July 1, 2010 / 2:24 AM / 9 years ago

British conductor leads Independence Day concert

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bramwell Tovey, the conductor leading the popular Summertime Classics series at the New York Philharmonic this month, finds it amusing that a British musician is heading a concert to celebrate U.S. Independence Day.

“I feel as if I should apologize,” joked the Grammy Award-winning conductor and composer.

In a concert that Tovey will conduct to mark Independence Day on July 4, the New York Philharmonic will join forces with United States Military Academy Band.

When the West Point band performs the Armed Forces Service Medley, Philharmonic players who have served in the military will stand as the music representing the branch of the military where they served is played.

Tovey has no military background but he is descended from an army of another sort — The Salvation Army. His grandfather was a Salvation Army preacher and secretarial assistant to Bramwell Booth, the son of the Salvation Army’s founder William Booth.

It was in the Salvation Army that Tovey learned to play all the brass instruments.

Tovery, a pianist and a composer who studied at London University and the Royal Academy of Music, said he had wanted to learn as many instruments as possible because he realized early on that he wanted to become a conductor.

Since then Tovey, 56, has compiled an enviable collection of conducting posts.

Music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra since September 2000, he is also principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and host and conductor of the New York Philharmonic’s Summertime Classics series since it was founded in 2004.

Unlike the Boston Symphony Orchestra and other ensembles, the New York Philharmonic does not program “Pops” concerts but the Summertime Classics series was designed to showcase programs of favorites drawn from the mainstream classical repertory.

Tovey’s engaging, humorous commentary on the music about to be performed helps to create a more relaxed atmosphere.

After concluding its subscription season this June with a performance of Beethoven’s monumental Missa Solemnis, the Summertime Classics series began with a program of works by Russian composers, including Tchaikovsky’s “Marche Slave,” which the Philharmonic hadn’t played for 25 years.

“We decided to program popular classical works that the orchestra had never played, or hadn’t played in years,” Tovey told Reuters. “That idea formed the backbone of Summertime Classics.”

Writing by Ellen Freilich, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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