Celebrity conductor and musician Bramwell Tovey takes over from the Sarasota Orchestra


The Sarasota Orchestra’s new musical director, Bramwell Tovey, had several reasons to be kind to our city even before he arrived here for his first concert as guest conductor, in February 2020. On the one hand, the Briton Tovey, 68, knew The Sarasota BalletIain Webb and Margaret Barbieri worked together in the 1980s when they both performed at Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet in London. Another strong relationship was also forged years ago with violinist James Ehnes, a resident of the area with whom Tovey shared a Grammy in 2008 for their recording of Barber, Korngold and Sir William Walton concertos.

Then, Tovey finally visited the city for the first time to conduct the orchestra on Walton’s difficult First Symphony. “I told them ahead of time that we would need extra rehearsal for this,” Tovey recalled, in a Zoom interview from Bavaria, where he tore a week’s vacation from his schedule. “Normally the first time in a room you have to stop and start. But the musicians were so prepared that we just walked through it. Impressed by what he saw and heard – and by the sun that greeted him, compared to the cloudy winters in Vancouver, where he had spent 18 years as Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra – Tovey was ready to accept when General Manager Joe McKenna and the Music Director Search Committee offered him the job here.

Tovey, who is also artistic advisor to the Rhode Island Philharmonic and principal conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra, officially began his five-year engagement with the Sarasota Orchestra on September 1. And in October, he conducted a concert in Sarasota. Opera House who introduced him to the community in his new role.

“I’m sure I made the right decision,” Tovey told us of accepting the nomination. “I only know three or four of the musicians here, but I will get to know the others, and I will audition to fill the vacancies.” These vacancies are due to both the pandemic and not having musical director in place since the departure of Anu Tali in 2019.

He looks forward to leading the audience as well as the musicians here. “When you are the musical director, you are both the conductor and the commissioner of the season,” he says. “As far as programming is concerned, I don’t want to go in and scare the audience with a new repertoire that they don’t feel prepared for. I consider myself modern – I have young daughters and a son who keep me on my toes – but I want to say to the audience, ‘This is me, and there is nothing to fear. We will leave together. If we present a new work, I will do it myself, I will not hire guest conductors to do it.

In the meantime, Tovey, who is also a composer and pianist, plans to focus on the founding composers of the classical music canon – Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms and others – while rediscovering the works of female composers such as Clara Schumann. and Fanny Mendelssohn who may not have received their due in the past.

And, of course, he will also be at the forefront when it comes to finding the right place for the orchestra’s long-planned hall. While saying that the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, where the orchestra performs often, “is the most magnificent site in America for a concert hall”, he also says that it is not the best acoustics for an orchestra. . Helping to move the room process forward is a high priority. Later, he said, he would like to take the orchestra on tour, as the company of the Sarasota Ballet did, with performances in New York and elsewhere.

For himself personally, Tovey claims he is not ambitious. His main goals, he says, are to be an “authentic and serious musician,” to “create a safe space for musicians to try out anything” and to ensure that audiences “from all walks of life. feel welcome ”for orchestral performances. “I have no other program than to play music.”


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