Bramwell Tovey, OC OM, (11 July 1953 – 12 July 2022) was a British conductor and composer.
“He is the very model of a modern orchestral maestro… Not only is he a supremely gifted conductor and music director, a much published composer, a pianist (classical and jazz) and a dreamer of big projects, he is also the bearer of a fantastic sense of humour.”
— Eric Friesen in Montecristo Magazine, Spring 2011
BRAMWELL TOVEY is a GRAMMY® and JUNO award-winning conductor and composer.
Maestro Tovey was the Principal Conductor of the B.B.C. Concert Orchestra, based in London, U.K. Since September 2018 he was also the Artistic Advisor of the Rhode Island Philharmonic.
From 2000 to 2018 he was Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Founder and Artistic Advisor of the VSO’s state of the art School of Music in downtown Vancouver. In December 2018 the facility was renamed the Tovey Centre for Music incorporating the VSO School of Music in his honour. He is now the orchestra’s Music Director Emeritus.
In January 2019 he assumed the role of Artistic Director of Calgary Opera, one of Canada’s leading companies with an outstanding record of newly commissioned mainstage work. He most recently led the company in the 2016 Canadian premiere of Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt with Lynn Fortin, David Pomeroy and Brett Polegato leading the cast. Maestro Tovey has planned the company’s seasons for 2020/21 and 2021/22 but relinquished the position for health reasons during the COVID-19 crisis. He returned to conduct the company’s performances of Beethoven’s Fidelio in November 2021.
As a guest conductor he worked internationally with some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras. During 2017/18 his guest appearances included the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston, Chicago, Melbourne and Sydney Symphonies.
In July, 2018 Bramwell was awarded the Orchestras Canada Betty Webster Award “…as a driving force for music in Canada, as a conductor, orchestra builder, composer, music education advocate and passionate exponent of new music.” In November 2015 Bramwell Tovey was awarded the $20,000 Oscar Morawetz Award For Excellence In Music Performance. Bramwell donated the award to the VSO School of Music for bursaries to study with musicians of the Vancouver Symhony Orchestra.
Bramwell made operatic debut in 1984 conducting Puccini’s Tosca with Leonie Rysanek in the title role for Cape Town Opera, her final performances of a signature role. He made his Canadian Opera debut in 1994. His recording of Jean Cras’ Polypheme won the Academie Lyrique Française Prix d’or. His repertoire includes Mozart, Britten, Strauss, Gershwin, Bernstein, Puccini and several world premieres. At the 2015 Tanglewood Festival he led the Boston Symphony and Tanglewood Festival Chorus in Tosca with Sondra Radvanovsky, Bryn Terfel and Brandon Jovanovich. One of his final concerts as music director of the Vancouver Symphony was leading concert performances of Britten’s Peter Grimes with David Pomeroy in the title role and Erin Wall as Ellen Orford.
Bramwell was also an award winning composer. His Requiem for a Charred Skull won the 2003 JUNO award for Best Classical Composition. His opera The Inventor, written with playwright John Murrell, was commissioned by Calgary Opera and recorded by the original cast with the Vancouver Symphony and UBC Opera for CD release. His trumpet concerto Songs of the Paradise Saloon was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony for their principal trumpet, Andrew McCandless and premiered in December 2010. The US premiere took place at the Sun Valley Festival in August 2011. Alison Balsom played the concerto under the composer’s direction at the Los Angeles Philharmonic in November 2013 and again under the composer’s direction with the Philadelphia Orchestra in December 2014.
In 2008, with violinist James Ehnes, Bramwell and the VSO won a GRAMMY® and a JUNO award for their recording of Barber, Korngold and Walton concertos. In the fall of 2009, the VSO toured to Korea and China, including two concerts at the Beijing International Festival. In the Spring of 2010, the VSO performed in Toronto, Montreal, Quebec and Ottawa. In 2011 the VSO and Naxos records announced the launch of the Naxos Canadian Classics label with a disc of music by VSO Composer Laureate, Fugitive Voices – the Music of Jeffrey Ryan which has been nominated for a JUNO award. In January 2013 Bramwell and the VSO toured the western United States.
In Vancouver Bramwell led complete symphonic cycles of Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler, many Canadian premieres of international works, including Thomas Ades Asyla and John Adams Dr Atomic Symphony, and works from across the choral, classical and Canadian repertoire.
Reviewing the VSO’s performance of Mahler’s 8th Symphony Symphony of a Thousand at the Vancouver Cultural Olympiad, with the Vancouver Bach Choir, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and a stellar cast of soloists, David Duke wrote in the Vancouver Sun:
“…it would be misleading not to acknowledge the true stars of the show. Bramwell Tovey and his orchestra are now about three-quarters of the way through the complete Mahler canon. Their familiarity with Mahler’s mercurial idiom pays off, and pays off handsomely. There is a consistency and a sense of pacing that is both reliable and reliably impressive. Individual instrumental soloists — virtually all the first desk players at some point — deliver with poetry; complicated colour mixes, often with wildly disparate instruments, are nicely balanced, clear and precise.
“Tovey has the necessary showmanship to make the protracted composition work, even for an audience who may not necessarily know it well. Broad brush strokes help define the symphony’s obvious drama, but the real wonder is in the detail.”
Bramwell worked with many leading international choirs including the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, the Huddersfield Choral Society, the Amadeus Choir of Toronto, the Melbourne Symphony Chorus, the Pacific Chorale and the Canadian Mennonite Festival Choir in a wide range of repertoire from Bach and Britten to Part and Penderecki.