Bramwell Tovey, composer and conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra – obituary

Bramwell Bernard Tovey was born into a Salvation Army family in Ilford, Essex on July 11, 1953, the son of Bernard Tovey and his wife Joan (née Barker). He was educated at Ilford County High School before studying piano and composition at the Royal Academy of Music, where he also learned the tuba.

He was appointed conductor at the London Festival Ballet, where he worked with Léonide Massine and Rudolf Nureyev. In 1978 he joined Scottish Ballet and from 1984 to 1988 he was Principal Conductor of Sadler’s Wells Ballet while helping to relaunch the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company.

In 1989 he became Music Director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the beginning of an association with Canadian orchestras in which he endeared himself to musicians and audiences. “Before he started a piece, he would turn to the audience and deliver what was absolutely the most articulate, entertaining and informative introduction to music we have ever heard,” one reviewer recalled in 2000 when Tovey left to become Music Director of the VSO for the next 18 years.

Off the podium, he was involved in community life and in person could be even more charming than on stage. He was a great storyteller of jokes and anecdotes, using the nickname Inspector Tovey for children’s concerts and saying his nose was misshapen from playing football and not from bad reviews.

Yet he was not a maestro to cross swords with. One reviewer recalled that Tovey had used his “view from the podium” column in the printed concert program to give said reviewer “reason to think that maybe one of these days he’d like to rearrange my nose”.

During this time Tovey was also hard at work composing, producing a ballet arrangement of Rossini’s Cinderella, a cello concerto for the Winnipeg Orchestra and the soundtrack to the Canadian film Eighteen (2006) which was nominated for the Canadian Engineering Awards. During his third season in Winnipeg, he launched a festival of new music which he transformed into an international event while emphasizing Canadian composers.

He was keen to popularize classical music, a desire that fit well with his BBC CO appointment, which he led in a series of inspirational family concerts as well as a ‘women’s words and voices’ program for the BBC series Four Inside. Classic. Last year, he was also appointed Music Director of the Sarasota Orchestra in Florida.

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