Hidden from small

Robert Mortensen: In the Spotlight

April 03, 2018

A Monthly Profile of Orchestra Fans and Family

When it comes to helping his beloved Philadelphia Orchestra, Board member Robert Mortensen likes the human touch. During intermissions at the Kimmel Center, armed with the knowledge of where a regular subscriber is sitting (courtesy of the Orchestra’s Development office), “I’ll go to them, introduce myself, and chat a bit on a broad range of subjects. It’s helped, especially in fundraising, or getting an additional gift.”

Of course, that’s not the only way Mortensen contributes to the Orchestra’s well-being. He sits on the Board’s Executive, Finance, and Development Committees, and he co-chairs the Maestro’s Circle Committee. He’s a generous donor as well.

Mortensen’s road to The Philadelphia Orchestra began at Rutgers, where he sang baritone in the mixed choir. In the early ’60s, Eugene Ormandy called on singers from Rutgers and several other colleges to perform Orff’s Carmina burana with the Orchestra. “We did a lot of hard work, line by line, until he was satisfied!”

Aside from music, another key element of Mortensen’s Rutgers education was ROTC. He graduated in 1963 as a second lieutenant and went on to serve in Vietnam, where he won the Bronze Star. (He remained in the Reserves for 28 years). After four years of active duty, he joined the New York Central Railroad as a management trainee. A series of mergers led him to relocate to Philadelphia, where, just shy of his 65th birthday, he retired after 30 years in the railroad business.

Getting involved on the Orchestra’s Board came naturally, given his musical background. He’s been a generous supporter of the music program at Rutgers (Robert E. Mortensen Hall is the first home of choral music at the school.) And it certainly helped that he was one of the original tenants at Academy House, right next door to the Academy of Music. The best part about serving on the Board? “Clearly, it’s my ability to support, at several levels, one of the greatest orchestras in the world.” A current challenge is building up the endowment, something he relishes. “I enjoy fundraising. I can make a cold call without much problem. We’ve gradually been able to add to our donor base, as well as get people to commit to increasingly larger annual gifts.”

One of his latest generous gifts: He endowed the Robert E. Mortensen Chair in the first violin section, currently held by Barbara Govatos. “I wanted to do something more for the Orchestra than just my annual gift. This is a long-term commitment to the Orchestra, and to its musicians.”

Mortensen’s message to others who’d like to contribute? “Everyone in this area has a positive attitude about The Philadelphia Orchestra. It is representative of this city and the U.S. when it goes on tour. It’s important for everyone to ensure that it survives and prospers. That includes both financial support and buying tickets and attending performances.”

Mortensen looks forward to his continued role as a Board member, including “trying to build that base of support, especially seeking people who’ll commit to an endowment gift.” And of course, you may meet him at intermission, dropping by for a friendly chat about his beloved Philadelphia Orchestra.