Ralf Otto is among the most recognized experts on the European choir scene and one of the most experienced conductors of vocal music from the Baroque to the present. Richness of sound quality and transparency are at the heart of his work with choirs and orchestras. For Otto the analysis of compositional structure is the pre-condition to deep emotional expression.
From 1977 to 1983, Otto studied musicology and sacred music in Frankfurt (Germany) and with Eric Ericson in Stockholm (Sweden). During that time he began to build his repertoire as organist and conductor. In 1980, he founded the Vokalensemble Frankfurt, which he led with great acclaim until 1994. With the Vokalensemble Frankfurt Ralf Otto successfully performed works from all periods with a heavy emphasis on contemporary composers. Under his direction the Vokalensemble Frankfurt won prizes in numerous competitions, among them Deutscher Chorwettbewerb, International Polyphonic Competition Guido d’Arezzo (Italy), and the BBC/European Broadcasting Union’s choir competition “Let the Peoples Sing”.
Upon becoming the artistic director of the Bachchor Mainz and the Bachorchester Mainz, Otto further developed his passion for music of different periods and styles. Initially his work in Mainz has been focused on historically informed performances. Thus, the historically aware style of playing shapes both the concert performances of the Bachchor Mainz, as well as Otto’s interpretation of the great choral-symphonic works of the 18th (Bach, Händel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven) and 19th century (Mendelssohn, Verdi, Bruckner, Mahler, Brahms).
During his tenure at Bachchor Mainz, Otto also renewed his commitment to 20th century and contemporary music. He regularly conducts f.e. Britten's War Requiem, Schoenberg's A survivor from Warsaw, Webern, Pärt, Strawinsky etc. and also gave the world premiere to a number of pieces.
In recent years Otto has recorded for the Naxos label, focussing on substantial works by J. S. Bach: St. John Passion (2018; nominated for the Opus Klassik Awards 2019), Christmas Oratorio (2018) and St. Matthew Passion (2019). Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem was just released, the Mass in B Minor is due for release in 2021. Previous recordings include Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers for the Blessed Virgin), Händel's Theodora, Mozart's Requiem, Cantatas by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and Romantic Christmas Music by French composers.
As guest conductor Otto has been on the podium with many orchestras, including Concerto Köln, L’arpa festante, Münchener Bach Orchester, Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Philharmonisches Orchester Hamburg, Rundfunkorchester des WDR as well as Opernhaus- und Museumsorchester Frankfurt and Deutsche Radio Philharmonie. Ralf Otto also performed with Junge Deutsche Philharmonie and several professional Radio-Choirs including NDR-Rundfunkchor, WDR-Rundfunkchor and RIAS-Kammerchor.
Under Otto’s leadership, the Bachchor Mainz has successfully toured France, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and took the podium in some of the greatest concert halls of South America (including Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires and Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro). In Germany, Otto frequently conducts the Bachchor and Bachorchester Mainz in Mainz and at music festivals such as Rheingau Musik Festival, Moselmusikfestival, Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, Festival Europaeische Kirchenmusik and Bachfest Leipzig.
From 1990 to 2006, Otto was Professor for Choral Conducting at the Folkwang-Hochschule in Essen and since 2006 to the present he has held the same position at the Hochschule für Musik in Mainz. In recognition of his musical achievements, Otto received numerous honors.