Arts & Culture

Cortese new conductor of Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra

4 min read

Is former assistant conductor of Boston Symphony Orchestra

Harvard’s Office for the Arts (OfA) and Music Department announced May 13 that Federico Cortese has been appointed conductor of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra (HRO). Cortese assumes the post on July 1 following the 45-year tenure of James Yannatos, who retired at the end of the 2008-09 academic term. Cortese will have a joint appointment in the OfA and Music Department, serving the latter as a senior lecturer on music.

“We are thrilled with the appointment of Federico Cortese as the new conductor of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra,” said Jack Megan, director of OfA. “He is a highly intelligent, musically gifted, and passionate conductor and teacher who will build beautifully on Dr. Yannatos’ rich legacy with the HRO. I look forward to an exciting new era for the orchestra with Federico’s energetic and committed leadership.”

“Frederico Cortese is not only a first-class conductor and musician,” noted Anne C. Shreffler, James Edward Ditson Professor of Music and chair of the Music Department, “but he is also passionately devoted to teaching and guiding young people in their musical development, and we are delighted to welcome him as a colleague in the Music Department.” Added Robert D. Levin, the Dwight P. Robinson Jr. Professor of Music, “The HRO is most fortunate to have Federico Cortese as its new music director. Passionate, articulate, and committed to the orchestra’s mission, Mr. Cortese will assure that the shining legacy of Dr. James Yannatos will be carried forward with vision and distinction.”

Federico Cortese has served as music director of the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras since 1999 and in the same capacity for the New England String Ensemble since 2005. He has conducted operatic and symphonic engagements throughout the United States, Australia, Asia, and Europe. He served as assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) under Seiji Ozawa from 1998 to 2002. Cortese’s tenure with the BSO as assistant conductor was the longest of anyone who has served in that capacity; in addition to his annual scheduled concerts he led the orchestra several times on short notice in Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood, most notably performing Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9” and Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” Cortese has conducted several prominent symphony orchestras, including Atlanta, Dallas, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Symphony, and Oslo Philharmonic. Opera engagements have included, among others, the Finnish National Opera, Maggio Musicale in Florence, the Spoleto Festival in Italy, and, in the United States, the Boston Lyric Opera, the St. Louis Opera, and the Washington Opera.

Cortese has been music coordinator and associate conductor of the Spoleto Festival in Italy. He also served as assistant conductor to Robert Spano at the Brooklyn Philharmonic and to Daniele Gatti at the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Cortese studied composition and conducting at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome and subsequently studied at the Hochschule für Musik in Vienna. In addition, he has been a conducting fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center. Cortese studied literature and humanities and holds a law degree from La Sapienza University in Rome.

Recently completing its 201st season, the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra traces its roots back to 1808 with the formation of the Pierian Sodality, a Harvard College social/musical organization. By the turn of the 20th century the group began to refer to itself as the Harvard University Orchestra and grew into a more serious musical organization that eventually became the largest college orchestra in the United States. After building a national reputation via tours throughout the country, the group joined forces with the Radcliffe Orchestra, and eventually became the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra in 1942. The HRO continued to improve in quality and reputation as it took tours to Mexico (1962), Washington, D.C. (1966), and Canada (1972). The HRO placed third in the Fifth Annual International Festival of Student Orchestras in 1978. The 1980s and ’90s saw tours of the former Soviet Union (1984), Asia (1985 and 1988), Europe (1992), and Italy (1996). Since the start of the 21st century, HRO has toured Brazil (2000) and Canada (2004). Currently, the orchestra performs four full concerts annually in Harvard’s historic Sanders Theatre.