“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. He is the Principal Conductor of the B.B.C. Concert Orchestra, Music Director Emeritus of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra where he was formerly music director from 2000 to 2018, and since September 2018 Artistic Advisor of the Rhode Island Philharmonic.
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.
As a guest conductor he works internationally with some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras. During 2017/18 his guest appearances include 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 will donate 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 is 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 in 2013. His trumpet concerto Songs of the Paradise Saloon was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony for 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 has 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 has 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.
The VSO School of Music...
In 2011 the VSO opened a state of the art music school — the VSO School of Music (VSOSM) — in downtown Vancouver, adjacent to the orchestra’s historic home, the Orpheum Theatre. Bramwell Tovey is the VSOSM’s Artistic Advisor and VSO musicians lead the faculty.
Originally conceived by Bramwell in collaboration with VSO President, Jeff Alexander and board chair, Art Willms, the VSOSM provides music education opportunities from early childhood to adult learning. The school includes a recital hall and recording and internet distance-learning facilities which enable the VSO to connect with classrooms throughout British Columbia, Canada and internationally.
In June 2018, at Bramwell's final concert as music director, the VSO announced that the VSO School of Music building is to be renamed the Tovey Center for Music.
Additionally, Bramwell has pioneered VSO Connects, the VSO’s principal education project which brings VSO musicians into the classrooms of British Columbia and the students into the Orpheum to experience the orchestra live. Bramwell visits many schools and community groups, performing for students & parents as a module of the VSO’s outreach programs with the solo presentation Meet the Maestro, part recital and part improvisation, essentially an introduction to classical music and the art of composition.
New York & Los Angeles...
Bramwell Tovey made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in October 2000. In July 2011 he achieved the rare distinction of leading his 100th concert as a guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic. He made his subscription debut with the orchestra in 2002. Since 2004 he has conducted and hosted the Philharmonic’s annual Summertime Classics festival at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center. Since 2005 he has appeared annually with the Philharmonic at the Bravo Vail Music Festival in Colorado.
In 2003 he made his debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and in 2007 was appointed the orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor at the Hollywood Bowl where he led the LA Phil’s summer classical subscription series. His programs included concert performances of the operas of Bizet Carmen, Gershwin Porgy and Bess and Bernstein Candide, the Berlioz Grande Messe des Morts, the Mozart Requiem, Orff Carmina Burana and other choral masterpieces with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Pacific Chorale. Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times called his performance of Berlioz rarely performed masterpiece, Sinfonia Funebre et Trionfale:
“...one of the greatest occasions in the history of the Bowl.”
Reviewing Bramwell’s performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Swed wrote:
“Some of the best performances of Bernstein I’ve ever heard (conducted by the composer himself, Michael Tilson Thomas and Dudamel) have been by this orchestra in this amphitheater. Tovey, on Thursday night, joined that select company.”
Luxembourg & Winnipeg...
From 2001 to 2006 Bramwell was music director of Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, leading the orchestra on international tours to the USA, China and Korea, and regular appearances in the major concert halls of Europe, including the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Berlin Philharmonie and the Vienna Musikverein and Konzerthaus. His recording with OPL of Jean Cras' 1922 opera Polyphème won the Academie Lyrique Française Prix d'or. A 2006 live recording of Ravel's complete ballet score Daphnis et Chloe 2005 Bramwell led the OPL and the Europa Academy Choir in the opening concerts of Luxembourg’s new Philhamonie Hall. The programme included the world premiere of Penderecki’s 8th Symphony, commissioned for the occasion.
From 1989 to 2000 Bramwell Tovey was music director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra where he established the WSO’s now internationally renowned New Music Festival with Glenn Buhr, the orchestra’s first composer-in-residence and his successor, Randolph Peters. The festival recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. During successive festivals Bramwell led over 200 contemporary works, including many Canadian and world premieres, all broadcast on the CBC Radio network. Guest visiting composers to the festival included Louis Andriessen, John Corigliano, Christopher Rouse, Mark Anthony Turnage, Joan Tower, Arvo Part, Aaron Jay Kernis, R.Murray Schafer, Bright Sheng and Gavin Bryars.
Bramwell is now the WSO’s Conductor Laureate.
Bramwell Tovey’s commissions include the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Toronto Symphony and Canadian Brass. In January 2011 he led the Calgary Opera and the Calgary Philharmonic in the world premiere of The Inventor, a new opera commissioned by Calgary Opera from Tovey and librettist John Murrell. The premiere was nationally broadcast CBC’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera. The VSO presented concert performances of The Inventor in June 2012 with the original cast and the UBC Opera School which were recorded for CD release on Naxos in 2017.
Bramwell Tovey wrote the score, conducted the VSO and performed as solo pianist in Richard Bell’s 2005 movie Eighteen starring Sir Ian McKellen, Alan Cumming, Thea Gill, Paul Anthony and Brendan Fletcher. The song In A Heartbeat sung by Gill in the movie and written in collaboration with Bell, was nominated for the 2007 Genie Award for Best Song in a Canadian movie.
Bramwell’s Requiem for a Charred Skull, commissioned by the Hannaford Band and Amadeus Choir of Toronto and first performed at the Toronto Symphony’s New Music Festival, won the 2003 Juno award for Best Classical Composition.
His two commissions for Canadian Brass (Santa Barbara Sonata for brass quintet and Manhattan Music, a concerto for brass quintet and orchestra/or wind band,) were recorded for the Opening Day label and nominated for Juno awards.
In May 2009 Bramwell Tovey curated and led the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Metropolis New Music Festival. He appeared as conductor, composer and pianist in works by Birtwistle, Turnage, Rouse and two of his own works, Urban Runway and Pictures in the Smoke.
At the piano...
As a pianist Bramwell has accompanied many singers and instrumentalists and recorded two jazz albums: Love Walked In, a compilation of Gershwin songs with soprano Tracy Dahl, and All The Things You Are, both recordings with bassist Gil Fournier and drummer Adrian Peek.
His appearances as solo pianist, directing from the piano include the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland, Pittsburgh Symphony, St Louis Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, National Arts Centre, Royal Scottish National, Ulster, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney Symphony orchestras.
In the summer of 2014 he directed Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue from the piano with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and at the opening night of the Philadelphia Orchestra's Saratoga residency.
In 2018, the Bernstein centenary year he led the New York Philharmonic from the piano in Rhapsody in Blue at the Shanghai and Bravo Vail festival residencies.
As a guest conductor in 2011 Bramwell made his debut with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Festival and the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood with a concert performance of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, the first complete performance in the BSO’s history. Reviewing in the Boston Globe, Jeremy Eichler wrote:
“At its heart was the British conductor Bramwell Tovey, in his BSO debut, conducting with a sure hand and a clear affection for this score’s roiling amalgam of classical, jazz, and vernacular traditions, invented or otherwise. Tovey didn’t so much thread the needle between styles as he did make the score’s disparate musical inheritances feel like they belonged together, which is not always the case with “Porgy,’’ a work often hailed as a masterpiece yet still fated to wander between the worlds of opera and musical theater.”
In January 2012 he replaced an indisposed Ricardo Chailly with the BSO and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in performances of Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang which marked his BSO subscription debut, described by the Boston Classical Review as:
“A beautiful and committed performance..”
...and in the Boston Globe:
“Tovey led a swift and sure-footed performance of the work, largely true to its Romantic heft, but never at risk of collapsing beneath the weight of its own grandiloquence.”
He returned to Cleveland and Boston in the summer of 2012 and will also lead the BSO’s opening concerts of the winter subscription season at Symphony Hall in September 2012. During 2011/12 he also debuted with the Sydney Symphony and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
The Leonard Bernstein Connection...
Bramwell Tovey’s international career began as a last minute substitute at the opening night of the London Symphony Orchestra’s 1986 Leonard Bernstein Festival at London’s Barbican Centre - in the presence of Bernstein himself. The Financial Times described it as:
“...the kind of glittering opportunity young conductors dream about. He seized it with distinction.”
Leonard Bernstein invited Bramwell to attend his classes and rehearsals with the BSO at the Tanglewood Music Center in the summer of 1986.
During the next few years Bramwell debuted with every major British orchestra, including the London Philharmonic, the Philharmonia, the Royal Philharmonic, the City of Birmingham, the Royal Scottish National and Scottish Chamber orchestras, and the Hallé.
Early in his career Bramwell worked extensively as an opera repetitur and conductor and in ballet. His first opera was Puccini’s Tosca with the legendary soprano Leonie Rysanek in the title role, for Cape Town Opera. From 1984 to 1988 he was Principal Conductor of the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, then part of the Royal Opera House, and in 1987 he was appointed Artistic Director of the revived D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, leading the company’s tours and its historic return to the Savoy Theatre in 1989. He made his Canadian Opera Company debut in 1994. In 2003 he led the world premiere of John Estacio’s Filumena for Calgary Opera and subsequently at the Banff Centre and with Opera Lyra at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
In 2006 Bramwell Tovey succeeded Elgar Howarth as artistic director of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. In 2012 he made his debut at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London with the NYBBGB in a program which included contemporary works by Pickard, Bourgeois, Bryars and Benjamin.
Bramwell is a graduate of the University of London and the Royal Academy of Music, of which he was elected an honorary Fellow (in 2004). He was elected an honorary Fellow of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto (2005) and an honorary citizen of the City of Winnipeg (2000). He has been awarded honorary doctorates from the Universities of Winnipeg (1994). Manitoba (1999), Kwantlen (2003) and the University of British Columbia (2012). He was appointed a member of the Order of Manitoba in 2001.
In 1999 he was awarded the Jean Chalmers Prize, a prestigious Canadian award for his outstanding artistic direction of the Winnipeg Symphony.
As a writer, Bramwell has contributed to several books and periodicals, including the Cambridge University Press Companion to Conducting which contains the chapter The Conductor as Artistic Director.
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