Immediate Past President, Boston Conservatory at Berklee
Born in Great Neck, New York, Richard Ortner has shared his lifelong passion for music and advanced training in the performing arts with the most renowned senior professionals of our age, the best and brightest young artists and students, and the widest possible audiences.
Ortner’s piano studies began at age five and were reinforced by an excellent public school music program. He accompanied choruses both in junior and senior high school, and became the choir director of the Long Island Federation of Temple Youth. Following high school he attended The Cooper Union, where he studied architecture, but he continued to pursue his interest in music with piano studies (with Richard Faber of the Juilliard faculty) and by producing and hosting two classical music programs for WNYU (New York University) radio. He returned to studying music full time when he transferred to NYU, earning a B.A. in music in 1971. Ortner then began what he refers to as his “real musical education,” three years as an usher at Carnegie Hall. (This also marked the start of his activities as a concert producer: after persuading the management of Carnegie Hall to turn over the Recital Hall, free of charge, he organized the very first Carnegie Hall Ushers Recital, which the New York Times reviewed enthusiastically. Later, he organized the first concert of the Washington Square Chamber Music Society at NYU.)
It was at Carnegie Hall that Ortner first met Leonard Bernstein and his manager Harry Kraut, both of whom encouraged Ortner that the next step in his burgeoning interest in orchestra management—learning “how music gets to people”—must be a position at Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s renowned summer home. From there, Bernstein said, he could get an incomparable overview of every facet of orchestra operations, from concert production and finance to facilities management, programming, fundraising and Board relations. “Oh, and by the way, there’s a pretty good school there, too,” Ortner relates Bernstein saying.
The school, of course, was the Berkshire Music Center (later the Tanglewood Music Center), and in the summer of 1973 Ortner became a Guide at Tanglewood, manning the information booth and filling various backstage posts for both the BSO’s Tanglewood Festival concerts and the full range of BMC activities. One year later, in 1974, he was invited to become assistant administrator of Music Center, beginning a remarkable 23-year career with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
At that time, artistic direction at Tanglewood (both the festival and the academy) was accomplished by the unlikely ‘troika’ of Leonard Bernstein, Gunther Schuller and the young Seiji Ozawa, who had just been appointed music director of the BSO. Ortner became administrator of the Music Center in 1984 (with the appointment of pianist Leon Fleisher as Artistic Director), and along the way also served as assistant manager of the BSO Chamber Players, coordinator of the Chamber Music Prelude Concerts, a director of the BSO Credit Union, and was involved in numerous other special projects, including the design and construction of Ozawa Hall.
Ortner has served as a panelist at the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music America and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music; a speaker at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; and a frequent guest lecturer on music and education, including moderating the 2006 Harvard symposium on “Working with Bernstein.” He was a member of the founding Board of Governors of the Boston Arts Academy (and chaired the BAA's Board of Trustees for two years). He has also served on the Board of Overseers of the Handel & Haydn Society, the Board of Visitors of the Fenway Community Health Center and the Planning Task Force for the Boston’s New Center for Arts and Culture.
Ortner was appointed president of The Boston Conservatory in July 1998 and retired in June 2017.