A Celebrated Conductor, Composer, Humanitarian and Arts Leader
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and VSO School of Music are deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved friend and Music Director Emeritus, Maestro Bramwell Tovey.
A celebrated conductor, composer, humanitarian and arts leader, Tovey passed away peacefully surrounded by loved ones on July 12, 2022 in Barrington, Rhode Island, one day after his 69th birthday. Bramwell was incredibly proud of and devoted to his family, and is survived by his children Ben, Jessica and Emmeline, his partner Verena De Neovel, his sisters, grandchildren, nieces and nephew.
Diagnosed with a rare form of sarcoma in May 2019, Tovey underwent surgery at Dana Farber in Boston in June 2021 that left him briefly cancer free. In January 2022, scans confirmed a re-occurrence from which he was ultimately unable to recover.
Born in East London, UK, his musical training began in Salvation Army bands. His talents took him from tuba, to piano, to conducting, and eventually attracted the attention of Leonard Bernstein who described him as his “hero.” Tovey’s musical legacy can be felt around the world, having led countless orchestras, ensembles and opera companies across Canada, the United States and Europe. During his career, he won a Juno award for his work as a composer and became the founding host and conductor of the New York Philharmonic’s Summertime Classics Festival as well as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor at the Hollywood Bowl. In 2013, Tovey was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of Canada for his achievements as a conductor and composer, and for his commitment to promoting new Canadian music.
His dedication and enthusiasm for building a strong community through music helped place the VSO at the heart of cultural life throughout the Lower Mainland. From 2000 to 2018, Bramwell led the VSO as its longest serving Music Director and was later appointed the orchestra’s Music Director Emeritus. Under his visionary leadership, the VSO won Grammy and Juno awards, and embarked on ambitious tours of China, Korea, the United States, and Canada. His commitment to music education led to the establishment of the VSO School of Music now in its 12th year and The Tovey Centre for Music. This legacy as the school’s founder and Artistic Director continues to impact thousands of students every year, nurturing musical appreciation and generations of emerging artists.
“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. “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, humor, generosity, and sincerity. As one of the key founders of the VSO School of Music, Maestro Tovey’s legacy lives on at the Tovey Centre for Music where the next generation of fine young musicians and music lovers are developing outstanding musicianship and artistic integrity. In all the many years I have known Bramwell I have witnessed his unwavering commitment to both music education and to artistic excellence – which he valued equally. His passing is an unthinkable loss to our sector, to the VSO and VSO School of Music, and to all whose lives he touched so deeply.”
“There are no words to describe the legacy that Maestro Tovey has left the city of Vancouver,” shared Etienne 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.”