Boston Conservatory President Richard Ortner Announces His Intention to Retire in 2017

By 
Allen Bush
October 26, 2016
Press release
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Richard Ortner, president of the Boston Conservatory, announces he will retire in June 2017.

Boston Conservatory President Richard Ortner, who transformed the institution with new faculty appointments, new construction of state-of-the-art facilities, groundbreaking programs for individuals with special needs, and a merger with Berklee College of Music, announces his retirement in June 2017. Ortner, the Conservatory’s eighth president, has served for 18 years. He will remain active as a senior advisor, focusing on international reputation, board building, and formulation of the institution’s music, dance, and theater strategies.

Ortner is one of Boston’s most respected arts leaders. His more-than-40-year career began with a summer job at Tanglewood on a recommendation from Leonard Bernstein. Of late, he has been called a visionary for seeing the value for his students in joining with Berklee, creating what he calls “the world’s most comprehensive and dynamic training ground for global careers in music, dance, theater, and related professions.”

“Richard has always been motivated by his passion for creative expression, and for nurturing young talent,” said Yo-Yo Ma, the celebrated multi-Grammy Award-winning cellist. “Under his leadership, the Boston Conservatory experienced tremendous artistic growth. He has been indefatigable in reaching out to locate a broad talent pool, and in looking for different ways to think about the performing arts and their role in society. The richness of his contributions is only matched by the richness of his inner cultivation.”

From the start of his presidency in 1998, Ortner drew on his administrative career with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) for inspiration about how to shape the Conservatory. With the careers of his students in mind, he expanded programs and hired exceptional artist-faculty with unique ability to guide the progress of his emerging artists. He encouraged the institution to become a leader in the field of special-needs music teacher training, creating unique, cutting-edge programs focused on music and autism. He secured funds to renovate the Conservatory’s historic Hemenway Street theater, adding four new dance studios, and continued by constructing a 20,000-square-foot studio building on Ipswich Street, raising a total of more than $50 million dollars. A second buildable lot remains at the Ipswich Street site for further expansion.

Ortner was among the founding Board of Governors of the Boston Arts Academy—Boston’s first and only high school for the visual and performing arts, which opened in 1998—and he chaired its Board of Trustees for two years. He has served on the Board of Overseers of the Handel and Haydn Society, the Board of Visitors for Fenway Health, and the Planning Task Force for Greater Boston's New Center for Arts and Culture. He also served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.

After beginning a 23-year career with the BSO as a guide at Tanglewood in 1973, Ortner soon became assistant administrator of the Tanglewood Music Center, the BSO’s renowned academy for advanced training in music. He gained a complete overview of major orchestra and festival operations from concert production and programming to faculty engagement, fundraising, and board relations. In 1984, he became administrator of the center, then under the tripartite artistic leadership of Leonard Bernstein, Gunther Schuller, and Seiji Ozawa. Ortner helped create Ozawa Hall and Tanglewood’s expanded campus. He also helped revive the opera program and contributed to the extraordinary breadth of programming at the annual Festival of Contemporary Music. At Tanglewood, he worked with virtually every major classical artist of the day, and two generations of the world’s best emerging artists.

“Richard and I worked closely together at Tanglewood and I can say with certainty that I have never known anyone who was so devoted, humane, and excellent at their job,” said Gilbert Kalish, renowned pianist and former chairman of the Tanglewood faculty. “He had enormous responsibility in a complicated position. He dealt with a faculty of eminent musicians, a large and feisty student body, and some of the world’s most respected composers. He always responded with grace and a deep understanding of the needs of students and faculty. He was a wizard and Tanglewood was a magnificent center where great music blossomed.”

The merger of the Boston Conservatory and Berklee College of Music—which established Boston Conservatory at Berklee—became official in June 2016, a process that began with earlier collaborations around cross-registration, shared faculty, and the founding of the Boston Arts Academy. The vision behind the merger is to create a combined institution that reduces the boundaries between art forms and dramatically elevates the likelihood that students develop and sustain successful careers in the arts.

“Richard Ortner is a living encyclopedia of musical and artistic knowledge,” said Berklee President Roger H. Brown. “His passion for the Boston Conservatory is palpable, and through his stewardship, he helped create one of the top musical theater programs in the country, the number-one-rated contemporary dance program in the United States, and a classical conservatory that is at once rigorous and humane. The fruits of his vision, particularly the merger of the Boston Conservatory and Berklee, will be harvested for generations to come.”