Ole Schmidt is far better known as a conductor than composer, but in the latter role he has produced a sizable output and gained respect internationally as a serious creator of music scores in a variety of genres, including ballet, symphonic, concerto, chamber, musical, and film. His style has generally been linked to neo-classicism, divulging the influence of Stravinsky, Bartók, and Hindemith. Yet his music is highly individual, exhibiting a mastery of instrumentation, imagination, rhythmic energy, and a deft sense for drama. Though he was a late bloomer, not least because of the exigencies of World War II, he began turning out compositions from about 1951 and received his first important conducting post in 1958, at the Royal Danish Ballet. In 1974 Schmidt drew critical acclaim, not to mention broad international notice, when he became the first conductor to record a cycle of the Carl Nielsen symphonies. As a conductor Schmidt has recorded for BIS, CPO, Dacapo, Danacord, and Kontrapunkt and his compositions have appeared on BIS, Dacapo, and Danacord.
Ole Schmidt was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 14, 1928. He was self-taught on the piano, later playing jazz at various gigs to earn money. He used this income to study piano and composition from 1948 at the Royal Danish Conservatory. His composition teachers there included Vagn Holmboe, Niels Viggo Bentzon, Jørgen Jersild, and Finn Høffding.
Following graduation Schmidt privately studied conducting with Rafael Kubelik, Sergiu Celibidache, and Albert Wolff. By this time he had already composed perhaps his most important early work, the 1954 ballet Behind the Curtain, written for the Royal Danish Ballet. In 1958 Schmidt became a conductor for the RDB and served there until 1965.
In the ensuing years he was busy as a freelancer, then took on several important conducting posts: Hamburg Symphony Orchestra (1969-1970), Danish Radio Sinfonietta (1971-1974), Århus Symphony Orchestra (1978-1985), and the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester (1986). During his continuing stint at the RNCM, Schmidt also served as principal guest conductor for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (1990-1995).
In the meantime Schmidt had remained busy as a composer, turning out unusual works like his 1975 Tuba Concerto and large efforts such as the 1993 choral composition, the Øresund Symphony. Among other recordings of Schmidt's works is the 2006 Dacapo release of three concertos -- for tuba, for five horns and for flute -- with prominent soloists and Schmidt conducting the Århus Symphony.