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Jack Fortner, composer and lover of new music, dies in Brazil

Jack Fortner in an episode of ‘The Munro Review on CMAC.’ He was a passionate advocate for new music.

Word spread on social media today about the death of Jack Fortner, a powerhouse name in the Fresno classical music scene. Fortner was artistic director of the chamber music group Orpheus at the time of his death. He was professor emeritus of music at Fresno State and was a noted advocate for new music. He was also an award-winning composer. Honors included the 1966 International Composition Prize from the Fondation Royaumont of Franc and the 1967 Rome Prize Fellowship awarded by the American Academy in Rome.


Related story: JACK FORTNER, 1935-2020: COMPOSER, CONDUCTOR, PROFESSOR AND A WONDERFULLY LIVED MUSICAL LIFE

In retirement he divided his time between Fresno and Brazil. He died Thursday, June 25, in Brazil, according to his wife, Christina Motta. The cause of death was cancer.

I will follow up this quick post in the days to come with an appreciation of Fortner. For those who would like to be part of that appreciation, please email me (donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com) or leave a comment below.


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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

Comments (4)

  • Terry

    This saddens me so much. I was just talking to him a few weeks ago, looking for one of his scores in our collection. He was, as you said, a powerhouse – like the Energizer Bunny of contemporary music, I thought he would keep going forever. RIP, my friend

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  • Tom Ashworth

    Dr. Fortner was my Theory teacher at Fresno State when he invited me to perform with his new Orpheus chamber ensemble. I learned a great deal in his classes and the ensemble that served me well in my future career as a teacher and as a frequent performer with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. I will always remember Jack as a passionate and dedicated musician. He also played on a local hockey team and didn’t pull punches on the ice, either. He was definitely a hepster, and a lot of fun to be around. Rest in peace, Jack.

    Tom Ashworth
    Prof. of Trombone
    Univ. of Minnesota
    z.umn.edu/trombone

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  • Andrew Seigel

    This is sad news indeed. Dr. Fortner was an inspiration. I’m thankful for his description of me as a “more than just pencil-necked geek” in a (successful) recommendation letter for a Fulbright grant. He was a good composition teacher, an inspiring musician, and a kind human being.

    Dr. Andrew Seigel
    Prof. of Music (Clarinet)
    The State University of NY at Fredonia

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  • John S. Hord

    I am saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. Jack Fortner. I earned my Baccalaureate Degree in Music Composition under the tutelage of he and Dr. James Winter. Jack’s knowledge of the repertoire was vast. Vast because it covered so many genres, time periods and instrument combinations. It was a special time studying under him. I would go in with a particular question or problem and he would prescribe (what else for a Doctor to do) studying the scores to four or five pieces that seemed so unrelated at first. He was a walking thesaurus of instrument combinations. And, Orpheus has been such a blessing for the Fresno community. He also was a rough and tough hockey player. Occasionally, he would walk into class with a new set of cuts and bruises to his face. I would say “Did someone get out of line?” He would respond “Yeah. I had to take him into the boards.”

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