The Austrian violinist and conductor, Thomas Zehetmair, began violin lessons at 5 with his parents, both talented violinists. His advanced studies were at the Salzburg Mozarteum under his father, Helmut. His festival debut was at age 16. He took further instruction on the violin from Nathan Milstein and Max Rostal.
Thomas Zehetmair worked busily at establishing an international reputation throughout the 1980’s, and by 1990 was regularly appearing to acclaim at major concert venues from New York to Berlin to Tokyo.. He has fashioned a highly successful and broadly eclectic career. He is a virtuoso violinist of international repute; a chamber player who has founded his own critically acclaimed quartet; a conductor of front-rank status; and a musician whose repertory in any role reaches from Baroque-era fare, particularly J.S. Bach, up through Mozart, Haydn, L.v. Beethoven, Robert Schumann, and Johannes Brahms, and extending to Béla Bartók, Arnold Schoenberg, and Alban Berg, as well as to contemporary composers like (oboist/composer) Heinz Holliger, Valentin Silvestrov, Isang Yun, and Wilhelm Killmayer. In the concertos of W.A. Mozart, J. Haydn, L.v. Beethoven, and other pre-modern composers, Zehetmair often provides his own cadenzas, and in these works and those of J.S. Bach he frequently appears as soloist while conducting the orchestra. He also employs certain historic performance practices in early works, having studied such details with Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
In 1994, Thomas Zehetmair formed a string quartet which bears his name. The Zehetmair Quartet performs all works entirely from memory, and learns one new programme a year. Zehetmair has made several recordings for ECM, both as soloist and with his quartet. In the chamber realm he has collaborated with world-class musicians like pianists Alfred Brendel, Cyprien Katsaris and Pedro Burmester, harpsichordist Zsuzsa Pertis, and violinist Gidon Kremer, and violist Peter Langgartner.
As a soloist Thomas Zehetmair has appeared with the leading orchestras across the globe, including the Berliner Philharmoniker, Wiener Philharmoniker; Dresden Staatskapelle, NHK (Tokyo) Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, and Philadelphia Orchestra; and Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Thomas Zehetmair later developed a parallel career in conducting. As a conductor he has led mainly chamber ensembles. In 1993 he took on his first conducting post when he became co-director of the Camerata Bern. In November 2001, he was named Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Northern Sinfonia in England, his first conducting post, starting with the 2002-2003 season, for an initial contract of 3 years and 6 weeks of concerts each season. In August 2005, he extended his contract for another 3 years through 2008. He continues as the orchestra's music director as of the 2008-2009 season and recently confirmed his commitment to Northern Sinfoniauntil 2014. He is also Artistic Partner of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in Minnesota, a position that includes regular conducting. From the 2012-2013 season he takes up his position as Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris (formerly Ensemble Orchestral de Paris).
Concert tours with the Northern Sinfonia have led Thomas Zehetmair to the Hong Kong Festival, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Germany. Furthermore, Zehetmair and the Northern Sinfonia have released the following successful recordings for Avie Records: J. Brahms’ Violin concerto and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 with Zehetmair in double function as soloist and conductor, a disc of Sibelius’ Symphonies 3 and 6, Igor Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, a CD of Schubert’s Symphony No. 6 and Gál’s Symphony No. 1, and most recently L.v. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Gal’s Symphony No. 2. On the NMC label he has recorded a CD entitled ‘Unknown Britten’ with Northern Sinfonia and Sandrine Piau.
Thomas Zehetmair has appeared as a guest conductor with such orchestras as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Berliner Philharmoniker, Wiener Philharmoniker, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Hungarian National Orchestra, National Philharmonic Orchestra Warsaw, Hallé Orchestra (Manchester), Camerata Salzburg, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Bayerischer Rundfunk Symphonieorchester (Munich), Konzerthausorchester Berlin and the Orchestre National de Lyon.
His 2012-2013 season includes concerts with Nederlands Symfonie Orkest, Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra, Tonkünstler Orchestra Vienna and Bamberger Symphoniker. As violinist Thomas Zehetmair will appear at the most renowned European music centres including a residency at Salzburg Festival, which includes the world premiere of the Double Concerto for violin & viola by Heinz Holliger, a performance with the Wiener Philharmoniker, a solo recital and a concert with the Zehetmair Quartet.
Thomas Zehetmair has made numerous recordings spread over a variety of labels, including EMI, Philips, Teldec, Warner Classics, Avie, Berlin Classics, and others. He has recorded nearly the entire violin repertoire and a number of his CD’s have been multiply decorated. His latest CD releases include B.A. Zimmermann’s “Canto di speranza” with the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln under Heinz Holliger (“Diapason d’Or de l’Année”), the 24 Capricci by Paganini (honory list of the German Record Critics’ Award, Midem Classic Award 2010), Edward Elgar’s Violin concerto with the Hallé Orchestra under Mark Elder (Gramophone Award 2010) as well as Mozart’s Violin concertos with the Orchestra of the 18th Century under Frans Brüggen, referred to as a reference recording. Most recently, in March 2011, ECM published the recording “Manto and Madrigal” on which Thomas Zehetmair and his duo partner Ruth Killius explore modern and contemporary repertoire for violin and viola. Among Zehetmair's later recordings are the 2005 Berlin Classics CD of Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons, with the Camerata Bern, and the 2007 Avie recording of the Robert Schumann’s Fourth Symphony and J. Brahms’ Violin Concerto, where Zehetmair appears with the Northern Sinfonia both as soloist (in the J. Brahms) and conductor.
In 2005, Thomas Zehetmair was honoured with the German Record Critics’ Award for his versatile artistic work as soloist, conductor and chamber musician. In 2007, he was awarded the Karl-Böhm Interpretation Award of the Austrian State Steiermark during a ceremony at Graz Castle. The laudation was presented by Heinz Holliger. He holds honorary doctorates from the Music Academy Franz Liszt in Weimar and Newcastle University, UK. He is married to the violist Ruth Killius, who is also a member of the Zehetmair Quartet.