Riccardo Chailly was born into a musical family in Milan. He studied at the conservatories in Perugia, Rome and Milan, specializing at the Siena summer courses with Franco Ferrara. At the age of 20 he became assistant conductor to Claudio Abbado at Milan's La Scala. He made his opera debut there in 1978 and was soon in great demand at the world's most important musical venues such as the Vienna State Opera, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, London's Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Bavarian State Opera and Zurich Opera. He has conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Munich Philharmonic, the Wiener Philharmoniker, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, The Cleveland Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and also appeared as guest conductor at the Salzburg Easter Festival and the Lucerne Festival.
From 1982 to 1989 Chailly was principal conductor of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, and from 1982 to 1985 principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. From 1986 to 1993 he led the Teatro Comunale of Bologna where he conducted many highly successful opera productions. He made his debut with the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam in 1985, later being appointed their chief conductor in 1986 and Conductor Emeritus in 2002. He toured extensively with the orchestra, appearing at major European festivals such as Vienna and the BBC Proms, to the USA, Canada, Japan, South America, China, Korea and Taiwan. He was Music Director of the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi from 1999 to 2005, and in September 2005 he became chief conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra and also Music Director of the Leipzig Opera.
Chailly's repertoire ranges from the great classical symphonic and operatic works to those of the present day. His recordings have been crowned with numerous awards, including the Edison, Echo and Gramophone awards, the Diapason d'or, the Academy Charles Cross Award, the Japanese Unga Knonotomo Award, the Toblacher Komponierhäuschen, the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik and several Grammy® nominations. He was also chosen as "Artist of the Year" by the French magazine Diapason and the British magazine Gramophone.
Further awards include his being named Grand'Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana and being made an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1996. In 1998 he was knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and also given the title of Cavaliere di Gran Croce della Repubblica Italiana. In 2003 he received the Antonio Feltrinelli Award by the Accedemia Nazionale dei Lincei of Rome for his work as a conductor in Italy.
Riccardo Chailly is an exclusive Decca recording artist. 2005 saw his first release as conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra with the live recording of his inaugural concert from the concert hall featuring works by Mendelssohn. Other recordings with this orchestra include the Brahms Piano Concertos with Nelson Freire (2007 Classic FM Gramophone Award as "Record of the Year" and "Winner of the Concerto Category", Diapason d'or, Grand Prix de l'Académie Charles Cros and Choc du Monde de la musique as well as a Grammy® nomination), Violin Concertos by Mendelssohn and Bruch with Janine Jansen (Echo Award 2007), Schumann's Symphonies in the orchestral revision by Mahler (the release with nos. 2 & 4 won an Echo Award 2007) and Mendelssohn Discoveries: the Piano Concerto no. 3 with Roberto Prosseda (world-premiere recording of the reconstruction by Marcello Bufalini), the "Humboldt" Cantata, the "Scottish" Symphony and "The Hebrides" Overture. Within the Decca Concerts Series, which is only available for digital download, Schumann's Piano Concerto (with Martha Argerich) and Symphony no. 4 were released in 2006, followed by Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony and Brahms's Fourth Symphony in 2008 - all with the Gewandhaus Orchestra. 2010 sees the release of three Bach large-scale masterpieces: the Brandenburg Concertos, the St. Matthew Passion and the Christmas Oratorio.