Versatile, ubiquitous, and tireless are three words that describe the career and persona of conductor/composer Bramwell Tovey. He has led major orchestras in the U.K., Canada, U.S., and Europe; has composed award-winning works such as his Requiem for a Charred Skull; made two recordings as a jazz pianist; and even played the tuba with distinction. As a conductor his repertory includes both concert and opera fare, from J.S. Bach and Mozart to Roussel and Corigliano, but with a slight preference for British, American, and Canadian music, especially in the contemporary realm: he has given premieres or North American premieres of compositions by Mark-Anthony Turnage, Gavin Bryars, John Adams, Joan Tower, John Estacio, and Murray Schafer. But Tovey has also introduced works by Pärt, Louis Andriessen, and other European composers, and more often than not offers concert fare featuring mainstream music by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and others. He has recorded for CBC Records, Naxos, EMI, Chandos, and other labels.
Bramwell Tovey was born in Ilford, East London, on July 11, 1953. From age seven he studied piano and later on became a member in various local youth ensembles playing violin and other instruments. Tovey's advanced studies were at London's Royal Academy of Music primarily in piano and composition, but he also studied tuba with John Fletcher. Tovey steadily built his career throughout the 1970s, but his big break came in 1983 when he joined the staff at Covent Garden and led the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet on a tour of Canada. Because of that success he was appointed principal conductor of the ballet troupe and its orchestra.
In 1986 Tovey led the London Symphony Orchestra at Barbican Centre in a program of Bernstein works. That acclaimed concert prompted Bernstein, who was in attendance, to invite Tovey to Tanglewood. That same year Tovey's ballet The Snow Queen was premiered to acclaim by the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet.
After a season (1988-1989) conducting the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, Tovey assumed duties in 1989 as music director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, serving until 2001. Tovey gave many memorable concerts with the orchestra, including the 1996 performance of Victor Davies' oratorio Revelation, which was broadcast over CBC television. Tovey turned out perhaps his most important works around the turn of the century: his Viola Concerto (1999), Cello Concerto (2000), and the aforementioned Requiem for a Charred Skull (2003), which received the Juno Award for Best Canadian Classical Composition.
Tovey became music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in 2000 and still holds the post. In 2001 Tovey debuted with the New York Philharmonic and since 2004 has often led the ensemble in their Summertime Classics series. Since 2008 Tovey has served as principal conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, a post involving a slate of summer concerts. In August 2011 Tovey debuted with both the Cleveland Orchestra and the Boston Symphony in repertory ranging from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream (Cleveland) to Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (Boston).