He was born in Moscow into a family of musicians. In 1954, he graduated from the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatoire (department of opera and symphony conducting, Nikolai Anosov’s class). In
1957, he completed his postgraduate studies at the Conservatoire.
In 1951, he made his Bolshoi Theatre debut, conducting Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty.
From 1951-60 and from1978-82, he was Bolshoi Theatre conductor.
From 1965-70, he was Bolshoi Theatre chief conductor.
In 2000/01 season, he was Bolshoi Theatre general artistic ditector.
His repertoire includes:
Prokofiev’s Cinderella, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Prokofiev’s The Tale of the Stone Flower, Asafiev’s The Fountain of Bakhchisaray, Gliere’s The Bronze Horseman, Adam’s Giselle, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Gliere’s The Red Flower, Chopiniana to music by Chopin, Gounod's Walpurgis Night, Paganini to music by Rakhmaninov, Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, Petrushka, The Firebird;
Rakhmaninov’s Francesca da Rimini, Prokofiev’s War and Peace, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, Bizet’s Carmen, Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.
He was music director of the following productions at the Bolshoi Theatre:
Shchedrin’s The Humpbacked Horse (1960)
Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker (1966)
Bizet-Shchedrin’s Carmen-Suite (1967)
Khachaturyan’s Spartacus (1968)
The Knight of Sad Mien to music by R. Strauss (1985)
Schnittke’s Sketches (1985)
and the operas:
Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine (1965)
Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (1965)
Kholminov’s Optimistic Tragedy (1967)
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri (1976)
Shostakovich’s Katerina Izmailova (1980)
Prokofiev’s Betrothal in a Monastery (1982)
Prokofiev’s The Gambler (world premiere of the first version, 2001)
In 1961 he was appointed chief conductor of the Central Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra. From 1974-85, he was music director at the Boris Pokrovsky’s Chamber Music Theatre. From 1982-92, - chief conductor of the USSR Ministry of Culture State Symphony Orchestra.
From 1974-77 and from 1991-95, he was music director of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. From 1978-1981, - chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. From 1980-82, - chief conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.
He worked with Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, symphony orchestras of London, Chicago, Cleveland and others. Honorary conductor of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra.
Performed numerous little-known works by Respighi, Handel, Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Stravinsky, Janacek, Dvorak, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc, Bruckner, Strauss, Berg, Schoenberg, Hindemith, Bartok, Martinu, Messiaen, Milhaud, Honegger, Orff, Britten, Zemlinsky, Roussel, Vieru and others.
He has participated in world premieres of new works by Shchedrin, Slonimsky, Eshpai, Tishchenko, Kancheli, Schnittke, Gubaidulina, Denisov.
He recorded all the symphonies of Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, Bruckner, Mahler, Thaikovsky, Glazunov, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.
Since 1974, he has been teaching at the Moscow Conservatoire.
Rozhdestvensky is the recipient of the Charles Cros Academy diploma (1969), of the State prize of the USSR (1970) and of the Russian Federation (1995), of the Order of Kirill and Mefody (Bulgaria, 1972), of the Order "For Merit for the Country" of IV and III degree (2001, 2007), of the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun (2002), of the French Legion of honor (2003). Honorary Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music (1975) and of the British Academy (1984).