René Eespere was born in Tallinn in 1953. He graduated in 1977 at the Tallinn Conservatory as a composition student of Anatoli Garshnek. From 1977 until 1979 he continued his studies as a postgraduate student at the Moscow Conservatory with Aram Khachaturian and Aleksey Nikolayev.
Since 1979 René Eespere teaches composition and music theory at the Estonian Academy of Music, since 2002 as professor. Since 1978 he is a member of the Estonian Composers' Union and has been elected to its board twice. He has chaired the board of the music department of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia from 1994 to 1997 and from 2001 to 2003.
René Eespere became publicly known first by his allegorical short ballets “A Man and a Night”, “The Furies” and “Ancient Dwellers” that were all staged in the 1970s at the Vanemuine theatre (Tartu). Of his extensive creation, vocal-symphonic large forms as well as sincere music for children and chamber music of subtle texture have gained the widest acclaim. Since the end of the 1970s tonal mode treatment, ostinato technique and elaborate use of variation have pervaded his idiom, suggesting influences of ancient ritual music, minimalism and Baroque. The dramatic art of his large forms is characterized by a power of suggestion typical of a ritual.
During the 1980s René Eespere wrote a number of vocal-symphonic works with an ethical and existential message (“Passiones”, “Mysterium”, “Mediterium”). Simultaneously with that he brought fresh air to the scene of Estonian children's music with instrumentally accompanied songs and song cycles that were characterized by bright emotions and clear idiom. “Two Jubilations”, written in 1986, still remains a starting piece for a sequence of choral works with Latin titles (Glorificatio, Invocatio, Sub specie quietatis, De amore aeterno, Festina lente, Ritus, Origo originum and others), followed by the cantatas Mater rosae, Glorificatio and the oratorio Passiones.
The list of commissioners and first performers of Eespere's works includes the Jutland Chamber Choir from Denmark, LRC Chamber Singers from Riga as well as larger organizations such as the Busenbach Male Choirs Association from Germany. Eespere's patriotic songs have been performed by Estonian choirs both in Estonia and abroad (in Canada, the U.S. and Australia). Some of them, like “Time of Waking” and “Estonia I Love You” have been repeatedly included in the program of the Estonian Nationwide Song Celebration. Eespere's Latin songs “De amore aeterno”, “Festina lente”, “Ritus” and “Origo originum” have resounded in churches and cathedrals of Germany, France, Italy, Hungary, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Croatia, and Spain. The main performers of Eespere's choral music have been the Jutland Chamber Choir (conductor Mogens Dahl) and the Sonnelund chamber choir (conductor Morten Schuldt Jensen) from Denmark, the male choir Orphei Dränger Uppsala (conductor Robert Sund), the mixed choirs of Atlanta Choraliens (conductor Marian Dolan) and of Portland University (conductor Lonnie F.Cline), Tokyo Ph. Chamber Choir (conductor Chifuru Matsubara) and Tallinn Music High School Chamber Choir (conductor Evi Eespere).
During the last 20 years instrumental concertos and chamber pieces have also came about by commissions by both Estonian and foreign interpreters and chamber ensembles, Jean-Claude Gerard, Eleftheria Kotzia, Maarika Järvi, NYYD Ensemble, Duo 46, Klaus Jäckle, Hermann Hudde, Tiit Peterson, Neeme Punder, Heiki Mätlik and Andres Uibo, to name a few. In Australia, Eespere's chamber music has been performed by the flute virtuoso Andrew MacGregor, in the USA by Duo 46, in Argentina by the guitar player Esteban Colucci, in Japan by the pianist Yuko Yoshioko, in Norway by the guitar player Sven Lundestad.
Eespere's works have won awards at several music contests, e.g. the 2nd prize at the 6th International Contest of Choir Music in Trentinos (Italy, 1991 – “Glorificatio”), Diplom Opera segnalata at the 21st International Contest of Choir Music in Arezzo (Italy, 1994 – “Invocatio”), the 1st prize at the Contest of New Songs for the Estonian National Male Choir (1996 – “Sub specie quietatis”), the 3rd prize at the Contest of New Instrumental Concertos for an Award from the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (1997 – “Concerto for Viola and Orchestra”), 2nd prize at the Estonian Male Choirs Association Contest of New Songs for Male Choirs (2000 – “Day of the Seven Sleepers”).
The majority of Eespere's works have been published (Verlag Neue Musik, Edition Eres, Antes, edition 49, Edition Eisenberg, ERP/Estonian Record Productions).
There have been six personal collections of Eespere's music released in Germany, e.g. “Concentus” (Antes Classics, 1995), “Neue Chormusik aus Estland” (Christophorus, 2000), “Der Morgen der Skulptur” (Antes Classics, 2001) and “Concertatus celatus” (Antes Classics 2007).
His music has also been included on a number of compilation records.
Orders and awards:
the Annual Estonian Music Award (1989)
the 4th class order of the White Star (2001)
the Live and Shine award of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (2001-02)
Riho Päts School Music Foundation Stipendium (2004)
Award of composition of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (2008)
Award of composition of the Estonian Music Council (2011)
Photo René Eespere: © Gert Kelu, Eestifoto