He was born in Stuttgart into a musical family. He received his early training in Protestant seminaries in Württemberg. From 1952 to 1955, he studied organ, composition, and choral conducting at the Stuttgart College of Music. He completed his studies with Fernando Germani in Rome and at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena.
While still a student in 1954, he founded his first choir, the Gächinger Kantorei. Starting in 1957, he was organist and choirmaster at the Stuttgart Gedächtniskirche. From 1963 to 1966, he built up the Spandau Choir, while teaching organ and choral conducting.
In 1967 he studied with Leonard Bernstein in New York and that year was appointed professor of choral conducting at the State Music Academy in Frankfurt, in which post he continued until 1985.
In 1969, he took over as conductor of the Frankfurt Choir. Since 1965, he has conducted the Stuttgart Bach Collegium, which often performs with the Gächinger Kantorei. He has toured widely with both ensembles.
He is considered a leading expert on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries. He is the first person to have prepared and recorded the complete choral works of J.S. Bach (twice, in fact), a monumental task involving well over 1,000 pieces of music and spanning 170 compact discs. He is also considered an expert on romantic and classical choral and orchestral works, including the works of Johannes Brahms. In 1988 he conducted the world premiere of the Messa per Rossini.
Rilling is also the co-founder and artistic director of the Oregon Bach Festival.
In 2001 Rilling created the Festival Ensemble as the highlight of the European Music Festival Stuttgart. The FES consists of an international group of musicians aged 18-30 who come together for an intensive program of rehearsals, private lessons and performances of monumental musical works.
Since 2004 Rilling has been the Festival Conductor and Lecturer of the Toronto Bach Festival
In 2007, Helmuth Rilling conducted the closing performances for the annual Festival Miami at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida. Musical ensembles included the Frost Symphony Orchestra and combined choruses of the University of Miami Frost School of Music Chorale and Collegium Musicum. Frost School of Music conductors include Thomas Sleeper, Jo-Michael Scheibe, and Donald Oglesby.
CRANE SCHOOL OF MUSIC MARKS 125 YEARS WITH SPRING FESTIVAL FEATURING WORLD-RENOWNED CONDUCTOR HELMUTH RILLING
Apr 14, 2011; POTSDAM, N. Y., April 13 -- The State University of New York at Potsdam issued the following news release: SUNY Potsdam's Crane...