In a press release Wednesday, the Sarasota Orchestra announced the passing of incoming music director Bramwell Tovey on July 12. Tovey, 69, had accepted the position of music director in 2021, but his previous obligations did not allow him to take full control in Sarasota. until next season.
Grammy Award-winning Tovey previously served as Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (2000-2019) and the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra (2002-2006). He was educated at the Royal Academy of Music and the University of London, and was principal conductor of Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet early in his career.
Tovey conducted for the first time in his new role in Sarasota in October 2021, and he returned to lead the orchestra in the Masterworks season finale in April. Tovey made an immediate impression in April explaining some of the musical gags of “Til Eugenspiegel’s Merry Pranks,” and musicians looked forward to working with him regularly.
“There was immediate chemistry between Maestro Tovey and our orchestra,” said Joseph McKenna, President and CEO of Sarasota Orchestra, in an official statement. “We shared with him the expectation of a long partnership. Like so many others, all of us at the Sarasota Orchestra feel the immense loss of a great friend and sincere collaborator.
“Our deepest thoughts go out to his family during this most difficult hour.”
In its statement, the Sarasota Orchestra said Tovey was diagnosed with a rare form of sarcoma in May 2019. He underwent surgery in 2021 which briefly left him cancer-free, but scans confirmed a reappearance in January.
Tovey sat down with the Observer for a high-profile interview ahead of his April appearance, and he said one thing he didn’t want to do was upset the foundation that had been laid before him. Tovey said the end of the pandemic was not the time to put his own stamp on things; rather, he wanted to welcome people back to the rhythm of attending live performances.
He also said at the time that the orchestra had up to 15 musician seats to fill and that he looked forward to chairing the process and helping to choose Sarasota’s next generation of musicians. Asked about the body of musicians he was about to lead, Tovey praised their work on their instruments and in the community.
“As a group, I think they’re incredibly impressive. Individually, I think they are exceptional,” he said in March. “It’s a wonderful group to work with. Ultimately, as a conductor, I spend most of my time in a windowless studio working with musicians. I am very confident in the people they are, the service they provide and the quality of musical life that is available here in Sarasota.
“I’m just thrilled and honored to have been asked to lead the team.”
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