Sound ideas from young composer Jonas Tarm

Mike Canale Photography

Age: 20

Hometown: Born in Tallinn, Estonia; moved to Highland Park, Ill., at age 10.

Think of: “I think of myself as a polystylist. I try to make my own language of music. I try to use infinite amounts of languages, but I try to use a more consistent message.”


What caught our eye: Tarm, a third-year composition major at New England Conservatory, has had his works performed throughout the United States, in Germany, and in his native Estonia. He was recently commissioned to write a new orchestral work for the New York Youth Symphony, which will perform it at Carnegie Hall next year. The honor went to Tarm as one of seven 2014-15 winners of the orchestra’s prestigious First Music Commissions, which recognize up-and-coming composers, many of whom have gone on to become well-known masters of their craft.

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Light bulb moment: “The discovery that everyone is an artist but not everyone knows it. It made me realize that everything has potential and possibility.”

Biggest thrill: “Hearing my own music played, especially when it’s by a large ensemble like an orchestra. It gets me very excited, because many times I try to take risks [in my work] and I never know exactly how it will sound.” Tarm added that having his piece “Headline Hues: Concerto for Stings” played by the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra last year was particularly gratifying. “It was my big public return to Estonia, and it was a big deal because the piece took the life out of me. Working on it was a big struggle.”

Biggest surprise: Taking on a leadership role at his school. “I organized a discussion group at NEC called the
Artist’s Forum, where a bunch of artists get together and discuss ideas. I never thought I’d do something like that.”

Inspired by: “The musicians around me and my peers, as well. I find that history is my competition and the people around me are my teammates — I collaborate with them, and I learn from them.”


Aspires to: “One thing I haven’t done much of is conducting, and I’d like to do more of this professionally.”

For good luck: “I shave my beard. I only shave on days I have concerts, so that gives me motivation to have concerts.”

What people should know: “Artistically speaking, I try to empower people and their lives with music and art.”

Coming soon: Tarm’s composition for the New York Youth Symphony will be performed at Carnegie Hall on March 8, 2015.




Eryn Carlson can be reached at