He won the first prize in cello at the conservatoire when he was 16, and then he took harmony classes under Jean Gallon. In 1935 Tortelier joined the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, and played with them until 1937. He gave performances under Bruno Walter and Arturo Toscanini, and he also played the solo part in Richard Strauss' Don Quixote under the composer. This is a piece which became closely associated with Tortelier, as he gave many performances and recorded it. In 1939 he joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitsky. In 1947 he gave his British debut under Beecham, again performing Don Quixote. In 1950 Tortelier was selected by Casals to play as the principal cellist in the Prades Festival Orchestra. Although he was a Catholic, Tortelier was inspired by the ideals of the founders of the newly formed state of Israel in 1948, and in the year 1955 spent some time living with his wife and two children in the kibbutz Maabarot, near Netanya. He taught Jacqueline du Pré, though he was not her main teacher (that was William Pleeth). In the 1970s he gave a series of master classes which were recorded and broadcast on TV, which demonstrate his very dynamic style of playing. His son, Yan Pascal Tortelier, is an internationally known conductor, and his daughter Maria de la Pau is a pianist.
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