A sampling of tributes to the much-loved British conductor, who died this week, aged 69.
Jon Kimura Parker:
It’s devastating to lose Bramwell Tovey. We worked together (it never felt like “work” with Bramwell) in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Rhode Island, Vail, and many other places, and he was the first conductor to invite me to perform with the New York Philharmonic. It was Rhapsody in Blue on a July 4 and he said to the audience “Congratulations on this special patriotic holiday, and you really thought this through: you’re featuring a British conductor with a Canadian soloist!” I will miss him so much.
Like so many others, I was absolutely devastated to hear of the passing of the great Bramwell Tovey. I first got to knowm during my time in LA, when I was cover at the Bowl. He put me at my ease within seconds, and was so generous with his time, taking me for lunches and giving such amazing advice, always with such grace and humility.
The Philadelphia Orchestra:
Bramwell was the complete artist, sharing his many gifts as a conductor, pianist, composer, arranger, advocate, and teacher, on stage and in the community. He made his Philadelphia Orchestra debut in July of 2008. Among his greatest gifts was his ability to connect with audiences through his intelligence, warmth, and humor. His appearances on our Glorious Sound of Christmas concerts endeared him to generations of music lovers who made it an annual tradition to spend the holidays with the always-charismatic Bramwell.
Half a lifetime ago I had the honor of becoming Bramwell Tovey’s first assistant conductor. The staff at the WSO used to call me “Bramwell’s shadow” So many have spoken today about his extraordinary achievements in music and his spirit of generosity. All so true, but today I’m thinking about Bramwell the every day guy, the man who had many sides, patient and passionate, generous but also not afraid to make hard decisions. He could be tough too, but was always up for the next adventure. I’m thinking about the time that I got to conduct HIM at the piano, thinking about his swashbuckling spirit when we took Ben to play laser tag, thinking about how I had to restrain him in the audience when a guest conductor took Nimrod in a brisk 3/4. I don’t know where the line is anymore between what I already knew and what I learned from him over the past decades. I do know that, like many, my life without his mentorship would look very different
Bram introduced himself to me on Ilford Station around 1967 when we were both traveling into London; he to the Royal Academy of Music, me to the Royal College of Music. He had his tuba with him and I my trombone. It was the obvious mutual brass playing aspect that made Bram make the first move. initiating conversations was very much part of Bram’s confident and friendly persona.
Our paths were to cross on several occasions, when he was a guest conductor of my orchestra, the orchestra, the brass band concerts he was attended or as dinner guests of a mutual friend.
Last year I had occasion to write about him in a book when he helped me with the study of scores for an audition I needed to take when I was short-listed for a job as Professor of Conducting at the Royal Danish Academy of Music:-
‘I was given a number of works to conduct and instructed to give to a handful of lessons from students. Their work was just Stravinsky Symphony of Winds, which I knew well, because I had already conducted it with the Helsinki Philharmonic. The works that I was to conduct were Beethoven 2nd Piano Concerto, Mozart 4th Violin Concerto, both with student soloists. The last movement of Brahms 1st Symphony, Prokofiev Classical Symphony and Lutoslawski Preludes and Fugue for 13 solo strings.
At this stage in my career, I had conducted none of these works before, I a lesson. An old friend, the conductor, Bram Tovey, then Music Director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, but a regular visitor to London, very kindly spent an afternoon with me going through pitfalls in all of these works. His advice and suggestions were extremely helpful’.
Bram knew all of these works well enough not to need to refer to any score. He wouldn’t accept any payment for his three hour’s of unparalleled good advice. He spoke with tremendous admiration for the miraculous abilities of Carlos Kiber, who had been Rosenkavalier at Covent Garden.