The Austrian cellist and conductor, Heinrich Schiff, began playing piano when he was 6, and took up cello at the age of 10. His major teachers with Tobias Kühne and André Navarra, with whom he shares the qualities of a lean, centered, yet singing tone and a lyrical approach to the instrument.studied cello with Tobias Kühne and André Navarra. He studied conducting with Hans Swarowsky, one of the great conducting teachers of the time.
Heinrich Schiff made his debut as a cellist in Vienna and London in 1971 at the age of 20. Since then he was a regular guest of all leading orchestras, at the big music centers and at the major festivals in Europe, North America and Japan. He played with such great conductors as Claudio Abbado, Sergiu Celibidache, Riccardo Chailly, Colin Davis, Christoph von Dohnányi, Christoph Eschenbach, Michael Gielen, Bernard Haitink, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Mariss Jansons, Kurt Masur, Simon Rattle, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Klaus Tennstedt and Franz Welser-Möst.
Apart from all the principal works of the standard repertoire, contemporary music plays an important role in Heinrich Schiff's artistic work. He frequently collaborates with composers such as Luciano Berio, John Casken, Friedrich Cerha, Michael Gielen, Hans Werner Henze, Ernst Krenek, Witold Lutosławski, Krzysztof Penderecki, Matthias Pintscher, Wolfgang Rihm and Hans Zender. He premiered works of Friedrich Cerha, Hans Werner Henze, Luciano Berio, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Ernst Krenek. Composers who have written cello concertos for Schiff include John Casken and Friedrich Cerha. At the Salzburg Festival 2006 he performed Johannes Maria Staud's new composition (Segue) with Daniel Barenboim and the Wiener Philharmoniker. With the latter he also gave the premiere of Otto M. Zykan's cello concerto Beethovens Cello (conductor: Zubin Mehta).
After a highly acclaimed tour across Europe with the pianist Till Fellner, Heinrich Schiff appeared in recitals with the pianist Leif Ove Andsnes in the 2008-2009 season. He regularly appears in duo recitals with the pianists Polina Leschenko and Martin Helmchen and frequently performs the J.S. Bach solo suites. At the Salzburg Easter Festival 2008 he appeared as soloist with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Sir Simon Rattle, performing Dvorák's cello concerto. In June 2008 he appeared with the Alban Berg Quartet on their farewell tour with Schubert's String Quintet C Major, in July with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Alan Gilbert with Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1st Cello Concerto. In August 2008, together with Frank Peter Zimmermann and Christian Zacharias, he was guest at the major European summer festivals.
After building a career as one of the finest cellists to emerge in the last quarter of the 20th century, Heinrich Schiff also established himself as an important orchestra conductor. He made his professional debut as a conductor in 1986. He conducted several leading orchestras of the world, including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, Houston Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra (London), Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Münchner Philharmoniker, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, and Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich. He began conducting opera at the Theatre le Monnaie in Brussels with Die Zauberflöte in December 1992, and Fidelio in September 1993, and Der fliegende Holländer at the Bern Stadttheater in 1994. He was Principal Guest Conductor of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen from 1990 to 1992, and was Artistic Director of the Northern Sinfonia (in England) from 1990 to 1996 and recorded with them for the NMC label. Since 1990, he was Guest Conductor of Brucknerorchester Linz. He was Principal Conductor of the Northern Sinfonia from 1996 to 1999 (or 2000). From 1995 to 2001 he was Principal Conductor of the Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur, and in 1998 he became Principal Guest Conductor of the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart. In 2004, he was appointed Chief Conductor of the Wiener Kammerorchester and served in the post from 2005 to 2008. He stood down from the post in 2008 for health reasons.
In the 1980’s Heinrich Schiff began recording extensively. He released recordings of the main cello repertoire, ranging from Vivaldi and Haydn to Witold Lutoslawski and Bernd Alois Zimmermann. His set of complete J.S. Bach Suites won many recording prizes, and his performance of both Dmitri Shostakovich concertos, with the composer's son Maxim Shostakovich conducting, won the Grand Prix du Disque and was found by the Stevenson Classical CD Guide to be the single classical compact disc in its survey that received the largest number of rave reviews from the English-speaking world's music critics. He won the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis for the Frank Peter Zimmermann's Double Concerto, in which he partnered with Frank Peter Zimmermann under the baton of Wolfgang Sawallisch. He recorded, among others, the Dvořák’s Cello Concerto (Wiener Philharmoniker with André Previn) and the Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto (Berliner Philharmoniker with Bernard Haitink). There was also widespread critical acclaim for the complete L.v. Beethoven works for cello and piano with Till Fellner, released in 2000. His most recent releases include a recording with Frank Peter Zimmermann (duos from J.S. Bach to Ravel).
Heinrich Schiff played the famous "Mara" Stradivarius made in 1711 and "Sleeping Beauty" made by Montagnana in Venice in 1739. Among his students were Rudi Spring, Jan Vogler, Gautier Capuçon, Richard Harwood and Natalie Clein.