With its new season, the Sarasota Orchestra plans to honor the legacy of music director Bramwell Tovey, whose sudden death in July came months before he could fully assume artistic leadership of the organization.
Tovey, 69, who signed a five-year deal in August 2021, died on July 12 after a rare form of sarcoma, from which he had been briefly cancer-free, returned.
He had already mapped out a season that was to star him in the orchestra’s Masterworks, Discoveries, Pops and Chamber Soirees series. These concerts will still feature some of the emerging soloists and composers he championed.
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Due to Tovey’s death, the orchestra has made some adjustments to the line-up, bringing in additional guest conductors and changing some of the music where necessary, but mostly sticking to what he assembled.
“Bramwell put together a brilliant arc for the season. He really envisioned his first season as a renaissance, bringing people back to the concert hall, after COVID, even though COVID is still here,” said the CEO Joseph McKenna. “A big part of it is getting back to a sense of humanity and shared experience and doing that through incredible repertoire, fabulous soloists and some wonderful new composers.”
Tovey was tapped as music director to succeed Anu Tali, who left Sarasota after the 2018-19 season after six years. The search was extended another year because the pandemic forced the cancellation of several concerts in 2020, but Tovey was hired just as the second year of guest conductors began. He conducted a special addition concert at the Sarasota Opera House in October and a previously scheduled concert in May.
In addition to his musical career and a resume that included conducting and leadership roles with the Calgary Opera, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Rhode Island Philharmonic and the Symphony Orchestra of Quebec, Tovey was selected in part because of his experience leading the effort 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 it had purchased land for a new music center on Fruitville Road between Honore Avenue and Cattlemen Road, west of Interstate 75.
McKenna and Kerry Smith, the orchestra’s director of artistic planning, said most of the concerts originally revealed in April for the 2022-23 season will go ahead as planned.
The season includes more contemporary works by Quinn Mason, Nina Shekhar, Jessica Hunt and Sarah Gibson, whose world premieres in the final Masterworks concert are part of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation Commission.
“Bramwell thought it would be great to close his 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 three Discoveries concerts and one of three Pops series concerts and play the piano, including his own compositions, at a Chamber Soiree in February.
The 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 to a Masterworks concert that was eventually canceled due to COVID.
Peter Oundjian, former conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, will replace three concerts that Tovey had planned to conduct. He will direct The Gen. 5-8 “Mahler: View of Heaven,” featuring violinist James Ehnes, longtime Sarasota resident and Tovey collaborator, and “A Romantic Affair” concerts on Feb. 2 and 5, which will include the Sarasota debut. by the Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, performing the Piano Concerto no. 2 by Rachmaninoff. Oundjian will also conduct the orchestra for the annual gala, which features acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma on March 2.
Nic McGegan will conduct the opening concert of the Discoveries series “Mozart and Tchaikovsky” with cellist Zlatomir Fung, winner of the first prize in the International Tchaikovsky Competition, performing Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo Variations”.
The Discoveries concerts represent Tovey’s desire to “explore influences between composers or pieces that influenced other composers,” Smith said. “Tchaikovsky was very inspired by Mozart and almost obsessed, so he delved into Mozart’s specific form.”
Other concerts in the series include Australian director Sarah Ioannides conducting “The French Influencers” (Dec. 21) and Joseph Young conducting “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 an “emerging and wonderful conductor”, organized a concert that focuses on pieces inspired by the composers’ travels, with works by Mendelssohn, Rodrigo and Villa-Lobos. It will feature guitarist Bokyung Byun.
McKenna said Tovey was “so excited about the future” that he factored into how he designed the season, featuring soloists who are new to the orchestra and up-and-coming composers.
Tovey was scheduled to perform Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and her own piece, “Pictures in the Smoke,” but the Chamber Soiree program on Feb. 19 will be replaced by orchestra musicians Natalie Helm, Bharat Chandra and Jennifer Takada performing three different sonatas. , along with 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 Schumann and Brahms program and “Scottish Songs,” featuring mezzo-soprano Susan Platts.
Tovey was scheduled to headline the Pops “Hits of the Brits” concerts on March 3-4. That will be changed to “Gershwin, Berlin and Friends,” which will be directed by musician Byron Stripling.
The Pops series opens Jan. 20-21 with conductor Stuart Chafetz conducting “The Music of Billy Joel and Elton John” with pianist and singer Michael Cavanaugh who performed Joel’s music on the hit Broadway “Movin’ Out.”
Singer Carmen Ruby Floyd will join conductor William Waldrop for the final Pops “Broadway Bound” concert on April 21 and 22.
There will be six Great Escapes concerts including “A Night at the Movies,” “A Little Night Music” “Date Night” presented at Holley Hall from October through April.
McKenna said musicians and conductors from around the world reached out to the Sarasota Orchestra to offer help after Tovey’s death.
“He was truly one of the best musical citizens in the world and his untimely death led people in the management field to say that if there’s a way to help us around our schedules, we want to help Bramwell and the orchestra,” McKenna said. .
While “we’re all still feeling a little raw” after Tovey’s death, McKenna said the board, staff and musicians will likely begin formulating plans for a new music director search in September.
Discounted subscriptions to various Sarasota Orchestra series are now available online. Single tickets go on sale Sept. 6 941-953-3434; sarasotaorchestra.org
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