Composer

Estonian-American composer and animator Lembit Beecher writes “hauntingly lovely and deeply personal” music (San Francisco Chronicle) that stems from a fascination with the ways memories, histories, and stories permeate our contemporary lives. Threading together fragments of family lore, distantly experienced legends, imagery, and songs from Estonian folk culture, and explorations of place, migration, natural processes, and ecology, he has created an idiosyncratic and thoughtful musical language full of fragile lyricism, propulsive energy, and visceral emotions, which draws raves for its “astonishing musical invention” (Philadelphia Inquirer) and “exquisite touches” (San Francisco Chronicle).

Speaking Estonian with his mother and English with his father, Lembit grew up under the redwoods of the California Central Coast, a few miles from the wild Pacific. A childhood filled with family stories of homeland, migration, and displacement led to an interest in documentary, and beginning with his 2009 documentary oratorio “And Then I Remember,” Lembit has created numerous works incorporating interviews and personal testimonies into his music, both as recorded audio and as sung text. From song cycles like “After the Fires,” based on conversations with residents of his home town of Bonny Doon about the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fires, to large-scale pieces like “Say Home,” a 38-minute work for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra that weaves through the musical texture the voices of almost 50 residents of the Twin Cities speaking about the meaning of home, Lembit’s works are grounded in a sense of empathy, exploring the relationship between individual experience and communal understanding.

Noted for his collaborative spirit and “ingenious” interdisciplinary projects (Wall Street Journal), Lembit has served three-year terms as the Music Alive composer-in-residence of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the inaugural composer-in-residence of Opera Philadelphia, working with devised theater actors, poets, ethnographers, and engineers, as well as incorporating Baroque instruments, electronically-controlled sound sculptures, homemade speaker systems, and stop-motion animation into his projects. Lembit’s three operas with noted Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch have drawn particular acclaim. Starring Frederica von Stade and Marietta Simpson and directed by Joanna Settle, his opera “Sky on Swings,” which traces the relationship of two women diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, was praised as “a monumental achievement” (Parterre), “theatrically true and artistically distinguished” (Philadelphia Inquirer), and “a shattering musical and theatrical evocation of what it feels like to have Alzheimer’s disease” (Wall Street Journal). In 2015 he received a major grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage to develop and produce “Sophia’s Forest,” a chamber opera for soprano Kiera Duffy, the Aizuri Quartet, and a multi-piece sound sculpture, built in collaboration with architects and engineers at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University’s ExCITe Center.

Recent premieres include “Tell Me Again” for cellist Karen Ouzounian and the Orlando Philharmonic, “A Year to the Day,” a song cycle with librettist Mark Campbell, written for tenor Nicholas Phan and violinist Augustin Hadelich, and string quartets for the Juilliard, Aizuri and Lydian quartets, in addition to works for cellist Seth Parker Woods, bassoonist Martin Kuuskmann, and mezzo Sasha Cooke. The Grand Prize Winner of the S&R Foundation’s Washington Award, Lembit was a graduate fellow at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities, served as Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Denison University, and has been in residence at the Copland House, MacDowell, Bogliasco Foundation, Penn Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, White Mountains Festival, Scrag Mountain Music, and the Decoda Skidmore Chamber Music Institute. Lembit has lived in Boston, Houston, Ann Arbor, Berlin, New York and Philadelphia, earning degrees from Harvard, Rice and the University of Michigan where his primary teachers included Evan Chambers, Bright Sheng, Karim Al-Zand, Pierre Jalbert, Kurt Stallmann and Bernard Rands. Active also as a pianist and animator, Lembit has created stop-motion animations for the Experiential Orchestra, Aizuri Quartet, Decoda, Music on the Strait, and violinist/composer Michelle Ross. For 2023-24, Lembit served as a Visiting Artist-Teacher at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford. He lives in Washington Heights, New York with his wife, cellist and composer Karen Ouzounian.