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The Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Awards

Dr. Donald Portnoy

2015 Individual Award

Donald PortnoyDr. Donald Portnoy of Columbia is currently the music director and conductor of the University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestra and director of the Conductor’s Institute of South Carolina, Dr. Portnoy’s career has had a profound impact on the arts in South Carolina, regionally and nationally. He has brought music to countless audience members and powered the dreams and aspirations of students to achieve their own individual goals.


Portnoy was born in Philadelphia and earned a B.S. (violin) from the Juilliard School, a M.M. (musicology) from Catholic University and a D.M.A. (violin) from Peabody Conservatory. He served in the United States Marine Corps and was a violinist in the USMC Chamber Orchestra, part of the “President’s Own” Marine Band, the oldest professional musical organization in the United States. He began his teaching career in 1959 at West Virginia University. He held posts as conductor of the United States Chamber Opera, Columbia (S.C.) Lyric Opera, music director and conductor of the Pittsburgh Opera Theater, Pittsburgh Civic Symphony, and the Augusta Symphony. He has conducted extensively in Europe, Asia and South America.


In 1986, Portnoy accepted the Ira McKissick Endowed Chair for the Fine Arts at the University of South Carolina, with a goal of strengthening the university’s orchestral program. He brought with him the Conductor’s Institute he had founded at West Virginia. Today the USC Symphony presents seven concerts each season in the Koger Center for the Arts in Columbia. These concerts attract major guest artists, and graduates of the program populate local, regional and national orchestras. The world-renowned Conductor’s Institute attracts participants from around the globe, many of whom now conduct some of the world’s finest orchestras. Portnoy created the Piccolo Spoleto Festival Orchestra, which offers free outdoor concerts during the run of the popular festival. He is also music director and conductor of the Brevard, N.C. Philharmonic. In 2004 he was awarded the acclaimed Ditson’s Conductor’s Award at Columbia University. It is the oldest award honoring conductors for their commitment to the performance of American music, placing Portnoy among such other honorees as Leopold Stokowski, Robert Shaw, Leonard Bernstein, James Levine and Eugene Ormandy.