Michael Schønwandt is one of the leading conductors of Scandinavia. He frequently appears on recordings on the Marco Polo-Dacapo and Chandos labels, and conducts throughout Europe with frequent appearances in America. Schønwandt was educated at Copenhagen University and went on for higher studies at the Royal Academy of Music from 1975 to 1977. The year he left the Academy he made his conducting debut in Copenhagen. After his initial appearance with the Royal Danish Opera in 1979 he began attracting international attention. He became the principal conductor of the Collegium Musicum of Copenhagen in 1981.
In 1984 he made his first appearance on the podium of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden conducting I Capuleti ed I Montecchi. His American debut was with the San Francisco Opera in 1992 in the original version of Verdi's Don Carlos. He was appointed principal conductor of the Danish National Radio Orchestra in 1989 and principal conductor of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra in 1992. He has an extensive discography. These include the complete symphonies of Gade, made with the Collegium Musicum of Copenhagen, of Weyse with the Royal Danish Orchestra, the Berlioz Requiem and Schumann's Manfred and two of his symphonies with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. He has made numerous recordings of Danish music with composers from Lange-Müller, Kuhlau, Gade, and Hartmann through Nielsen to Schierbeck and Poul Ruders. His recording of Strauss' opera Salome was nominated the 1999 Gramophone Award as best Twentieth Century Opera Recording of the Year, and his Dacapo recording of the Nielsen First and Sixth symphonies received the Danish Music Award 2000.
In 2006, he conducted a Ring cycle at the Royal Opera in Copenhagen and his later recordings included The Very Best of Rachmaninov (2008) and J.P.E. Hartmann: The Key Masterpieces (2009) for Dacapo.