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The formative tunes of Bramwell Tovey

August 7, 2010 |  8:30 am


What piece of music changed conductor Bramwell Tovey's life? Of course the born storyteller, whom I profile on the occasion of his return to the Hollywood Bowl this month, couldn't answer with a simple list.

Let me put it this way, he said. Before he retired he would give one last concert. It would be a program of Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor, Shostakovich's Festive Overture and "something by Leonard Bernstein." Each represented a milestone in his musical life.

The Grieg because it opened Tovey's childhood eyes to how perfectly a piece of music could be constructed; the Shostakovich because it was the first piece the bold teenage student ever conducted ("It was a thrill!"); and Bernstein because, well, that requires a brief Toveyian story.

In 1986, Lukas Foss, slated to conduct a Bernstein program with the London Symphony Orchestra, fell sick. Tovey got the nod to fill in but was shaking in his tux because Bernstein himself would be in the audience.

But before the program of "Halil" and "Symphonic Suite from 'On the Waterfront,' " Tovey explained, "Lenny came up on stage, put his arm around me -- he's really very dramatic; and he was shorter than I was

-- and said, 'I've been in this position myself, so you've got me on your side. You'll be fine.' He was fantastic. And that's what really got my career going."

To read the profile, click here.

-- Kevin Berger

Photo: Bramwell Tovey. Credit: Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times