Born in Berlin, Christoph von Dohnányi began to study law in Munich. After two years he chose to join the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München to study composition, piano and conducting. Upon graduating, he was awarded the Richard Strauss Prize for conducting by the City of Munich and continued to study with his grandfather, Ernst von Dohnányi, at Florida State University.
In 1953 Christoph von Dohnányi was hired as repetiteur and conductor at Oper Frankfurt by Sir Georg Solti. At the age of 27 he moved to Lübeck where he became Germany’s youngest General Music Director, before becoming GMD at Staatstheater Kassel and then Chief Conductor of the WDR Sinfonieorchester in Cologne. From 1968 he served as GMD in Frankfurt and, from 1972, as Director of the Oper Frankfurt. He was Intendant and Chief Conductor of the Hamburgische Staatsoper from 1977-1984. In Frankfurt and Hamburg he aimed to balance traditional opera productions with innovative music theatre.
In December 1981 Christoph von Dohnányi first conducted The Cleveland Orchestra. He was Music Director Designate from 1982 to 1984 and served as its sixth Music Director from September 1984 to August 2002, becoming the orchestra’s first Music Director Laureate. During Dohnányi’s tenure, they toured extensively around the US, Asia and Europe, performing concerts for the Salzburg Festival, BBC Proms and Edinburgh Festival, and were in residence at Carnegie Hall, New York for a number of years. In 1998, they performed in China for the first time in the orchestra’s history. His many recordings with the orchestra include the complete symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann, and Wagner’s Die Walküre and Das Rheingold, selected symphonies by Bruckner, Mahler, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak and works by Ives, Ruggles, Shostakovich, Richard Strauss, Schubert and Webern. During Dohnányi’s tenure as Music Director, Severance Hall, The Cleveland Orchestra’s home, was renovated and extended to bring back the Norton Memorial Organ, one of America’s biggest instruments, into the musical life of Cleveland. He initiated the foundation of The Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra as well as the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus.
A regular guest conductor at Zurich’s Opera House since the early 1990s, he has led new productions of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, Salome, Elektra, Die schweigsame Frau and Die Frau ohne Schatten, Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, Mozart’s Idomeneo and a double bill of Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle/Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex and Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron.
He held the position of Conseiller musicale et Premier chef invité of L’Orchestre de Paris from 1998-2000 and became Chief Conductor of the NDR Symphony Orchestra in 2004, a post he held for 6 years. As a guest he has been invited to lead new productions at ROH Covent Garden, Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Oper and was in residence with Philharmonia Orchestra at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.
Christoph von Dohnányi conducted the Wiener Philharmoniker in concerts in Vienna, at the Salzburg Festival and at the Vienna State Opera. His extensive discography with the Wiener Philharmoniker includes Fidelio, Wozzeck, Lulu, Erwartung, Salome, Der fliegende Holländer and symphonic works by Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky. He has recorded the violin concertos of Glass and Schnittke with Gidon Kremer, Dvořák’s Piano Concerto with András Schiff and orchestral transcriptions by Gustav Mahler of chamber music by Beethoven and Brahms. As a regular guest at the Salzburg Festival, Christoph von Dohnányi has led the Wiener Philharmoniker in several new opera productions including Der Rosenkavalier, Salome, Così fan tutte, Die Zauberflöte, Erwartung, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and Ariadne auf Naxos, as well as the world premières of Henze’s Die Bassariden and Cerha’s Baal.
This season’s engagements include invitations to conduct the season opening concerts with Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala and concerts at Leipzig Gewandhaus, Tonhalle- Orchester Zürich, Boston Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, L’Orchestre de Paris and Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Christoph von Dohnányi will also take up a guest teaching post at the Julliard School, New York, from the 2012/13 academic year.