Bramwell Tovey, Grammy-winning conductor, dead at 69

'He was a musicians' conductor whose warmth, sense of humour and artistic leadership will be sorely missed.' — Bill Chandler, director, BBC Concert Orchestra

'He was a musicians' conductor,' says a former colleague

Portrait of a man.
British-born conductor Bramwell Tovey was music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra from 2000 to 2018. (Tyler Boye)

Bramwell Tovey, the famed British conductor and composer beloved for his years of work with Canadian orchestras and opera companies, has died at the age of 69.

The news was announced by the Sarasota Orchestra, of which Tovey had been music director since 2021. "An international musical leader and global citizen, Maestro Tovey impacted several generations across multiple continents through his music-making, conducting and teaching," said its statement, which specified the cause of death to be cancer, originally diagnosed in 2019.

In addition to his position at the Sarasota Orchestra, Tovey was also artistic director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic and principal guest conductor of the Orchestre symphonique de Québec and the BBC Concert Orchestra.

"The BBC Concert Orchestra family is deeply saddened to lose Bramwell Tovey, our principal conductor for the past four years and dear friend for many more," read a statement by its director, Bill Chandler. "He was a musicians' conductor whose warmth, sense of humour and artistic leadership will be sorely missed."

In Canada, Tovey was best known for his fruitful tenure as music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) from 2000 to 2018. Their CBC Records album of violin concertos by Samuel Barber, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and William Walton, featuring soloist James Ehnes, won a Grammy Award in 2008 for best instrumental soloist performance with orchestra.

"The loss of Bramwell Tovey is devastating and heartbreaking," Ehnes told CBC Music. "He was one of the most inspirational people I have ever known, and has left us with an incredible legacy not just as a great musician, but also as a great man. I will always be grateful to have had him in my life as a mentor, a colleague, and a friend."

With the VSO, Tovey led complete cycles of Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler symphonies. He also spearheaded the VSO School of Music and served as its artistic advisor.

In January 2019, Tovey became artistic director of Calgary Opera, where he planned two of the company's seasons before leaving the position for health reasons. On Twitter, Calgary Opera described Tovey as "a true trailblazer in the arts industry."

From 1989 to 2000, Tovey was the music director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, where a major accomplishment was establishing the WSO's renowned New Music Festival, alongside Glenn Buhr, the orchestra's first composer in residence and his successor, Randolph Peters.

Tovey was also a composer. His Requiem for a Charred Skull won a Juno Award in 2003 for best classical composition. Calgary Opera commissioned his opera The Inventor, written with playwright John Murrell. He also wrote a trumpet concerto, Songs of the Paradise Saloon, for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Andrew McCandless.

Tovey was a frequent guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic and, from 2004 to 2012, he conducted and hosted its annual Summertime Classics festival at Avery Fisher Hall. On the West Coast, in 2007, Tovey was named principal guest conductor at the Hollywood Bowl, where he led the Los Angeles Philharmonic's summer classical subscription series.

Accolades include the Oskar Morawetz 2015 Prize for Excellence in Music Performance and the Prix d'or of the Academie Lyrique Française for his recording of Jean Cras's 1922 opera, Polyphème. In 2013 he was appointed an honorary officer of the Order of Canada.

CBC Music will pay tribute to Tovey on a special edition of About Time with Tom Allen on Thursday, July 14, starting at noon (12:30 p.m. NT). Paolo Pietropaolo will honour Tovey's memory on In Concert on Sunday, July 17.


  • An earlier version of this article referred to trumpeter John McCandless. That's been corrected to Andrew McCandless. We regret the error.
    Jul 14, 2022 8:26 AM ET