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Bramwell Tovey—Our Man for the Season

December 08, 2014

If we didn’t know better, we’d say he’s Jolly Old St. Nick himself! The multi-talented Bramwell Tovey (a Grammy-winning conductor, composer, pianist, narrator) returns to Philadelphia to ensure we’re all getting into the holiday spirit.

Tovey is making his subscription debut, conducting a stunning set of concerts. He’s once again presenting the Glorious Sound of Christmas, he’ll lead our SingIN at the historic Grace Baptist Church of Germantown, and in his spare time, he’ll be dropping in at Shriner’s Hospital for Children to spread holiday cheer.

Bramwell Tovey leading the Orchestra and Mendelssohn Club in the Glorious Sound of Christmas concerts in 2012. Photo: Jessica Griffin

That sounds like a punishing schedule, but Tovey (who’s also the music director of the Vancouver Symphony) is thrilled about all this musical activity. On his subscription debut with the Philadelphians (December 11-13) he says, “To work with them in their home, on a program with the full Philadelphia Orchestra resources behind it … for a composer and conductor, that’s about as good as it gets!” He’ll be conducting Bernstein’s timeless Symphonic Dances from West Side Story; Gershwin’s Catfish Row, a suite from the beloved Porgy and Bess; Britten’s moving Passacaglia from Peter Grimes; and one of his own compositions, Songs of the Paradise Saloon, for trumpet and orchestra. It’s based on his opera, The Inventor, about a mass-murdering criminal. The star soloist is the dazzling English trumpeter Alison Balsom (who’ll also be playing the flugelhorn, cornet, and piccolo trumpet for good measure).

Then there are the Glorious Sound of Christmas concerts December 18-20. From favorite traditional carols to a new one he’s written especially for us (“The Rittenhouse Carol”), to Sleigh Ride and Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker, this year’s version of this wonderful Philadelphia tradition is sure to be a delight. Back by popular demand: the immortal “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” read by Tovey himself, accompanied by some improvisations on the pianoOnce again the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia will be adding their gorgeous voices to the proceedings. And Tovey promises “a few other little tricks” as well.

Outside Verizon Hall he’ll be busy leading the SingIN at Grace Baptist Church in Germantown on December 15. Singers of all ages are invited to lend their voices to a host of holiday carols. You can sign up here (but hurry—it’s first come, first served.)

Finally, for some special folks whose holiday could use some extra joy, Tovey will visit Shriner’s Hospital for Children for some Yuletide music making on December 12.

How does Tovey sum up the experience of conducting The Philadelphia Orchestra this holiday season? “The core of it all is the humanity of the players. They’re very much into expressing the inner message of the music, as well as of course playing at such exalted levels.” He’s thrilled to be a part of it … and you will be too.