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A legacy of artistry and sincerity
The musical world pays tribute to Bramwell Tovey

The death of Bramwell Tovey has been marked by remarkable tributes from across the musical world.

The death of Bramwell Tovey at the age of just 69 has left the musical world a poorer, emptier place. 

The tributes from orchestras, organisations, bands, ensembles, musicians, friends, colleagues and critics alike are testament to the mark he made in a life well lived, but far too short.

Profound loss

The overwhelming feeling when the news was released was summed up succinctly by David Beauchesne, executive director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra where Bram Tovey was principal conductor and artistic director.

“We are all heartbroken,” he said. “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 Tovey was a dear friend and colleague and a person of uncommon ability, warmth, humor, sincerity and kindness

Half mast

He added: "Together with his family and colleagues everywhere, we will support one another through this difficult time, and continue his legacy of artistry, education, inclusion and humanity.”

The Rhode Island orchestra will dedicate its 2022-23 season to Tovey’s memory, and is establishing a memorial fund in his name. Flags at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa were flown at half mast in his honour.

Indelible impact

Bramwell Tovey made an indelible impact on the symphonic community in Canada, especially during a memorable tenure with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra before he joined the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. 

Their Executive Director, Angela Birdsell, said: “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.”

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.

World premieres

During his time at the WSO (1989-2001) Tovey established the New Music Festival with Glenn Buhr, the orchestra’s first composer-in-residence, and his successor, Randolph Peters. 

During successive festivals, he led more than 200 contemporary works, including many Canadian and world premieres, all broadcast on the CBC Radio network.

Advocate

In 2000, Bramwell Tovey accepted the position of music director for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and became its longest serving music director - a post he held for 18 years. 

During his tenure he became a beloved figure, not just for his performances of the orchestra’s classical and contemporary music output, but as a mentor, teacher and a fierce advocate for music education.

In their tribute, Angela Elster, president and CEO of the orchestra and music school, said that he had become “an icon in British Columbia and Western Canada”, where he had “…deeply shaped, not only the orchestra, the repertoire, the audiences, the donors. It re-shaped the entire landscape of the city and the province." 

“an icon in British Columbia and Western Canada”, where he had “…deeply shaped, not only the orchestra, the repertoire, the audiences, the donors. It re-shaped the entire landscape of the city and the province." 

Human right

Elster met Tovey when she worked for the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and alongside former board chair Art Willms, and former president and CEO Jeff Alexander initiated, developed and finally brought to fruition, the idea of what was to become the VSO School of Music, which launched in 2003. 

When the province considered removing the music curriculum from public schools, Elster says Tovey adamantly opposed the idea and fought for music education as a "human right."

Inspiration

Tovey was about to begin his first season as music director of the Sarasota Orchestra (just the sixth in its history) and lead the organization’s efforts to create its own music center.

His death robbed the organisation of a founding inspiration, although according to Joseph McKenna, President and CEO of the orchestra, he was active in planning for the new season as recently as two weeks prior to his death.

I kind of referred to him as the commoner who became a conductor. He had such a down-to-earth quality where a casual conversation on the sidewalk was not much different from his warmth and genuineness on the podium.

In his tribute he said: “We were working on all the things for next season. This recurrence of the cancer that was present just escalated very quickly in the last week or so.”

“He had a remarkable way about him,” McKenna said. “I kind of referred to him as the commoner who became a conductor. He had such a down-to-earth quality where a casual conversation on the sidewalk was not much different from his warmth and genuineness on the podium.

He was just an extraordinary musician and leader.”

Tribute

As a further tribute McKenna said the orchestra was committed to the season Tovey planned. 

“He had a season of excellence and adventure in mind, and the best way to step into the future, albeit without him, is to work toward a great season,” he said.

Joyful, human approach

Bramwell Tovey also made an indelible mark on the orchestral world in the UK and in 2018 was appointed Principal Conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra.

As a winner of both a Grammy and a Juno for his compositional output he led the orchestra in a wealth of repertoire, with concerts at the BBC Proms and at London’s Southbank Centre. 

His rapport with the orchestra has seen them flourish under his leadership and his joyful, human approach to music making.

In his tribute, Alan Davey, Controller BBC Radio 3, BBC Proms and BBC Orchestras and Choirs, said: “Bramwell Tovey was a gifted conductor who has been an integral part of the BBC Concert Orchestra since January 2018. 

His rapport with the orchestra has seen them flourish under his leadership and his joyful, human approach to music making." 

Sense of humour

Meanwhile, Bill Chandler, Director of BBC Concert Orchestra, added: “He was a musicians’ conductor whose warmth, sense of humour and artistic leadership will be sorely missed.”

Performances during Bramwell Tovey’s tenure as Principal Conducer of the BBC Concert Orchestra included an acclaimed Viennese Night at the 2020 BBC Proms and 20th Century British Film Music in 2021. 

At London’s Southbank Centre, where the orchestra is an Associate Orchestra, Tovey led them in ‘Women’s Words and Voices’ as part of the BBC Four ‘Inside Classical’ series and in world premieres by BBC CO Composer in Residence Dobrinka Tabakova.

Integrity

Bramwell Tovey enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with the brass band movement – first as a player with the Hanwell Band, and then as a conductor and composer, going on to lead the likes of Hanwell, GUS and most notably Foden’s on the concert and contest stage.

He was also an inspirational music director of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain.

In their tribute to their Honorary Artistic Director and President, Foden’s stated that they had enjoyed, “a relationship rich in musical endeavour, artistic integrity and perhaps above all, fun.”

That brought many memorable performances on both the contest and more notably the concert stage where he delighted in working with different musicians.  

“a relationship rich in musical endeavour, artistic integrity and perhaps above all, fun.”

Gift

Foden’s Chairperson John Barber added: “Bram's willingness and desire to associate and integrate some of the world's finest musicians with the band was a gift that he both had and used willingly for the benefit and furtherment of Foden's, something for which we will all be eternally grateful.”

Bram's willingness and desire to associate and integrate some of the world's finest musicians with the band was a gift that he both had and used willingly for the benefit and furtherment of Foden's, something for which we will all be eternally grateful

He illuminated the point by stating: “In Bram's hands, you trusted. You watched, totally glued as to what might happen next and without fail, it was an ultimately wonderful, liberating and exhilarating experience.

As someone so readily welcomed to lead the finest orchestras of the world, a visit from Bram was always something the band cherished.

A man with a wonderful sense of humour and scorchingly dry wit, time in his company was something that everyone enjoyed whilst not always believing how fortunate we all were to have in Bram such a supporter, leader and friend.”

Legacy

Mark Bromley, CEO of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain echoed the sentiments.

“His tenure as Artistic Director saw him inspire countless young brass band players – many of whom have gone on to make music a major part of their lives.  

His legacy is lasting, and the memories people have of his kindness, generosity of spirit, fun and above all his brilliance at communicating his love of music will endure.

He was a world class musician who the brass band movement and the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain will forever be grateful to have been associated with.”

His legacy is lasting, and the memories people have of his kindness, generosity of spirit, fun and above all his brilliance at communicating his love of music will endure.

Influence

Some of those players that Mark spoke about certainly went on to make their own mark on the musical world – including James Fountain, who was principal cornet of the band as a youngster and went on to become the principal trumpet of the London Symphony Orchestra.

He said: “Bram was incredibly influential on my musical upbringing. A beacon of class on and off the podium, he was always extremely generous and always willing to help in any way he could.

From the encouragement he gave me as a young 14 year old in The National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain to more recently writing the introductory programme notes for my CD, ‘Keep The Music Playing’, Bram has been a huge part of my life for the last 15 years as a mentor, colleague and friend and I can’t put into words how thankful I am for his guidance, encouragement and advice."

Bram had an extraordinary effect on everyone connected with the NYBBGB during my time there. His musicianship was unparalleled, but his encouragement and enthusiasm for young people in music was infectious.

He added: "Bram had an extraordinary effect on everyone connected with the NYBBGB during my time there. His musicianship was unparalleled, but his encouragement and enthusiasm for young people in music was infectious. It would be hard to count how many people still have music in their lives now because of their years in the band under him. 

Thank you for everything!”

Shining light

Players, conductors, performers alike will certainly share that sentiment.

James Gourlay called him a “role model”,  Edward Gregson recalled that he was an "outstanding musical talent", Mike Lovatt said that he made “us all play better than we did before!”, Phillip McCann referred to him as “a shining light”. 

Many more spoke of his inspirational qualities, his humane outlook on life and above all else his talent.

As Paul Hindmarsh said in his tribute: “He was one of the most charismatic and gifted musicians it was my privilege to know and work with.”

So many people will be left with the same memory.

Iwan Fox 


All images not copyright of 4BR, previously granted permission by Bramwell Tovey 

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