John Mauceri’s musical training began at the piano, studying under his grandfather, Baldassare Mauceri, who worked as a composer, teacher, and conductor. Mauceri attended Yale College, where he majored in music theory and composition. After a year at Yale's graduate school, Mauceri was appointed music director of the Yale Symphony Orchestra and remained on the faculty for 15 years. In 1978, at the request of Richard Rodgers, Mauceri laid the groundwork for the Department of Music Theater at New York University, which became one of the finest in the United States.
Mauceri's professional conducting career began in 1973 at the Wolf Trap Festival, with Gian Carlo Menotti's The Saint of Bleecker Street. From 1979 until 1991 he served as music director of the Kennedy Center orchestras, which included being music director for the Washington National Opera. Between 1987 until 1993, he served as music director of the Scottish Opera, after which Mauceri became the music director of the Teatro Regio, Torino (1995-1999). Mauceri was also music director of the Pittsburgh Opera (2001-2006).
Mauceri has made efforts to preserve and continue the American musical throughout his career. During his time at the Kennedy Center, Mauceri secured grants from the National Endowment for the Arts to restore 1930s and 1940s era Broadway scores. As a trustee for the National Institute for Music Theater, he pushed for cataloging of the surviving music of Kern, Berlin, Gershwin, Rodgers, Arlen, and Porter. In 1989, he was tasked by Leonore Gershwin to record the complete works of George and Ira Gershwin for the Library of Congress, which earned Mauceri an Edison award as well as the High Fidelity Magazine Record of the Year for the 1991 recording of Girl Crazy.
In 2006, Mauceri accepted the invitation to become chancellor of the University of North Carolina’s School of the Arts in Winston Salem, where he served until 2013.
Among the many prestigious awards through his storied career, Mauceri has received a Tony award in 1983 for Best Revival for On Your Toes and a Grammy award in 1987 for Best Opera Recording for Candide (1982 New York City Opera Cast).