Richard Hickox was one of the most active and well-known conductors in Britain, with a strong international reputation, especially for performing music of his native country. He began conducting at the age of 16 and, after studies at the Royal College of Music and Queen's College, where he was an organ scholar, he founded the City of London Sinfonia in 1971, of which he remained musical director until his death.
In 1972 he became organist and master of music at St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, remaining in that position until 1982. In 1977 he was appointed conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra Chorus, and in 1982 became the music director of the Northern Sinfonia in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He is credited with re-establishing that orchestra as an ensemble of stature, confirmed by a highly successful tour of the United States and a complete Beethoven symphony recording cycle for the ASV label. He was associate conductor of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra from 1982 to 1985, and took the same title at the London Symphony Orchestra in 1985. He shared leadership duties with Simon Standage for Collegium Musicum 90, a period-instrument group the two founded.
All this activity made Hickox a very familiar face on the British music scene. With his various choral and orchestral ensembles he frequently appeared at the major British music festivals and at the BBC Proms Concerts. He participated in several notable special projects, including a BBC video production of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and an appearance in the Istanbul Festival leading a production of Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio inside the actual sultans' seraglio in the Topkapi Museum. He also provided music for a Ken Russell film for the BBC on the wives of great composers.
In the 1990s he increased his involvement with opera, leading new productions of Handel's Julius Caesar in Berlin, Walton's Troilus and Cressida in a live BBC broadcast of an Opera North production, and Vaughan Williams' Pilgrim's Progress at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. He conducted a televised production of Britten's Turn of the Screw on the BBC in 2004.
He guest conducted around the world, including frequent appearances with the Los Angeles Opera and the New Japan Philharmonic in Tokyo. He made over 300 recordings and won numerous awards, including a Gramophon Award in 1992 for his account of Britten's War Requiem, and three Gramophone Awards, a Diapason d'Or, the Deutsche Schalplattenpreis, and a Grammy for his recording of Britten's Peter Grimes in 1995 on the Chandos label, probably the most honored classical recording of the last quarter of the twentieth century. His recordings appeared on the ASV, Argo, EMI, and Virgin labels, and in the early '90s he had been an exclusive Chandos artist. More recording awards were received in 2001 and 2006 for the music of Vaughan Williams and Stanford, respectively. In 2005, he was appointed director of the Opera Australia. Hickox died of a heart attack following a recording session in Wales in November 2008.