Helmuth Rilling (born 29 May 1933 in Stuttgart) is an internationally known German choral conductor, founder of the Gächinger Kantorei (1954), the Bach-Collegium Stuttgart (1965), the Oregon Bach Festival (1970), the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (1981) and other Bach Academies worldwide, and the "Festival Ensemble Stuttgart" (2001).
Rilling was born into a musical family. He received his early training at the 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 Spandauer Kantorei (Spandau Choir), and taught organ and choral conducting.
In 1967 he studied with Leonard Bernstein in New York and in the same year was appointed professor of choral conducting at the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts, a post which he held until 1985. In 1969, he took over as conductor of the Frankfurter Kantorei (Frankfurt Choir). Since 1965 he has conducted the Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, which often performs with the Gächinger Kantorei. He has toured widely with both ensembles.
He is well known for his performances of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries. He is the first person to have twice prepared and recorded (on modern instruments) the complete choral works of J. S. Bach, a monumental task involving well over 1,000 pieces of music - spanning 170 compact discs. He has also recorded many 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 that he also conducted at the Rheingau Musik Festival in 2001, where he has traditionally conducted the final concert.
Rilling is the co-founder and artistic director of the Oregon Bach Festival since 1970 and of the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart since 1981. In 2001 Rilling created the Festival Ensemble to be part of the European Music Festival Stuttgart ("Musikfest 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 larger musical works. Since 2004 Rilling has been the Festival Conductor and lecturer at the Toronto Bach Festival. In 2007, Helmuth Rilling conducted the closing performances for the annual Festival Miami at the University of 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.
Rilling's recording of Krzyztof Penderecki's Credo, commissioned and performed by the Oregon Bach Festival, won the 2001 Grammy Award for best choral performance. In 2008, Rilling was awarded the Sanford Award by the Yale School of Music at Yale University.