Why can’t more maestros be like Bramwell Tovey?

Why can’t more maestros be like Bramwell Tovey?


norman lebrecht

July 15, 2022

A sampling of tributes to the much-loved British conductor, who died this week, aged 69.

Jon Kimura Parker:
It’s devastating to lose Bramwell Tovey. We worked together (it never felt like “work” with Bramwell) in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Rhode Island, Vail, and many other places, and he was the first conductor to invite me to perform with the New York Philharmonic. It was Rhapsody in Blue on a July 4 and he said to the audience “Congratulations on this special patriotic holiday, and you really thought this through: you’re featuring a British conductor with a Canadian soloist!” I will miss him so much.

Jamie Phillips:
Like so many others, I was absolutely devastated to hear of the passing of the great Bramwell Tovey. I first got to know Bram during my time in LA, when I was cover conducting at the Bowl. He put me at my ease within seconds, and was so generous with his time, taking me for lunches and giving such amazing advice, always with such grace and humility.

The Philadelphia Orchestra:
Bramwell was the complete artist, sharing his many gifts as a conductor, pianist, composer, arranger, advocate, and teacher, on stage and in the community. He made his Philadelphia Orchestra debut in July of 2008. Among his greatest gifts was his ability to connect with audiences through his intelligence, warmth, and humor. His appearances on our Glorious Sound of Christmas concerts endeared him to generations of music lovers who made it an annual tradition to spend the holidays with the always-charismatic Bramwell.

Rose Thomson:
Half a lifetime ago I had the honour of becoming Bramwell Tovey’s first assistant conductor. The staff at the WSO used to call me “Bramwell’s shadow” So many have spoken today about his extraordinary achievements in music and his spirit of generosity. All so true, but today I’m thinking about Bramwell the every day guy, the man who had many sides, patient and passionate, generous but also not afraid to make hard decisions. He could be tough too, but was always up for the next adventure. I’m thinking about the time that I got to conduct HIM at the piano, thinking about his swashbuckling spirit when we took Ben to play laser tag, thinking about how I had to restrain him in the audience when a guest conductor took Nimrod in a brisk 3/4. I don’t know where the line is anymore between what I already knew and what I learned from him over past decades. I do know that, like many, my life without his mentorship would look very different

Peter Bassano:

Bram introduced himself to me on Ilford Station around 1967 when we were both travelling into London; he to the Royal Academy of Music, me to the Royal College of Music. He had his tuba with him and I my trombone. It was the obvious mutual brass playing aspect that made Bram make the first move. initiating conversations was very much part of Bram’s confident and friendly persona.
Our paths were to cross on several occasions, when he was a guest conductor of my orchestra, the Philharmonia, when I attended brass band concerts he was conducting or as dinner guests of a mutual friend.
Last year I had occasion to write about him in a book when he helped me with the study of scores for an audition I needed to take when I was short-listed for a job as Professor of Conducting at the Royal Danish Academy of Music:-
‘I was given a number of works to conduct and instructed to give specimen lessons to a handful of conducting students. Their work was just Stravinsky Symphony of Winds, which I knew well, because I had already conducted it with the Helsinki Philharmonic. The works that I was to conduct were Beethoven 2nd Piano Concerto, Mozart 4th Violin Concerto, both with student soloists. The last movement of Brahms 1st Symphony, Prokofiev Classical Symphony and Lutoslawski Preludes and Fugue for 13 solo strings.
At this stage in my conducting career, I had conducted none of these works before, I sought a conducting lesson. An old friend, the conductor, Bram Tovey, then Music Director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, but a regular visitor to London, very kindly spent an afternoon with me going through pitfalls in all of these works. His advice and suggestions were extremely helpful’.
Bram knew all of these works well enough not to need to refer to any score. He wouldn’t accept any payment for his three hour’s of unparalleled good advice. He spoke with tremendous admiration for the miraculous conducting abilities of Carlos Kleiber, who had been conducting Rosenkavalier at Covent Garden.


  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Yes to the title. We need many, many more like him.

  • Beth Guterman Chu says:

    He conducted Harold in Italy a few years ago in St. Louis. Could not have been more game for a piece he had not been convinced by in the past. We had the best time and afterwards he became like a family member. He will be so deeply missed. What an ultimate musician and colleague! Also, my kids grew up with his and Vancouver’s Peter and the Wolf. No one will ever conduct and narrate better than he did!

  • music lover says:

    Because each person is different.

  • E.R. says:

    Such precious tributes from those who expressed their memories here. Thanks to them, all. He must have been quite a
    man, quite a human being.

  • Byron Hayes Jr. says:

    He was a wonderful conductor at the Hollywood Bowl. Always had something cute to say. He was a positive part of the entertainment.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Because sycophants and publicity hounds feed their egos. It’s the composers who should get the adulation.

  • Mr Leon E. Bosch says:

    We don’t have many/any conductors of this stature any longer, because the tail is nowadays invariably wagging the dog, in the music ‘business’?

  • Violinista says:

    Bram was never a ‘maestro’ and thank goodness for that, nor did he ever hope to be. Happy memories of playing for him in the BSO and the VSO.