN TÜÜR (b. 1959) – Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür got his start in music as the front man of a progressive rock band in the 1970s and made his mark in the Baltic as a classical music composer ten years later. Decades now into his celebrated career, Tüür still tries to raise existential
questions with his music. “What is our mission?” he writes, “One of my goals is to reach the creative energy of the listener. Music as an abstract form of art is able to create different visions for each of us, for each and every individual being, as we are all unique.” Tüür has composed nine symphonies, an opera, numerous works for chamber ensemble, and ten instrumental concertos.

THE HISTORY – The most recent of those ten concertos is the Lux Stellarum for flute and orchestra. Written for renowned virtuoso Emmanuel Pahud in 2021, the work was a co-commission of the Berlin Philharmonic and Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. In Tüür’s own program note for the piece, he admits that the title (“Starlight”, roughly) is, like all of his titles, only intended to “guide the listener’s train of thought onto certain paths.” The concerto is not expressly programmatic, therefore, but rather an opportunity to consider “new unfathomable dimensions” through sound. Where better to encounter such expansive possibility than the cosmos itself? Later in his note, Tüür recalls a thrilling moonless night he once experienced in Namibia where “the Milky Way glimmered…like a blue cloud” across the sky. “In these moments,” he continues, “the inability of man to actually grasp the scope of the universe, both in time and space, becomes particularly obvious. This emotion, the sense of solemn awe and wonder, and also a sort of eeriness is what Lux Stellarum is about.” The role in the flute in this colorful timbral study of the “unfathomable” is as our proxy, a “lonely spiritual voyager” like us, who is “trying to penetrate the borders of perception.” To appropriately set the stage for that voyage, Tüür used evocative movement titles (Fading Stardust, Dancing Asteroids, Litany of the Dying Stars, Floating Galaxies) to highlight the various celestial processes that are converted in Lux Stellarum into mysterious orchestral vibration. “All great civilizations have interpreted the starlit sky,” Tüür’s commentary concludes, “even our veins are full of ‘stardust’ and the notion that we are part of all this should increase our responsibility to this magnificent planet we are lucky to live on. It should make us humble in the profoundest sense of the word.”

THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 2021, the United States began its full military withdrawal from Afghanistan, Alexei Navalny was jailed in Russia, record floods devastated Belgium and Germany, and the Summer Olympics were held in Tokyo.

THE CONNECTION – These concerts represent the United States Premiere of Erkki-Sven Tüür’s Flute Concerto (Lux Stellarum).