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Bramwell Tovey, beloved director of symphonies in Vancouver and Winnipeg, dead at 69

Click to play video: 'Longtime VSO conductor Bramwell Tovey dies of cancer' Longtime VSO conductor Bramwell Tovey dies of cancer
Former Vancouver Symphony Orchestra conductor Bramwell Tovey has died. Tovey lead the VSO for 18 years before he was named musical director of the Sarasota Orchestra in 2021. He died from cancer one day after his 69th birthday. – Jul 13, 2022

The music communities in Vancouver and Winnipeg are mourning the death of Bramwell Tovey, former music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and a long-time conductor with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

Tovey died Tuesday in Barrington, Rhode Island, surrounded by loved ones, a day after his 69th birthday, following a battle with cancer.

Tovey was with the VSO from 2000 to 2018 and the WSO from 1989 to 2000.

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He was initially diagnosed with a rare form of Sarcoma in 2019. A 2021 surgery left him cancer free briefly, but the disease returned in January, according to the VSO.

“The world has lost an incredible musician, Maestro, educator, activist and giant of a human being. We at the VSO and the VSO School of Music are shattered and heartbroken,” said Angela Elster, president and CEO of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the VSO School of Music in a statement.

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“Bramwell Tovey’s legacy as Music Director of the VSO changed the landscape of music, arts and culture in British Columbia. For 18 years he was a valued friend and colleague, a driver of change and a unique person of brilliance, humour, generosity, and sincerity.”

Tovey conducted the WSO for 11 years, from 1989 to 2000.

Tovey was born in East London, U.K. and got his start in music with Salvation Army bands. He took up the tuba and piano before moving to conducting. He led orchestras in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

His accolades include a Juno Award for composition and a 2013 appointment as an Honorary Officer of the Order of Canada.

Tovey signed on as music director for the VSO in 2000. He was the symphony’s longest-serving director when he left the job in 2018. He was later appointed the orchestra’s music director emeritus. In his time with the VSO, he spearheaded the creation of the VSO School of Music and was the impetus for the Tovey Centre for Music.

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“There are no words to describe the legacy that Maestro Tovey has left the city of Vancouver,” said Étienne Bruson, board chair of the VSO.

“His artistic vision has left a lasting impression on the orchestra, and his passion for music education will continue to live on through The Tovey Centre for Music at the VSO School of Music, and future generations of students and music lovers. Our thoughts are with his family, the musicians of the VSO, and all those whose lives have been transformed by his generosity and inspirational leadership.”

The VSO has created a memorial fund in Tovey’s name, which it says will continue his work supporting the Vancouver music community. Donations can be made online or by phone at 604-876-3434.

The orchestra said it will announce more plans to honour Tovey in the months to come.

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