Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tovey says WSO in good hands

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DON'T take it personally, Winnipeg. But Bramwell Tovey is fitting in as well in Vancouver as he ever did here.

For one thing, he's already insufferable about the weather.

"The crocuses are up, and we should have daffodils in a couple of weeks," the former Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra artistic director said over the phone from his West Coast home a few days prior to his weekend gigs with the WSO.

"People warned us about the rain, but we don't find it rains much at all."

In his fourth season as music director of the 73-piece Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Tovey sounded more conciliatory than he was while battling the arts bureaucracy during his 12 years in friendly Manitoba.

Having hired a personal trainer, he works out with weights and runs three times a week. He says he has lost 30 pounds.

"I was quite fit when I came to Winnipeg," said Tovey, who turned 50 last July. "It's hard to run there in the winter."

Now he plays cricket in Stanley Park in an over-40 league. He bought a horse for his wife, Lana. She rides it in Southlands, close to where they live with their kids, Ben, 14, Jessica, 5 and Emmeline, 3.

After years of gladhanding with strangers everywhere he went in Winnipeg, he enjoys the relative anonymity that comes with swimming in a bigger pond.

"We have people like Goldie Hawn walking down the street," Tovey said. "Nobody worries too much about me."

Professionally, it seems to be onward and upward for him. His agents, International Management Group, recently hired a New York public relations firm to handle his account.

They felt it necessary after he was selected by the New York Philharmonic to program and conduct two summer festivals. The first one begins in June in Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall.

With the VSO, he has garnered international attention for his introduction of video-screen technology to this season's Musically Speaking series. In a newly released CD, Borodin, from CBC Records, he conducts the VSO in through a series of pieces by the 19th-century Russian composer.

At his other orchestra, Europe's 100-piece Luxembourg Philharmonic, where he has been music director since the fall of 2002, he recently saw the release of a well-reviewed two-CD package of French composer Jean Cras' only opera, Polyphème.

Arguably his most flattering coup hit bookstores last November. Cambridge University Press in England published a tome called The Cambridge Companion to Conducting.

Its editor, José Antonio Bowen, a Washington, D.C., music professor, asked Tovey to contribute the chapter on the conductor as orchestra artistic director.

He wrote 5,000 words. Although Winnipeg is not mentioned in the piece, it is obvious that Tovey drew from his WSO experience.

"I will be forever grateful for what Winnipeg did for me," he said. "There's no way I would be where I am without the experience I had in Winnipeg."

Tovey came to the WSO in 1989, a relatively unknown British conductor of operas and ballets. He quickly became known for his ambitious goals for the orchestra and for his common touch with music lovers.

In 1991, with WSO colleagues Max Tapper and Glenn Buhr, he launched the du Maurier New Music Festival, which soon became the orchestra's signature event.

For years he seemed to be all over town, speaking non-stop to community groups, playing jazz piano at every fundraiser and supporting his musicians in their uphill battle with the arts-funding bureaucracy.

"I used to think that the problem was one of Winnipeg against Toronto," said Tovey, who won a Juno Award last year for his composition Requiem for a Charred Skull.

"But since being in Vancouver, it's really the West against the East."

He believes the WSO is in excellent artistic hands under Maestro Andrey Boreyko.

"He is a fabulous conductor, an original thinker and a terrific guy," he said. "I think not only Winnipeg but Canada is lucky to have him on the scene."

One day last season, when the WSO was facing financial disaster, Boreyko came round to Tovey's Vancouver home after a concert he'd conducted with the VSO.

"We had a hilarious evening talking about Winnipeg and Canada -- he's very, very funny," Tovey said.

"We emptied a bottle of Russian vodka that he brought over and just had a whale of a time."

Tovey is particularly pleased to see the Doer administration linking its deficit reduction grants to the orchestra's private fundraising initiatives.

"The provincial government's support has solidified Winnipeg's cultural life," Tovey said.

"It will encourage like-minded donations from good corporate citizens and individual donors who, without the Doer government's leadership of dollar for dollar (support), might have felt that the orchestra was not a safe place for their cultural donations."

Tovey was last out this way two summers ago for the wedding of Lana's sister Gloria in Pilot Mound. He last conducted the WSO, which now stands at 65 members, at his farewell gala on May 13, 2001.

So this should be old-home week for him.

"I became very good friends with many of the musicians, and I'm looking forward to seeing them," he said.

"We were like soldiers in the trenches in the First World War."

Bramwell Tovey conducts the WSO 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Centennial Concert Hall and 3 p.m. Sunday in Brandon in a program featuring the music British composers. Marc-Andre Hamelin is the guest pianist.

morley.walker@freepress.mb.ca

PHOTO PHIL HOSSACK/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 19, 2004 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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