Light Shows in the Universe

World premiere by Erkki-Sven Tüür

Paavi Järvi talks about the premiere of “Lux Stellarum”

They played together in a rock band in the 1980s. In May 2022, Paavo Järvi conducted a world premiere by his former band colleague Erkki-Sven Tüür. The commissioned work Lux Stellarum for flute and orchestra sets light shows in the universe to music. The soloist for the concert was Emmanuel Pahud.

Erkki-Sven Tüür lives on Hiiumaa, a large island off the coast of Estonia. One imagines one is far from the turmoil of the world here, and this solitude has undoubtedly influenced his style of composition as well: “The ideas for many of my works came to me during long walks on the beach,” Tüür says. “The sea always looks different. The surface alone reveals so many aspects. The waves, which are set in motion by the wind, overlap, are constantly illuminated by light, so that they begin to glisten. It’s very similar in my music. It also has large, long undulations, but there are very brief, vigorous movements as well.”


From rock musician to classical composer

For his flute concerto Lux Stellarum, which will be premiered on 26 May 2022 and is dedicated to Emmanuel Pahud, Tüür turned his gaze far upwards: to the universe. He transforms various astral events into musical sounds, mainly with subtle percussion effects, but glockenspiel, vibraphone and cymbals also depict the Lux stellarum, the light show of the universe, acoustically. Whispered sounds by the soloist and trills executed on several notes at the same time are also used as effects.

Tüür’s musical roots actually lie in rock music. At the age of 17, he launched the rock group “In spe”, in which he performed as singer, flutist and pianist until 1983. In those days, Paavo Järvi, now one of the most sought-after orchestra conductors himself, sat at the drums. Tüür and Järvi are still close friends; Järvi has conducted the premieres of many of the composer’s orchestral works – also the commissioned work Lux Stellarum.

(Photo: Kaupo Kikkas)

Intuition and structure

A traditional course of study in music followed at the Academy of Music in Tallinn and with Lepo Sumera, one of Estonia’s most noted composers. Tüür’s international breakthrough as a “classical” composer came in 1989 with Insula deserta (Forgotten Island) for string orchestra.

The work, for Tüür also a metaphor for his native island of Hiiumaa, where pristine nature comes up against signs of civilizational decline, features a distinctive soundscape that soon became his trademark.


Around the turn of the millennium, with his Fourth Symphony from 2002 at the latest, Tüür developed a new approach to composition, a process he calls the “vectorial method”. An entire work is encapsulated in a source code, a kind of “gene”, which, as it grows and mutates, connects the dots in the fabric of the whole work. Tüür emphasizes, however, that he does not follow this system slavishly, but rather interprets the results of the mutated and scaled gene freely if necessary: “I disregard my own rules then, in order to compose something more intuitive again – in style and idiom,” Tüür says. Intuition and structure are the defining characteristics of Erkki-Sven Tüür’s music.


Lux Stellarum – a brief introduction to the work

In the tranquil first movement, Fading Stardust is visualized with agglomerated overtones and harmonic interference fields, depicting a process of disintegration. We hear descending tone rows for the most part, whereas in the scherzo, the second movement entitled Dancing Asteroids, ascending figurations predominate. The stardust of the first movement literally disintegrates rhythmically; we hear integrated rubatos, decelerations in tempo, which are actually the concern of the conductor. We are confused by asynchronous phases that break up the metre; the asteroids, on the other hand, are rhythmically concise.

The solo cadenza in the scherzo confirms the connection between the two movements by quoting motivic fragments from the first movement. The Litany of the Dying Stars, which features an expansive, jagged melody, is to be played misterioso e doloroso. It leads us into a sound cosmos without a discernible pulse; we float, infinitely free and lost, through a void that is bewildering to mortals.

The finale – entitled Flowing Galaxies – turns its gaze to macrocosmic regions. Although the performing virtuoso has dominated the musical scene thus far, for the first time, there is now a dialogue between the individual sections of the orchestra; this finale represents a kind of synthesis of the previous movements. In a great climax, it drifts towards the few but brilliant final bars with boundless rhythmic and dancelike energy.

Read on