In a press release Wednesday, the Sarasota Orchestra announced the death 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 the upcoming season.
Tovey, a Grammy award winner, previously served as music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (from 2000 to 2019) and the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra (from 2002 to 2006). He was educated at the Royal Academy of Music and the University of London, and he served as principal conductor of Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet early in his career.
Tovey first conducted as part of his new role in Sarasota in October 2021, and he returned to lead the orchestra in the finale to the Masterworks season in April. Tovey made an immediate impression in April by explaining some of the musical gags in “Til Eugenspiegel’s Merry Pranks,” and the musicians were looking forward to getting to work with him on a regular basis.
“There was immediate chemistry between Maestro Tovey and our orchestra,” said Joseph McKenna, the president and CEO of Sarasota Orchestra, as part of an official statement. “We shared with him an expectation of a long partnership. Like so many, all of us at Sarasota Orchestra feel the tremendous loss of a great friend and sincere collaborator.
"Our heartfelt thoughts are with his family during this most difficult hour.”
In its release, the Sarasota Orchestra stated Tovey had been diagnosed with a rare form of sarcoma in May 2019. He underwent surgery in 2021 that briefly left him cancer-free, but scans confirmed a reoccurrence in January.
Tovey met with the Observer for a wide-ranging interview prior to his April appearance, and he said that one thing he didn’t want to do was upset the foundation that had been laid before him. Tovey said that the end of the pandemic was no time to put his own stamp on things; he wanted instead to welcome people back to the rhythm of attending live performances.
He also said at the time that the orchestra had as many as 15 musician seats that needed to be filled, and he was looking forward to presiding over the process and helping to choose the next generation of Sarasota musicians. Asked about the body of musicians he was about to lead, Tovey had high praise for their work on their instruments and in the community.
“As a group, I think they’re incredibly impressive. Individually, I think they’re outstanding,” he said in March. “It’s a wonderful group to work with. At the end of the day, as a conductor, I spend most of my time in a windowless studio working with musicians. I feel very confident about the people they are, the service they give and the quality of musical life that is available here in Sarasota.
"I’m just thrilled and honored to have been invited to lead the team.”