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Tony Woodcock, president of the New England Conservatory , plans to step down at the end of the academic year, leaving a position he has held since 2007, the conservatory announced Friday.

Woodcock said his decision to leave the prestigious center of music performance and education was “bittersweet.”

In a letter to the conservatory board, Woodcock said the Fenway school “needs a different type of leader as its president.”

“The pressure to balance budgets in the face of scholarship demand and changes in philanthropic support, especially in the years that followed the world’s economic financial collapse, tests every one of us in ways, frankly, I never imagined when I took the reins at NEC,’’ he wrote.

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Among the conservatory’s undertakings is the construction of a Student Life and Performance Center,” scheduled for completion in 2017. Plans call for the center to include student residences, a state-of-the-art library, and an opera studio.

“I am, after all, a musician, and I see NEC first through this prism,’’ Woodcock wrote. “I feel strongly that it is time for me to return to my roots . . . and find an outlet where my creative, teaching, and musical talents are better tapped.”

He previously was president of the Minnesota Orchestra.

The board said it would immediately begin looking for a successor. Ken Burnes, its chairman, praised Woodcock’s accomplishments, including overseeing a campus overhaul and presiding over the rise of the conservatory’s stature among music schools “not just in this country, but worldwide.”

Founded in 1867, the conservatory bills itself as the oldest independent school of music in the country. With an enrollment of about 750, it offers a range of professional music training for undergraduate and graduate students.

Trisha Thadani can be reached at trisha.thadani@globe.com