Estonian composer, flamboyant cultural personality (1950-2000) and the first Minister of Culture of the independent Republic of Estonia 1991-1992. Lepo Sumera died in the year 2000, at the age of 50.
Breakthrough at 22
Lepo Sumera was a prolific and innovative composer, with six symphonies, three concertos, a number of smaller orchestral works, two ballets, two operas, four cantatas, music for about 70 films and stage works, electro-acoustic and multimedia compositions and numerous chamber pieces to his name. Thinly built and slight of stature, he was very much of a showman when introducing new ways of performing and presenting art music, and when acting in his role in cultural politics. The material for "Heart Affairs" (1999) was derived from the sounds and rhythms of the human heart, with electrocardiography as a portrait of the subject-matter. In the chamber opera "Olivia's Master Class" (1997), paintings by Caspar David Friedrich (one of the main characters of the opera) were used for video illustrations. Sumera's first symphonic work, "In Memoriam" (written in 1972 in memory of his teacher Heino Eller) also became his breakthrough, at the age of 22.
A favorite of mine among Sumera's compositions is a small piano piece, simply titled "Piece from the Year 1981" (included in the CD "Estonian Piano Music", Warner Classics International 4509 95704 2), a quietly progressing stream of unassuming musical tones, almost Japanese in character. It is hardly a typical Sumera composition, but then - what is? Lepo Sumera's work is nearly always characteristically uncharacteristic, ranging from traditional-sounding orchestral works to extreme electronic atonality.
Works by Lepo Sumera have been performed in many countries in Europe, in the USA, Canada, Australia, and even on Cuba. He has been awarded numerous international music prizes, and a prize for the best film music score at the international festival in Espinho (Portugal). His Fifth Symphony (1995) was chosen the 1st recommended work at the International Rostrum of Composers in Paris in 1996.
Revolution and education
Another side of Lepo Sumera's life was his active involvement in public cultural affairs and teaching. He worked as recording director at the Estonian Radio (1971-1980). From 1978 he taught composition (professor from 1993) at the Estonian Academy of Music where, in 1995-1999, he also directed the electronic music studio. From 1993 to his death in 2000 he was chairman of Estonian Composers' Union.
In 1988 he was appointed Minister of Culture during the famed Estonian "Singing Revolution", in the not-yet-independent but intensely independent-minded last government of Soviet-controlled Estonia. When Estonia became fully independent in 1991, Lepo Sumera became its first Minister of Culture.
Commemorative composition contest
To commemorate his role in music and in the cultural affairs of Estonia, an international composition contest has been declared - the International Lepo Sumera Composition Contest for Young Composers, to be executed on April 5, 2003 in Tallinn, Estonia. At the deadline for entering musical scores (set at December 10, 2002), some 70-odd entries have been received by the jury from 25 different countries, ranging from Albania and Argentina to the UK and US.
General information on Lepo Sumera: www.emic.kul.ee/InglE/composers/Sumera; www.zzz.ee/edition49/composers/l_sumera/
International Lepo Sumera Composition Contest: www.sumera.kul.ee