World-famous Estonian composer dies

  • 2000-06-08
  • By Jaclyn M. Sindrich
TALLINN - Lepo Sumera, one of the most important symphonic composers in Estonian music history, died on June 6. He was 50. Sumera was internationally renowed; his works were performed on all continents.

The Estonian daily Postimees wrote: "The biggest devastation to his heart was working at nights. After his 50th anniversary he was planning to take some time to rest. Instead time took him."

Sumera, born May 8, 1950 in Tallinn, studied composition with Heino Eller and Heino Jurisalu, graduating in 1973. He worked as recording director at Estonian Radio from 1971 to1980, as a consultant at the Estonian Composers' Union from 1980 to 1986, and worked for the Minister of Culture for Estonia from 1988 to 1992 and as chairman of the Composers Union of Estonia from 1993. Starting in 1978 he taught composition at the Estonian Music Academy.

The intensely personal and imaginative quality of his symphonies was widely praised. Sumera was a versatile composer, whose work of various stylistic periods was known for a subtle treatment of rhythm and his avoidance of "heavy-weight" drama in favor of a more distanced, philosophical treatment of the contrasting musical characters and events in his works. His music expressed tragedy, and on the other end, delicate sound poetry and ironic humor and grotesque-like musical patterns, according to Web-page entries summarizing his career.

His work was described as spiritual, meditative and chant-like, "which will be interpreted as evidence of great insight and religiosity," wrote Stephanie von Buchau in an article for The Oakland Tribune dated Jan. 29, 1995. "Sumera's music has all the ingredients that assure success in the late twentieth century," von Buchau wrote.

Sumera was one of the few Estonian composers to work in the field of electro-acoustic music on a regular basis. But, from the outset of his career, he also demonstrated a keen ear for the possibilities of the symphony orchestra, according to an article by Merike Vaitmaa in Fazer Music News magazine.

Sumera's highly acclaimed 1995 work entitled "First Symphony" was praised by critic Stephen Ellis in the January/February edition of Fanfare magazine as "delicate without being weak, strong without being profound... This is not, hopefully, the last we'll hear of Lepo Sumera."

Ellis wrote: "A critic for a Russian music magazine noted that Sumera's music "has an imagery that evokes associations with many phenomena of Estonian art, for instance, lyrical landscapes and fine pictures of nature and poetry."

Sumera's compositions were performed several times in Australia, the United States, as well as in Japan, New Zealand, Mexico, Cuba, Finland, Norway, Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, the former USSR, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. In Sweden, he was elected a "Composer of the Week" for Norrtelje Chamber Music Festival.

One Internet entry dated Jan. 11, 1995, said of Sumera: "Like the best Nordic composers, his music can take you on strange and rewarding exploratory journeys through your own mind."

In the liner notes of his Fourth Symphony, Sumera wrote: "Sound has always had a magic power over me."