Mortier has served as general director of La Monnaie/De Munt (Brussels) (1981–1991) and of the Salzburg Festival (1990–2001). He was a founding director of the Ruhr Triennale arts festival in Germany, and then he became general director of the Opéra National de Paris in 2004. He relinquished this post in 2009.
In February 2007, the New York City Opera (NYCO) named him their next general director, effective as of the 2009/2010 season. Mortier assisted with company operations from Paris during the interim period after his appointment was announced. Problems with fund-raising and a smaller-than-expected budget began to develop during the interim period after Mortier's appointment. At one point, there was controversy during this time over speculation that Mortier was campaigning for a position as co-artistic director of the Bayreuth Festival. In November 2008, by mutual agreement, Mortier and the NYCO agreed to terminate their contract, and that he would not become NYCO's general director.
Academic career and awards 
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- Professor of Communication Science, Ghent University, Belgium
- Honorary doctorate University of Antwerp, Belgium
- Honorary doctorate University of Salzburg, Austria
- National medal of honor from Belgium
- Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1991)
- French Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres
- Member of the Academy of Arts of Berlin
- Golden medal of the Círculo de Bellas Artes of Madrid
- John Rockwell (15 May 2003). "Tempting Audiences To German Rust Belt; Ruhr Triennale Flouts Tradition". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 November 2008.
- Daniel J. Wakin (28 February 2007). "City Opera Lures Director From Paris". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 November 2008.
- Daniel J. Wakin (7 November 2008). "Bold Impresario and City Opera Part Ways". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 November 2008.
- "El Teatro Real ficha a Gérard Mortier". El País. 26 November 2008. Retrieved 29 November 2008.