b. April 28, 1972, Tartu
Member of the Estonian Composers’ Union since 2002
Helena Tulve is one of the most original talents in contemporary Estonian music. Her elaborate and rationally constructed works achieve exquisite expressiveness and emotional tension. Her works do attest to the richness and variety of her musical experiences and interests: the French spectral music, IRCAM’s experimentalism, Saariaho and Scelsi, Gregorian chant and exotic melody-designs.
In Tulve’s own words: "Of utmost importance to me is the extending of musical boundaries. By this I mean the extension of timbral, formal and stylistic borders as well as the opening-up of music’s geographical boundaries. The latter has greatly advanced the former."
Pieces of chamber music for various ensembles form the bulk of Helena Tulve’s work until now. The colourfulness and fluidity of her compositions suggest a comparison to natural processes.
In Tulve’s works, melodies verge on dissolving into the expressive variety of sound. The music is rich in timbral nuance. The composer makes use of micro-intervals, vibrato and untraditional playing techniques – of anything that enhances the delicacy and fluidity of the sound-texture.
Comments the composer: "It’s so strange, the way I listen. The music in my brain dissolves to the extent that I no longer hear the underlying structure. My head’s filled with colours, with non-musical materials. For me, to compose means to interpret".
Apparently, Tulve’s music depicts the workings of a creative mind in the process of experiencing the world – sound turning into colour, colour into light… However, Tulve’s soundpaintings are far from idyllic; the psychological tone of her music is mostly dramatic.
Helena Tulve has studied composition at the Tallinn Music High School with Alo Põldmäe and from 1989 to 1992 at the Estonian Academy of Music with Erkki-Sven Tüür, being the latter’s sole student of composition thus far. She furthered her training in Paris with Jacques Charpentier at the Conservatoire supérieur from which she graduated in 1994 with the Premier Prix. There she also studied Gregorian chant and traditional music from 1993 to 1996.
Tulve has attended György Ligeti’s and Marco Stroppa’s summer courses. In addition, she attended an electronic music course at IRCAM in 2001.
She has lectured on composition at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre since 2000 (professor since 2011).
Tulve’s music has been performed in many European countries, in the USA and Canada, and at numerous contemporary music festivals: BIG Torino (Turin, 2000, Öö [Night]), Music of Friends (Moscow), Vancouver New Music, Les Boréales (Caen), MaerzMusik (Berlin, 2003, à travers), Klangspuren (Schwaz, 2003, à travers), Icebreaker (Seattle, 2004, Saar [Island]), Europamusicale (Germany, 2004, lumineux/opaque), Gaudeamus Music Week (Amsterdam, 2010, Where the Two Seas Meet?), World Music Days (Mons, 2012, silences/larmes) and several others.
Her work Cendres was premiered by the Estonian NYYD Ensemble at the Warsaw Autumn in 2001; abysses was written for the Ensemble Courage and premiered at Matrix Herbstfestival in Leipzig, December 2003; effleurements, éclatements…for guitar and percussion, commissioned by DeutschlandRadio, premiered at Forum neuer Musik Köln in 2003; ensemble work Stream was first performed by Seattle Chamber Players in Seattle (2006); I Am a River commissioned by Netherlands Chamber Choir was premiered in France and Holland (2009); Hingamisveele was premiered by Munich Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Alexander Liebreich in Germany and Austria (2011).
Helena Tulve served as composer-in-residence to the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir in 2001/2002 concert season. Commissioned by the choir, her chamber opera It’s Getting So Dark, based on the 10th century Japanese female writer Sei Shonagon’s diary-like work Pillow Book, premiered at the Tallinn Town Theatre in 2004.
In March 2006, Helena Tulve was festival composer for the Estonian Music Days Festival and led international master courses for composition students.
In 1998, at UNESCO’s International Rostrum of Composers in Paris, Tulve’s à travers, a piece for chamber ensemble was acknowledged as the recommended work in the category of composers under 30. Her orchestral composition Sula [Thaw] won the Rostrum in Paris in 2004.
In 2000 Helena Tulve was granted the Heino Eller Composition Prize. For the creative achievements in 2004, she was awarded the Estonian Music Council Music Prize and the Estonian Cultural Prize. In January 2005, Estonian Radio honoured her with the title of the Musician of the Year.
In 2006, the composer was awarded the President’s Cultural Foundation’s Young Artist Prize. In the same year she received the Prince Pierre of Monaco Music Composition Prize for Reyah hadas ’ala and as well ISCM-CASH Young Composer Award for Sula.
Tulve's In a nakht fun yeridah was awarded the Composer Prize of the Estonian Music Days Festival 2006. In 2012, she was ascribed French Order of Arts and Letters (l´Ordre des Arts et Lettres).
Tulve’s works have been published by Edition Peters. Helena Tulve has 2 author-CDs: "Sula" (Estonian Radio, 2005), "Lijnen" (ECM, 2008).
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(updated June 2013)
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