Hugh Wolff, one of the few American conductors to enjoy a truly international reputation, has become especially renowned for his advocacy of contemporary music. Wolff, born in Paris to American parents, received a thorough musical training; he pursued formal studies in piano, composition, and conducting, earning degrees from Harvard University and the Peabody Institute. He also had the opportunity to study composition with Olivier Messiaen and conducting with Charles Bruch in Paris.
Wolff's conducting career began in 1979, when he was appointed Exxon/Arts Endowment Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra; he served as associate conductor of that ensemble, then led by Mstislav Rostropovich, from 1982 to 1985. During that period he also served as music director of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic (1981-1986), his first such appointment. In 1985 became music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, a post he retained until 1992. From the 1980s to the present he has also appeared frequently as a guest conductor throughout the United States and Europe, including appearances with the Czech Philharmonic, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic, the English Chamber Orchestra, and the Israel Philharmonic.
Wolff came into new prominence through his association with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, which he led as principal conductor (1988-1991) and music director (1991-2000). During his tenure there, he recorded over 20 compact discs — more than those of any other conductor of the SPCO — of repertoire ranging from Vivaldi to Dvorak to Ravel to new works by young composers like Edgar Meyer. He also led the ensemble on a well-received European tour.
Between 1997 and 2006 Wolff served as chief conductor of the Radio Orchestra of Frankfurt. In 2001, his recordings of Antheil's Symphonies Nos. 1 & 6 and of Barber's and Meyer's violin concertos, with Hilary Hahn, won Cannes Classical awards.