Following general musical studies with Nadia Boulanger, Tortelier studied conducting with Franco Ferrara at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, and from 1974 to 1983 he was Associate Conductor of the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse. Further positions since then have included Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the Ulster Orchestra (1989-1992) and Principal Guest Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (2005-2008). He was also Principal Conductor of the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra from 2009-2011, and currently holds the position of Guest Conductor of Honour, in which capacity he returns to the orchestra a number of times each season. Following his outstanding work as Chief Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic between 1992 and 2003, including annual appearances at the BBC Proms and a very successful tour of the US to celebrate the orchestra's 60th anniversary season, he was given the title of Conductor Emeritus and continues to work with the orchestra regularly. He also holds the position of Principal Guest Conductor at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Yan Pascal Tortelier has collaborated with major orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic, St Petersburg Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, Filarmonica della Scala Milan, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Boston, Chicago and Montreal symphony orchestras. Further afield he has collaborated with the Melbourne Symphony, the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, and the Hong Kong and Malaysian philharmonic orchestras.
Recent highlights include returns to the United States to conduct the orchestras in Pittsburgh, Dallas, Montreal, San Francisco, Minnesota and Baltimore; European performances with the Iceland, Royal Flemish, Lyon National, Bournemouth symphony orchestras, and the Royal Liverpool and BBC philharmonic orchestra; and his return to Australia to conduct the Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney symphony orchestras. Tortelier will also perform with the St Petersburg Philharmonic and Montreal Symphony.
Tortelier has enjoyed a long association with Chandos Records, resulting in an extensive catalogue of recordings, notably with the BBC Philharmonic and Ulster orchestras, and including award-winning cycles of the orchestral music of Debussy, Ravel (featuring his own orchestration of Ravel's Piano Trio), Franck, Roussel and Dutilleux. He has also conducted critically acclaimed discs of repertoire ranging from Hindemith and Kodaly to Lutoslawski, and Karlowicz. Recent releases for Chandos include the Ravel piano concertos coupled with Debussy’s Fantaisie, with pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, and a disc of works by Florent Schmitt with the Sao Paulo Symphony.