Born in Paris, Tortelier has worked and recorded extensively with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in Manchester — for whom he was Principal Conductor from 1992 to 2003. He also made an acclaimed recording of French music with the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber which included the cello concertos of Saint-Saens and Honegger for Universal Classics. He is also currently the Principal Guest Conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (NYOGB).
Tortelier served in the newly-created post of Principal Guest Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 2005 to 2008. He is currently the Principal Conductor of the Orquestra Sinfфnica do Estado de Sao Paulo (OSESP).