The Italian conductor, Riccardo Chailly, was born in a musical family. He studied composition with his father, Luciano Chailly. He studied at the music conservatories in Perugia and Milan. He later studied conducting at the Siena summer courses with Franco Ferrara. In his youth, he also played the drums in a rhythm-and-blues band.
At age 20, Riccardo Chailly became assistant conductor to Claudio Abbado at La Scala. He made his conducting debut there in 1978 and was soon in great demand, making appearances at the Vienna State Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Salzburg Festival, and the Bavarian State Opera.
Riccardo Chailly started his career as an opera conductor and gradually extended his repertoire to encompass symphonic music. From 1982 to 1988, he was chief conductor of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and from 1983 to 1986 principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. From 1986 to 1993, he led the Teatro Comunale of Bologna, where he conducted many greatly successful opera productions..
Riccardo Chailly made his debut with the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam in 1985. From 1988 to 2004, he was chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (KCO), where he dedicated himself to performances of the standard symphonic tradition, notably Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler, with which the orchestra made its name but also significantly broadened the repertoire with 20th century and contemporary music. Among notable projects, he led the 1995 Mahler Festival that celebrated the 100th anniversary of G. Mahler's first concert at the Concertgebouw. He also conducted opera in Amsterdam, both at the KCO's annual Christmas Matinee concert as well as at De Nederlandse Opera, where he bade his operatic farewell to Amsterdam with a production of Giuseppe Verdi's Don Carlo. One report stated that Chailly decided in 2002 to leave the KCO when, at his last contract negotiations, the orchestra offered him an extension for two years rather than five. However, in 2002 he was appointed conductor emeritus of the KCO.
From September 1999 to 2005 Riccardo Chailly was the Musical Director of the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi. In 1986, he conducted the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig for the first time, at the Salzburg Festival, after Herbert von Karajan had introduced Chailly to the orchestra. In August 2005, he became the chief conductor of the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and general music director (GMD) of Oper Leipzig. His initial Leipzig contract was through 2010. In May 2008, he extended his contract with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig to 2015. However, he resigned as GMD of the Oper Leipzig, reportedly after conflict over the hiring of personnel without his consultation.
Riccardo Chailly is a conductor whose activities range from the symphonic to the operatic repertoire. He conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Wiener Philharmoniker, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, the London Symphony Orchestra, and Orchestra and the Orchestre de Paris. In the USA, he has been guest conductor at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra. He has recorded an album of Dmitri Shostakovich with the Philadelphia Orchestra, titled "Shostakovich: The Dance Album" and Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps with the Cleveland Orchestra. However, his appearances as a guest conductor have been very rare for a number of years.
Riccardo Chailly has also performed at the world's most famous opera houses, including La Scala in Milan (where he made his debut in 1978), the Vienna State Opera, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Royal Opera and Covent Garden in London (1979 debut), the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and the Zürich Opera. In 1984, he opened the Salzburg Festival, where he also conducted the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1988, 1996 and 1998. He also conducted at the city's Easter Festival.
Riccardo Chailly led the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam in numerous tours to the main European festivals (Salzburg, Lucerne, Vienna Festwochen, and London Proms) as well as to Japan, Korea, China, and North and South America. In 2001 he returned to conduct the Berliner Philharmoniker. In 2002 he led the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi in his first European tour, in France, Spain, Portugal and Switzerland, and in 2003 in Japan and Bruxelles, both with great success of critics and audience. In January 2004 he toured with the Orchestra to the Festival de Musica de Canarias. In May 2005 he led the Orchestra on a European tour to Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, Germany, Austria and Hungary.
In 1994 Riccardo Chailly was entitled Grand'Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana, and was made an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1996. During the 10th anniversary as chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in November 1998, he was knighted by Queen Beatrix, receiving the title of 'Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion.' In Italy he was entitled, also in 1998, ‘Cavaliere di gran Croce della Repubblica Italiana’. In 2003 he received the “Antonio Feltrinelli” award by the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei of Rome, for his work as conductor in Italy. In November 2005 he was awarded his second Toblacher Komponierhauschen and the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik by Germany.
Riccardo Chailly has an exclusive contract with Decca. He has recorded a broad repertoire on CD, including complete cycles of the symphonies of G. Mahler and Anton Bruckner. His recordings won many prizes, including Gramophone Awards, Diapasons d'Or, Edisons, the Academy Charles Cross Award, the Japanese Unga Knonotomo Award, the Toblacher Komponierhäuschen and several Grammy Nominations. Recently he was declared 'Artist of the year' by two important magazines, the French magazine Diapason and the British magazine Gramophone. With the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi he has recorded several CD's, including a new recording of orchestra transcriptions by Luciano Berio. September 2005 saw his first release as Kapellmeister of the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig with a live recording of his inaugural concert from the Gewandhaus itself feaworks by Felix Mendelssohn. Recent projects include Johannes Brahms Piano Concertos nos 1 & 2 with Nelson Freire in Spring 2006 and the F. Mendelssohn and Bruch Violin Concertos with Janine Jansen in Autumn 2006 - both are with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. He has also led recordings of the Robert Schumann symphonies in the re-orchestrations by G. Mahler. In April 2009, he gave with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig concerts of J.S. Bach’s Matthäus-Passion (BWV 244) at both the Gewandhaus in Leipzig and the Barbican in London. The Leipzig concerts are planned to be released on CD by Decca.
Riccardo Chailly has a daughter, Luana, by his first marriage to Anahi Carfi, and a stepson from his second marriage to Gabriella Terragni, his current wife.