The Kennedy Center

Helmuth Rilling


Born in 1933 in Stuttgart, Helmuth Rilling is active as a conductor, pedagogue, and an ambassador for the music of J. S. Bach worldwide.

In 1954 Helmuth Rilling founded the Gächinger Kantorei and 11 years later in 1965, he founded the Bach Collegium Stuttgart as the choir's regular orchestral partner. Ever since, Mr. Rilling has been intensely involved with the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and has felt a strong link to this composer's works. In addition, Mr. Rilling has been a fervent advocate of "neglected" romantic choral music as well as commissioning and performing contemporary choral music. In 2000, he led the critically acclaimed premiere of Passions composed by Wolfgang Rihm, Sofia Gubaidulina, Osvaldo Golijov, and Tan Dun.

Inspired by his devotion to Bach, in 1981 Mr. Rilling founded the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart dedicated to furthering the music of J. S. Bach through public concerts, master classes for singers and conductors, symposia, and residencies all over the world, in addition to special annual projects such as the Bach Week Stuttgart and the European Music Festival Stuttgart. Of special importance to Mr. Rilling is the encouragement of young musicians and in 2001 he founded the Festivalensemble Stuttgart. This ensemble, consisting of choir and orchestra, draws on the participation of talented young musicians from 25 different countries.

Combining the roles of pedagogue and conductor, Mr. Rilling has devised a system of "lecture concerts" in which he says he "peers over the composer's shoulder" as he explains to the audience certain aspects of a composer's work by means of musical examples. He has recently led such concerts with the orchestras of the University of Miami, Dartmouth College, and Yale University. He also continues to present workshops throughout the world.

Either together with his house ensembles in Stuttgart or as a guest conductor, Mr. Rilling is active on the international concert podium, performing regularly throughout Europe, US, and Canada. 2011 included his first tour of China with the Gächinger Kantorei and the Bach Collegium Stuttgart. He has a special friendship dating back some 30 years with the Israel Philharmonic, and has been the Artistic Director of the Oregon Bach Festival since 1970. Recent engagements in North America include the Symphony orchestras of Dallas, Chicago, and Nashville, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the National Symphony, the Orchestra of St. Luke's in a performance of Haydn's The Creation at Carnegie Hall and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (where he has appeared annually as part of the Toronto International Bach Festival), the New York Philharmonic with the Gächinger Kantorei, and the American Choral Directors' Association's conference where he continues to be a regular guest.

As a testament to his inexhaustible activity are hundreds of CD, radio, and TV recordings. From 1970 to 1984, Mr. Rilling was the first musician to record all of Bach's Cantatas (Hänssler Classic). Furthermore, his was the guiding hand behind the Internationale Bachakademie's critically-acclaimed project to record the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach (172 CDs) for Hänssler Classic which was released in 2000 to coincide with the 250th Anniversary of Bach's death. Recent recordings include works of Haydn, Händel, and Gubaidulina (The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ according to St. John, "Echo Klassik" Award in 2008), as well as a live recording with the 2007 Festival Ensemble Stuttgart of Britten's War Requiem ("Editor's Choice Award" of the British Gramophone Magazine), Sven-David Sandström's Messiah, and Verdi's Requiem.

The many prizes Helmuth Rilling has received include the UNESCO International Music Prize in 1994 and the Theodor Heuss Prize in 1995. In 2003 he became an Honorary Member of the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences. He won a coveted Grammy Award in 2000 for his recording of Krzysztof Penderecki's Credo and was again nominated in 2001 for his recording of Wolfgang Rihm's Deus Passus. In 2008 on the occasion of his 75th birthday he was awarded the Staufer Gold Medal, the highest award of the State of Baden-Württemberg. Most recently (2011), he was awarded the prestigious Herbert von Karajan Music Prize from the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden.

March 2012
Helmuth Rilling

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