R.I. Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Tovey dies at 69

PROVIDENCE – Bramwell Tovey, who has led the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra & Music School as its principal conductor and artistic director and brought to life many classical works to the local stage for several years, died Tuesday at his Barrington home after a three-year battle with a rare form of cancer, the orchestra announced Wednesday.

Tovey, born in East London, was 69.

Tovey, the orchestra said, first conducted with the Rhode Island Philharmonic in October 2016. Two years later, Tovey succeeded longtime conductor Larry Rachleff and became the principal conductor and named the artistic director.

Along with helping new musicians debut with the Rhode Island Philharmonic, Tovey, the orchestra said, strengthened the collaboration between the orchestra and the school. He featured the Youth Orchestra side by side with the main orchestra for a special concert, and invited students from the music school’s Victoria’s Dream Project to perform on this past year’s Gala, the orchestra said.

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Orchestra Executive Director David Beauchesne said Wednesday in a statement that Tovey’s death is a “profound loss” to both the organization and the community, as well as musicians and audiences around the world.

“We are all heartbroken,” Beauchesne said. “Bramwell Tovey was a dear friend and colleague, and a person of uncommon ability, warmth, humor, sincerity and kindness. The youngest student and most revered guest artist received the same level of his care and attention.”

The orchestra said Tovey was diagnosed with a rare form of sarcoma in May 2019, and underwent surgery in June 2021 that left him cancer-free “briefly.” Unfortunately, the cancer returned in January and Tovey was “ultimately unable to recover,” the orchestra said.

The orchestra said Tania Miller agreed prior to Tovey’s death to step in as interim principal conductor and will lead three concerts during the orchestra’s 2022-23 season. Next season will be dedicated to Tovey’s memory, the orchestra said.

Additionally, a memorial fund in Tovey’s name will be established to support the music school. Details on contributing to the new fund will come at a later date, the orchestra said.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.