»Music should never be merely comfortable, never fossilized, never soothing. It should startle people and reach deep down inside them, forcing them to reflect.«
Helmuth Rilling, born in 1933 in Stuttgart, is acclaimed worldwide as a conductor, pedagogue and Bach scholar. In 1954, he founded the internationally recognized Gächinger Kantorei choir, which joined forces with the Bach Collegium Stuttgart as its regular orchestral partner eleven years later. It was at this time that Professor Rilling began his intensive work with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Rilling has both fervently advocated neglected choral music of the Romantic period and promoted contemporary music by regularly commissioning and performing pieces by key composers of our time. He has toured across Europe, the United States, Canada, Asia and South America, either as guest conductor or with his own ensembles. Maestro Rilling has collaborated with the world’s first-class orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic or Japanese NHK-Symphony Orchestra.
Over the last 30 years a special friendship has developed with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom Professor Rilling has performed in more than 100 concerts.
He is co-founder and Artistic Director of the Oregon Bach Festival, which since its inception in 1970 has become one of America’s most prestigious music festivals. In 1981, he established the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart, which initially focused on the promotion of J.S. Bach’s music and in the course of time grew into an exceptional institution that excels not only in its ensembles (Gaechinger Kantorei and Bach-Collegium Stuttgart) but devotes considerable resources to education and outreach through master classes, symposia and children’s programmes.
Working with young musicians from around the globe has always been a central focus of Rilling’s work. As part of a project of the Bach Academy Stuttgart, from 2001 -2009 he worked with the Festivalensemble Stuttgart, which led to the foundation of the Young Stuttgart Bach-Ensemble in 2011. Through his worldwide network of Bach Academies, Rilling offers workshops for students across the globe. Maestro Rilling recently conducted concerts in education projects in Japan, USA, Taiwan, Spain and Italy, with his own "Bach Ensemble Helmuth Rilling" he looks forward to perform Bach's major works in Germany and Russia.
Helmuth Rilling’s inexhaustible, creative activity is documented in hundreds of CD, radio and television productions. He was the first to record all of the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach, and was the initiator of the International Bachakademie’s critically acclaimed project to record Bach’s complete works, released on 172 CDs during the Bach anniversary year in 2000. In the same year, Rilling won the coveted Grammy Award for his recording of Krzysztof Penderecki´s Credo, and was again nominated in 2001 for his recording of Wolfgang Rihm´s Deus Passus. Recent recordings include works by 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 of Britten’s War Requiem (Editor's Choice Award of the British Gramophone Magazine), the Messiah by Sven-David Sandström, which Rilling commissioned, and Verdi’s Requiem. His recording of Honegger’s Joan of Arc has been published in 2013.
Helmuth Rilling received the UNESCO International Music Prize in 1994, and the Theodor Heuss Taten der Versöhnung (Deeds of Reconciliation) prize the following year. In 2003, he became an Honorary Member of the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences, and 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.
In November 2011 Maestro Rilling was awarded the prestigious Herbert von Karajan Music prize in Baden-Baden (the previous year’s recipient had been Daniel Barenboim). Helmuth Rilling was honoured for his unique lifetime engagement with Johann Sebastian Bach as well as his teaching activities around the world. In October 2013 Prof. Rilling received the ECHO Klassik live achievement award by the German Phono Academy.