Identified early as a gifted musician, Andrew Litton trained in America and then established himself as an outstanding conductor in England before returning to the United States to assume the directorship of a major orchestra, the Dallas Symphony. As one of only a small handful of American-born, American-trained artists to hold an important podium position in the United States, Litton endured a greater-than-customary-degree of scrutiny. While few of his interpretations have been found definitive, his preparedness and high competence proved rewarding. He enjoyed the additional benefit of conducting in a remarkable concert hall and recording for a company that afforded him and his orchestra extraordinarily vivid sound. At New York's Juilliard School of Music, Litton studied conducting under Swedish maestro Sixten Ehrling and piano under Nadia Reisenberg. Demonstrating exceptional ability, he won the Bruno Walter Scholarship for further study with Edoardo Müller and Neeme Järvi and with Walter Weller in Austria. Winning the 1982 Rupert Foundation International Competition in England provided Litton a debut conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra later that same year and generous exposure to British audiences. Litton served first as associate conductor, than as assistant conductor under Mstislav Rostropovich with Washington's National Symphony Orchestra from 1982 to 1986. There, he learned much, especially from the man he describes as his "first and only boss." He gained numerous insights about Shostakovich from Rostropovich. Litton has expressed his belief that Shostakovich was the 20th century's great symphonist, capturing the struggles of living in modern times. After his years with the NSO, Litton conducted widely throughout the United States and Europe before being appointed principal conductor and artistic advisor of England's Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 1988. He remained there, earning high marks from English critics and the approval of English audiences while attracting worldwide attention through a series of recordings. In 1994, Litton was appointed music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra while becoming conductor laureate in Bournemouth. Meanwhile, Litton undertook several opera assignments, making his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1989 leading a production of Yevgeny Onegin. When the Glyndebourne Festival production of Porgy and Bess, originally conducted by Simon Rattle, was revived at Covent Garden in 1992, Litton was chosen to lead it. He also conducted performances of Salome and Falstaff for the English National Opera. His 1995 effort conducting the Bournemouth Symphony and featuring Bryn Terfel in a performance of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast won a Grammy.
In Dallas, Litton stepped into the comprehensive role played by an American music director with clear understanding of his responsibility for not only conducting stimulating performances, but also playing a key role in fundraising. He was there from 1994 to 2006 and his outgoing personality was an asset in meeting the people of the Dallas and convincing them that their orchestra is an enhancement central to a vital community. Litton pointed with some pride to an endowment increase over seven years from $19 million to $70 million. Under Litton, the Dallas Symphony became the first major orchestra to broadcast a live concert via the Internet. Litton expressed the belief that this medium can break down prejudices about concert works and afford listeners an opportunity to respond and comment immediately. He was enthused over critics no longer having the final word.
In 2003, he was appointed the music director of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he also toured Europe in 2011; and music director of the New York City Ballet Orchestra beginning in the 2015-16 season. Among Litton's recordings are discs devoted to Shostakovich, Mahler, Elgar, and Tchaikovsky.