When Vancouver Symphony Orchestra music director Bramwell Tovey conducted Benjamin Britten's War Requiem in a pre-Remembrance Day concert commemorating 100 years since the start of the First World War, he knew it would be a night to remember – but in a good way, he thought.
Long-time VSO president and CEO Jeff Alexander was there – marking the last time he would see the maestro conduct the VSO during his tenure; Mr. Alexander leaves at the end of the year for a new position in Chicago. After the Saturday night concert, they retreated with a group to a favourite spot to celebrate their years together.
Being a special occasion, Mr. Tovey sprang for valet parking. When he got home, he discovered that his Volvo, parked right outside, had been burglarized.
Gone from his trunk were his scores for War Requiem, marked with decades of notations.
"It's like a comfort blanket in a sense because by the time you hit the performance really most of it is in your muscle memory and in your head, but you have this feeling that if there's ever any moment of doubt, you can look down and you can see something you might have marked 30 years ago," Mr. Tovey says. "But that's all gone."
Also gone is the nearly completed manuscript for his composition Did You Ever Dance With Him?, commissioned by the Borealis String Quartet and set to have its world premiere Friday.
Mr. Tovey was a few bars from the end when the manuscript was stolen. While most of the score exists on his copyist's computer, the ending Mr. Tovey had sketched out is now lost.
"Unfortunately the ending as I completely wanted it is now [probably] at the bottom of a dumpster." The work was also inspired by war, in particular a line Mr. Tovey read in Max Hastings's book Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914. In September, 1914, when the first casualty lists began coming in, British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith sent a letter to the woman with whom he was in love about one of the men who had been killed; a well-heeled gentleman from her circle: "Did you ever dance with him?" he wrote.
"This sort of casual line just seemed to encapsulate something about that time," says Mr. Tovey. "A very simple sound bite came into my head which seemed to just express that. And so the whole piece is composed around the sound bite. I think in a sense it's an elegy but it's an elegy that gets very intense and fast in the middle and … I also try to make it a little redemptive or transformative at the end."
Now he needs to recreate that ending. But before that, Mr. Tovey, who has a golden rule not to mark his score between performances, had to put that custom aside on Monday, as he scrambled to mark a new score for the evening's Britten performance.
He has had other duties added to his schedule this week as well as a result of the theft. On Sunday, Mr. Tovey and his wife went through 30 or 40 dumpsters searching for the little grey trolley case with red piping, or its contents – to no avail. When he reported the theft to the police, they asked about CCTV footage – but Mr. Tovey learned from the hotel that there is none.