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Thomas Fortner
Assistant Conductor and Music Director, SDSYO

Conductor Thomas Fortner is a passionate musical communicator, creative programmer, innovative arts entrepreneur, and a dynamic educator. He is the Assistant Conductor and Youth Orchestra Music Director of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra (“one of America’s boldest orchestras” – Alex Ross, The New Yorker), a position he has held since 2017. 

An energetic advocate of building stronger communities through music, Fortner was the Founder and Artistic Director of the Iowa Great Lakes Music Festival, where he partnered with local performing arts presenters to bring world class musical performances to the Iowa Great Lakes region.

Realizing that creativity education is vital to the success of future generations, Fortner founded Creativity Club, a program designed for students of the South Dakota Symphony Youth Orchestra to nurture their skills in music composition and other innovative approaches to problem solving, culminating annually in a performance of their orchestral compositions by their peers. Further highlighting his passion for new music, in the Summer of 2021, Fortner was a Conducting Fellow at the Cabrillo Festival for Contemporary Music and is currently board member of the Minneapolis based new music ensemble, the 10th Wave Chamber Collective.

In August of 2022, Fortner served as an assistant conductor to Maestro Toby Purser at the Vienna Opera Academy in Vienna, Austria. Past highlights with the South Dakota Symphony include a classical subscription concert in 2021 featuring music of Beethoven, Schoenberg, and Debussy, selections from the Nutcracker with the South Dakota Ballet, a family concert featuring Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky/Ravel), and live soundtracks performed with film including The Wizard of Oz, and John Williams’ iconic score for Jurassic Park, for which he stepped in to conduct on short notice. 

Fortner has appeared as cover conductor with the Omaha Symphony and the Concert Artists of Baltimore, and as guest conductor with the Amarillo Symphony, the South Dakota Ballet, Southwest Minnesota Orchestra and the Twin Cities Symphony – a startup orchestra exploring innovative programming and venues. Recent education programs with the SDSO include the 2022 Young Peoples Concert (which was broadcast statewide in South Dakota), and Carnegie Hall’s Link Up.

In the summer of 2021, Fortner served as assistant conductor to Christian Reif at the Lakes Area Music Festival in Minnesota. In 2016, Fortner served as the assistant conductor for the Martha Graham Dance Company at the Library of Congress during their revival of the original Ballet to Copland’s Appalachian Spring. 

Fortner was a member of the final conducting class selected by the late Gustav Meier to attend the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University, where he studied with Marin Alsop and Markand Thakar, participated in masterclasses with the Baltimore Symphony, completing his Graduate Performance Diploma in conducting in 2017. Additionally, Fortner completed a Bachelors and Masters of cello performance at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. As a cellist, he has performed chamber music alongside musicians from orchestras such as the Houston Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, and the Minnesota Orchestra. 

Off the podium, Fortner is an avid learner, and is pursuing his passion for flight by working towards earning his Private Pilot’s License.