“Music should startle people and reach deep down inside them forcing them to reflect. It should never be merely ‘comfortable,’ never fossilized, never soothing.” This is Helmuth Rilling’s credo. Born in 1933 in Stuttgart, Mr. 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 Festvalensemble 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.
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. He has a special friendship dating back some 30 years with the Israel Philharmonic, and since 1970 has been the Artistic Director of the Oregon Bach Festival. Upcoming engagements in North America include performances with the National Symphony Orchestra as well as the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in a performance of Haydn’s The Creation at Carnegie Hall. He has recently appeared with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (where he has appeared annually as part of the Toronto International Bach Festival), the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, and in 2007 he led a choral workshop at Carnegie Hall that culminated in a performance of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. In January 2005, he led a highly acclaimed premiere of Robert Levin’s new completion of Mozart’s Mass in C Minor at Carnegie Hall.
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. 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 Krzystof Penderecki’s Credo and was again nominated in 2001 for his recording of Wolfgang Rihm’s Deus Passus.