“Musically narrating and conveying our time”. Estonian composer Jüri Reinvere turns 50

Estonian composer Jüri Reinvere, who has also worked as a presenter on Finnish and Estonian radio and was inspired by film legend Ingmar Bergman, celebrates his 50th birthday on 2 December 2021. “I like writing for the stage,” Reinvere explains, “because with Ingmar Bergman I thought a lot about about the development of dramatic characters: about psychology, motivations, conflicts.” Three of Reinvere’s orchestral works were premiered in October/November 2021 in close succession: “The Inner Sea” for large orchestra (Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern under Pietari Inkinen in Saarbrücken on 31/10/2021), “Two Bracelets of Klara” for chamber orchestra (Tallinn Chamber Orchestra in Tallinn on 10/11/2021) and “Of the Dying of the Stars”. Symphonic Notes for Orchestra (Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under Pablo Heras-Casado in Munich on 12.11.2021).

Jüri Reinvere’s music often uses his own poetry, whose complex language incorporates his own experiences of a cosmopolitan life. His first teacher in composition was Lepo Sumera. Piano training in Tallinn led him to concert maturity. From 1990 to 1992 Reinvere studied composition at the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw. From 1994 he began composition studies at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, graduating in 2004 with Veli-Matti Puumala and Tapio Nevanlinna. Reinvere himself considers three things central in his background: his childhood and youth in Soviet Estonia, his schooling in Finland and his long-standing creative friendship with Käbi Laretei and Ingmar Bergman.

Reinvere’s aesthetic follows two directions: a resolute modernity with all its tonal harshness and, at the same time, an unbroken boldness towards romanticism, which is why his music can sound very different. His major works, especially the operas and orchestral pieces, mediate between the two directions. They adhere to a psychological understanding of drama, but expand the means of representation beyond the previous tradition. His symphonic music fuses various orchestral dialects of Europe, especially the more colouristic school of France with the more symbolically connoted instrumentation tradition of Germany.

In his chamber music and ensemble works, Reinvere combines advanced methods of sound production with classical narrative structures. The strict elaboration of the work’s form is accompanied by an openness to other arts, to questions of theology, politics, general history and everyday life. However, the emphasis is on the immediate sensual presence of the art.

The current interview with the composer:

To what extent has your style changed in more recent works?

Reinvere: My “style”, if I may say so, was already quite diverse anyway. If you hold my Requiem against my first opera “Purgatory” - both written almost at the same time - then the differences in the tonal worlds are immense. Not much has changed in that I have remained true to my conviction to not adhere to any ideology, political or artistic, be they ideologies of material or process. But every material, every process can be an inspiration for me. I have no resentment whatsoever. What I want is that people are emotionally touched when they listen to my music and that they get something to think about, in general: that something is given to them, not taken away, and that it is music they can have confidence in.

In fact, in recent years the proportion of purely instrumental music has increased. Before, I had often included my own poems in my pieces, often via electronic feed. Recently, I have tended to set my own texts to music - in the song cycles “Pale Carnival” and “Songs in Dwindling Light” as well as in the opera “Minona”. In addition, however, based on discussions with clients, I have increasingly written purely instrumental works, orchestral and chamber music, without any reference to texts. 

The stage works are nevertheless a central component of your oeuvre. Can one go so far as to describe the musico-dramatic element as a characteristic of your instrumental music?

I do indeed enjoy writing for the stage because I have thought a lot with Ingmar Bergman about the development of dramatic characters: about psychology, motivations, conflicts. And I try to make sure that my instrumental music also has narrative qualities. It should enable the listener to have a meaningful formal experience. But this does not have to follow the conventions of classical forms or the ideal of classical beauty. The negation of such expectations of form and norms can also become a powerful experience of meaning. The fullness as well as the emptiness, the beautiful as well as the ugly, the fine as well as the coarse, the delicate as well as the rough, even the unfinished can be strong forms and expressive qualities. However, I do not write programme music; my titles only open up associative spaces. That does not apply to opera. Opera needs more than associative spaces, it needs stringent drama. The audience goes to the theatre to be told stories. My great concern is that in contemporary theatre, storytelling is increasingly overgrown by lecturing and commenting. George Steiner spoke of “footnote art”, of the loss of the primary and the prevalence of the secondary. This makes theatre, art par excellence, superfluous. We have to be able to narrate and communicate our time, otherwise we’ll do away with ourselves.

Photo: Jüri Reinvere und Paavo Järvi © Archiv J. Reinvere

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