Concert Review: Tovey gives enlightening, witty performance

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra maestro Bramwell Tovey and his former assistant Rosemary Thomson, current conductor of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, reunite at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Tuesday. - Jay Schappert
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra maestro Bramwell Tovey and his former assistant Rosemary Thomson, current conductor of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, reunite at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Tuesday.
— image credit: Jay Schappert

Tuesday evening’s fundraising event for the North Okanagan’s Community Concert Association was up close and personal with maestro Bramwell Tovey — a man for all seasons and song — gift-tied with the ribbon of laughter.

Maestro Tovey began the evening with Ivor Novello’s Waltz of my Heart. His command of NOCCA’s Steinway was truly masterful.

He set the scene for melody and laughter by promising a program of music important to him and stories of why. He said that would give the audience a concert and save him therapy.

We were treated to beautiful, endlessly creative and magnificent classical, jazz, and modern music, although he said nothing written past the 1950s is worth playing.

Tovey then turned to something he hadn’t planned to play: a unique rendition of The Skye Boat Song, brought to his mind by seeing Okanagan Lake.

He then showed how the cello and the harp could be imitated on the piano (complete with a word picture of a man in tights with a crossbow heading out into a forest. Today we might issue an amber alert!)

His body was so filled with music it poured out through his fingertips, and occasionally his left foot seemed to sneak away on a rhythmic adventure all its own.

Maestro Tovey concluded the first part of the concert as he shone the spotlight on Rosemary Thomson, music director of the Okanagan Symphony and his former assistant conductor in Winnipeg. Especially for her, he played the version of The Lord’s My Shepherd he’d played at his own wedding where Thomson was a guest.

In the second half, he jumped into jazz and his interpretation of Red Roses for a Blue Lady was tender but saucy with velvet fingers and the nuance of effortlessness.

He extemporized Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair, which was its first public performance, entirely with the left hand as he enjoyed a bottled water with his right.

He quipped the right hand didn’t know the melody and just chimed in with the very last note. That was OK, he said, because a conductor uses his right hand so much, it gets tired and needs a rest occasionally.

Tovey recognized Nicole Shaver in the audience. She was a violinist under his Winnipeg Symphony baton and now lives in Vernon, teaching violin in the school system.

Laughing at what he called his own “cosmetically challenged appearance,” he said one reason he became a conductor was after you bowed to the audience you could turn your back on them.

Tovey met Leonard Bernstein when he conducted the Bernstein Festival in London.

In homage to “one of the greatest men he had ever known,” Tovey played Bernstein’s Somewhere from West Side Story with reverence and gratitude.

He closed the program with a collage of Gershwin, in tribute to audience member and Vernon pianist Joey Karen, who played Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the Okanagan Symphony at its very first performance 53 years ago.

Those who were not present missed an evening of fabulous music, delightful conversation and it “ticked all the boxes.”

The next North Okanagan Community Concert is a matinee on March 17 with Sergi Saratovsky at the piano.

written by Jay Schappert, special to The Morning Star.

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