Ole Schmidt is a composer, conductor, pianist, teacher, and provocateur. During a career of more than forty years he has cut a versatile figure on the Danish music scene. Schmidt was born in Copenhagen in 1928. He started out after the war as a self-taught jazz pianist, earning money by playing in restaurants and at gymnastics classes for women. In 1948 he began to study the piano at the Royal Danish Academy of Music while continuing to play jazz, and after that he studied conducting at the same time as enrolling in what was then a newly-started composition programme at the Academy.
His teachers of composition and theory included outstanding names like Vagn Holmboe, Finn Høffding, Jörgen Jersild, and Niels Viggo Bentzon. Schmidt made his official debut as a composer in 1955, but prior to that he had made a reputation in Denmark with several works. A Piano Concerto from 1954 had been broadcast on the radio, and in the same year he was asked to write music for the Royal Danish Ballet; this led to the score Bag Tæppet (Behind the Curtain). After completing his studies in Copenhagen Ole Schmidt took private lessons in conducting with Albert Wolff, Rafael Kubelik, and Sergiu Celib
Ole Schmidt is best known internationally as a conductor. He has appeared as a freelancer all over Scandinavia, in most of Europe, and in the USA but has also held a number of permanent appointments: after leaving the ballet in Copenhagen he conducted the Hamburg SO from 1969 to 1970, the Danish Radio Sinfonietta from 1971 to 1973, and the Århus SO (of which he was also artistic director) from 1978 to 1985. During this latter, creatively stimulating, period the new Århus concert hall was officially opened. Since 1984 Ole Schmidt has appeared as a guest conductor with numerous orchestras all over the world whose acquaintance he had made over the years, and an extra advantage of this freelance lifestyle has been the extra time available for composing. Today he is permanent guest conductor at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, a position he has held since 1986, and also principal guest conductor of the Toledo SO in Ohio, USA.
Ole Schmidt achieved world renown as a conductor in 1974, when he recorded the symphonies of Carl Nielsen with the London Symphony Orchestra in the wintry surroundings of St Giles Church in London. As the first complete set of the Nielsen symphonies this recording is a milestone in the reception of the Danish masters music, and it is still recognized as one of the best sets ever made from an artistic point of view. Schmidt's repertoire as a conductor is broad, but he has achieved particularly fine results with works by his own modernistic role models and by the Danish romantics.