Sarasota Orchestra Honors Late Music Director’s Legacy in New Season
With its new season, the Sarasota Orchestra plans to honor the legacy of Music Director Bramwell Tovey, whose sudden passing in July came just months before he could fully take over the artistic direction of the organization.
Tovey, 69, who signed a five-year contract in August 2021, died on July 12 after a recurrence of a rare form of sarcoma, from which he had been briefly cancer-free.
He had already plotted a season that was to feature him in the series Masterpieces, Discoveries, Pops and Orchestral Chamber Evenings. These concerts will always feature some of the emerging soloists and composers he championed.
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Due to Tovey’s passing, the orchestra made some adjustments to the lineup, bringing in additional guest conductors and changing some of the music as needed, but mostly sticking to what they put in. in place.
“Bramwell has put together a brilliant arc for the season. He really envisioned his first season as a rebirth, bringing people back into the concert hall, post-COVID, even though COVID is still around,” CEO Joseph McKenna said. “A big part of that is finding a sense of humanity and shared experience and doing it through incredible repertoire, fabulous soloists and wonderful new composers.”
Tovey was selected as music director to succeed Anu Tali, who left Sarasota following the 2018-19 season after six years. The search was extended for another year as the pandemic forced the cancellation of several concerts in 2020, but Tovey was hired just as this second year of guest conductors began. He conducted a special extra concert at the Sarasota Opera House in October and a previously scheduled concert in May.
In addition to his talent as a musician and a resume that includes conducting and leadership roles with Calgary Opera, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, Rhode Island Philharmonic and Quebec, Tovey was selected in part because of his experience leading efforts to build a new music center in Vancouver, where he spent 18 years as Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
In March, the Sarasota Orchestra announced that it had purchased land for a new music center on Fruitville Road between Honore Avenue and Cattlemen Road, just west of Interstate 75.
McKenna and Kerry Smith, director of artistic planning for the orchestra, said the majority of concerts originally revealed in April for the 2022-23 season would go ahead as planned.
The season includes more contemporary works by Quinn Mason, Nina Shekhar, Jessica Hunt and Sarah Gibson, world premiering at the final Masterworks Concert as part of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation Commission.
“Bramwell thought it would be great to close out her first season of Masterworks by highlighting Virginia’s leadership in orchestral support and in recognition of Sarah Gibson, a rising composer in her own right,” McKenna said.
Tovey planned to conduct three of the seven Masterworks concerts, the first of the three Discoveries concerts and one of the three concerts in the Pops series and to play the piano, including his own compositions, at a chamber evening in February.
Masterworks’ opening concert will now be conducted by David Alan Miller, the Grammy-winning conductor of the Albany Symphony, who made his Sarasota debut last season as a last-minute replacement for guest conductor Jeffrey Kahane for a Masterworks concert that was ultimately canceled due to COVID.
Peter Oundjian, former director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, will replace three concerts that Tovey planned to conduct. He will conduct Jan. 5-8 “Mahler: View of Heaven,” which will feature Sarasota resident and longtime Tovey collaborator violinist James Ehnes, and Feb. 2-5 “A Romantic Affair” concerts that will feature Sarasota’s debut. by Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Oundjian will also lead the orchestra for the annual gala, which will feature acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma on March 2.
Nic McGegan will conduct the opening concert of the “Mozart and Tchaikovsky Discoveries” series featuring cellist Zlatomir Fung, first winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition, playing Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo Variations”.
The Discoveries concerts represent Tovey’s desire “to explore influences between composers or pieces that have influenced other composers,” Smith said. “Tchaikovsky was very much inspired by Mozart and almost obsessed, which is why he immersed himself in Mozart’s specific form.”
The other concerts in the series feature Australian conductor Sarah Ioannides leading “The French Influencers” (December 21) and Joseph Young leading the “Musical Postcards” on May 13. The December concert explores the influences of Louis Farrenc, a 19th-century French composer, and Bizet. And Joseph Young, described as a “wonderful promising conductor”, organized a concert focusing on pieces inspired by the composers’ travels, with works by Mendelssohn, Rodrigo and Villa-Lobos. It will feature guitarist Bokyung Byun.
McKenna said Tovey “had such enthusiasm for the future” that factored into how he crafted the season, with soloists who are new to the orchestra and up-and-coming composers.
Tovey was scheduled to perform Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and his own piece, “Pictures in the Smoke,” but this Chamber Soiree program on February 19 will be replaced by Orchestra musicians Natalie Helm, Bharat Chandra and Jennifer Takada playing three Sonatas different, joined by Kahane, music director of the Sarasota Music Festival, on piano.
Other chamber programs include the Sarasota String Quartet performing Shostakovich and Ravel, pianist Orion Weiss and Friends, the Sarasota Wind Quintet, a program by Schumann and Brahms, and “Scottish Songs,” featuring mezzo-soprano Susan Platts.
Tovey was planning to conduct the “Hits of the Brits” Pops concerts on March 3 and 4. This will be changed to “Gershwin, Berlin and Friends” which will be led by musician Byron Stripling.
The Pops series kicks off January 20 and 21 with bandleader Stuart Chafetz leading “The Music of Billy Joel and Elton John” with pianist and singer Michael Cavanaugh who performed Joel’s music in the Broadway hit “Movin’ Out”.
Singer Carmen Ruby Floyd will join bandleader William Waldrop for Pops’ final “Broadway Bound” concert on April 21-22.
There will be six Great Escapes concerts which include “A Night at the Movies”, “A Little Night Music” “Date Night” presented at Holley Hall from October to April.
McKenna said musicians and conductors around the world contacted the Sarasota Orchestra to offer help after Tovey’s death.
“He was truly one of the finest musical citizens in the world and his untimely passing has got people in the management field saying if there’s a way for us to help based on our schedules, we want to help Bramwell and the orchestra,” McKenna said. .
Although “we’re all still feeling a little raw” after Tovey’s death, McKenna said the board, staff and musicians will likely start formulating plans for a new search for a music director in September. .
Discounted subscriptions to various Sarasota Orchestra series are now available online. Single tickets will go on sale September 6. 941-953-3434; www.sarasotaorchestra.org
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