Tõnu Kaljuste was born in Tallinn, Estonia in 1953. He began his academic musical education with piano studies at the Tallinn Secondary Music School which he completed in 1971 after specializing in choral conducting under the teacher Harri Ilja. From there, he continued his conducting studies at the Tallinn Conservatory with Jüri Variste (choral) and Roman Matsov (orchestral). Kaljuste did his postgraduate work starting from 1976 at the Leningrad Conservatory with J. Kudrjavtseva.
Kaljuste assumed full leadership of the Ellerhein Chamber Choir in 1974. They achieved the distinction of winning the 1st prize at the Béla Bartók International Choral Competition, with Tõnu Kaljuste receiving the best conductor prize. With the government funding that came with the success at the competition, Kaljuste was able to make the choir a full-time professional ensemble and formalized their new name as the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir (EPCC) in 1981. He was also a conductor at the Estonian National Opera during the period 1978 to 1985, furthermore, he became principal conductor of the Swedish Radio Choir from 1994 to 2000 and of the Netherlands Chamber Choir from 1998 to 2000.
With the arrival of renewed Estonian independence from the USSR in 1991, Kaljuste and his choir were able to embark on a more fully realized international professional career than the previous state controlled monopoly would permit. Kaljuste has dedicated a major part of his work to the music of Estonian composers (Heino Eller, Tõnu Kõrvits, Arvo Pärt, Veljo Tormis, and Erkki-Sven Tüür). KECM Records had already established a major Estonian association through its advocacy of Arvo Pärt’s music. It produced its first recording with Tõnu Kaljuste and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. In total, Kaljuste recorded 7 cd’s with exclusively Pärt’s music.
Kaljuste has worked in collaboration with composers such as Alfred Schnittke, György Kurtág, Krzysztof Penderecki, Erik Bergman, Giya Kancheli, Sven-David Sandström, Knut Nystedt, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Brett Dean, R. Murray Schafer, a.o. In 1998, he was presented with the Japanese ABC Music Award and received the International Robert Edler Prize for Choral Music.