The world has only ever known one Leonard Bernstein. And any orchestra today would give their eyeteeth to find another.
Yet that is exactly what the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra has had, and indeed what the entire nation of Canada has been fortunate to have ever since Maestro Bramwell Tovey first moved to this country in 1989.
Mark Swed, writing in the Los Angeles Times, called a concert Bramwell conducted there “one of the greatest occasions in the history of the Hollywood Bowl,” placing him in a pantheon with two other great conductors — Dudamel and none other than Leonard Bernstein.
In fact, Bramwell’s international conducting career began exactly the same way that Leonard Bernstein’s did, as a last minute stand-in; in Maestro Tovey’s case it was conducting the opening night of the London Symphony Orchestra’s Leonard Bernstein Festival —with Bernstein himself in attendance.
Since then he has gone on to win a GRAMMY® award, JUNO’s, and the French Prix d’or, in addition to the $20,000 Oscar Morawetz Award For Excellence In Music Performance, which he typically and generously donated to his beloved VSO School of Music, the music school he founded. Like Bernstein, Maestro Tovey has dedicated much of his life to creating music education opportunities for youth.
And like Bernstein, he has a unique relationship with the New York Philharmonic, having conducted more than 100 concerts of that storied orchestra at last count — many reading this article will have seen him live on television conducting their New Years concert three weeks ago.
This is alongside regular appearances with the LA Philharmonic, where he is Principal Guest Conductor, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Orchestra Symphonique de Montréal, conducting some of the greatest orchestras in the world.
In fact, if Bernstein reinvented the role of Music Director, Maestro Tovey has perfected it. As Eric Friesen in Montecristo Magazine, wrote: “Bramwell Tovey 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, and a dreamer of big projects, he is also the bearer of a fantastic sense of humour.”
Throughout his 18 year tenure with the Vancouver Symphony, he has been an inspirational champion of Canadian music and worked tirelessly to create opportunities for other composers, launching the VSO’s New Music Festival, and commissioning more than 77 new works while presenting more than 120 in concert.
A celebrated composer and Associate Composer of the CMC, he has been commissioned by many orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, LA Phil, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver. He has also written operas, a Requiem, movie soundtracks, and countless other works. And if you haven’t heard him play jazz on the piano, you have missed one of the great rewards of having a musical genius in our city. For that is what he is.
Time is too short in fact to give credit to everything this extraordinary musician has done for Canadian music or begin to describe his unprecedented musical impact on this country and this city.
For all of these reasons, the Canadian Music Centre in BC was pleased to present Maestro Bramwell Tovey with our 2018 Barbara Pentland Lifetime Achievement Award onstage at the Orpheum Theatre during the Vancouver Symphony’s New Music Festival on Saturday, January 20, 2018.
Making the presentation was Sean Bickerton, BC Director of the Canadian Music Centre; George Laverock, Chair of the CMC’s BC Advisory Council and an alumni of the VSO as a trumpeter for many years; and Stefan Hintersteininger, CMC BC’s Head Librarian, an Associate Composer, and a member of the VSO’s cello section for the concert.