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(Photo credit: David Cooper)

British Conductor Bramwell Tovey has Died, Aged 69

The conductor, composer, and pianist had a particularly large profile in Canada, where he led major orchestras for three decades


British conductor Bramwell Tovey passed away at the age of 69, having been diagnosed with a rare form of sarcoma in 2019. .

Hailing originally from East London, Tovey learned the piano and tuba before beginning life as a conductor. He studied at London's Royal Academy of Music and picked up a range of conducting work around the United Kingdom.

He was appointed as the Music Director of the Scottish Ballet in 1978, and between 1984 and 1988, held the role of Principal Conductor of the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet.

In 1989, he was named Music Director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and would hold the post until 2001. Remaining in Canada, Tovey then led the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra until 2018. That same year, he became Music Director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic.

Alongside his conducting, Tovey was also a composer, and in 2003 won a JUNO award for his work Requiem for a Charred Skull. His trumpet concerto Songs of the Paradise Saloon was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony in 2010 and was originally written for TSO principal trumpet Andrew McCandless. It received two subsequent performances by Alison Balsom and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with Tovey conducting.

Tovey also found the time to continue his career as a pianist, often directing major orchestras from his seat at the instrument. Additionally, he appeared as a pianist on two jazz albums: the first a collection of Gershwin songs with soprano Tracy Dahl, and the second with bassist Gil Fournier and drummer Adrian Peek, titled All the Things You Are.

He received much of his early musical education in Salvation Army brass bands, and retained close links with the British brass band community throughout his life. In 2006, he became the Artistic Director of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain and was also strongly affiliated with the award-winning Fodens Brass Band.

"We are all heartbroken," said David Beauchesne, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic. "Bramwell Tovey was a dear friend and colleague, and a person of uncommon ability, warmth, humor, sincerity and kindness. The youngest student and most revered guest artist received the same level of his care and attention."

"His death is a profound loss to our organization and community, and to musicians and audiences around the globe. Bramwell was incredibly grateful to the conductors who stepped in on his behalf in Rhode Island and elsewhere, for the support he received from the RI Philharmonic community, and to all who sent him messages of encouragement."

"Bramwell Tovey was a much beloved maestro who made an indelible impact on the symphonic community in Canada, especially during his wonderfully memorable years with the WSO before he joined Vancouver Symphony," said Daniel Raiskin, Music Director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

"He was noted for bringing the same level of commitment and enthusiasm to outreach and education concerts as he did to the great symphonic masterworks; bringing to each a human touch and a profound love of music. He will be deeply missed by audiences and musicians alike."

Tovey is survived by his partner Verena De Neovel, his children Ben, Jessica, and Emmeline, and his sisters, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. Our condolences to Tovey's family, friends, and colleagues.

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