Born in Dębica on 23 November 1933, he studied composition with F. Skołyszewski and later, in Kraków's Higher School of Music, with Artur Malawski and Stanisław Wiechowicz. He won numerous artistic prizes in Poland and abroad, including the First, Second, and Third Prize at the 2nd Young Composers' Competition (1959), First National Prize (1968, 1983), the Polish Composers' Association Award (1970), the Herder Prize (1977), the Honegger Prize (1978), the Sibelius Competition Prize (1983), the Premio Lorenzo Magnifico (1985), the Karl Wolf Foundation Prize (1987), the Grammy Award (1988, 1999, 2001), the Grawemeyer Music Award (1992), UNESCO's International Music Council Prize (1993), the Best Living World Composer prize (2000), the Prince of Asturia Prize (2001).
Krzysztof Penderecki has received honorary degrees from several dozen universities, including those of Rochester, Bordeaux, Leuven, Washington DC, Belgrade, Madrid, Poznań, Warsaw, Buenos Aires, Glasgow, Münster, Seoul, Kraków. He is an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music, London, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome, Kungliga Musikaliska Akademien, Stockholm, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, Académie Internationale de Philosophie et de l'Art, Bern, Académie Nationale des Sciences, Belles-Lettres et Arts, Bordeaux, Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin, American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has received numerous decorations in Poland and abroad.
He lectured at Yale University in New Haven in 1973-78; served as Rector of the Kraków Academy of Music in 1972-87 and as Artistic Director of Kraków Philharmonic in 1987-90. He is the first visiting conductor of Norddeutscher Rundfunk Orchester in Hamburg and Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk Sinfonie Orchester in Leipzig. From 1992 to 2000 Mr Penderecki was artistic director of the Casalsa Festival in San Juan (Puerto Rico). W 1997 he became artistic director of the Sinfonia Varsovia orchestra. Since 1998 he is an advisor to the Beijing Music Festival in Beijing and since 2000 - visiting conductor of China Philharmonic Orchestra. He has worked with major symphony orchestras of the Unites States and Europe. His repertoire includes his own compositions and symphonic works by artists of various times.
On 14 December 2005 Krzysztof Penderecki was awarded the Order of the White Eagle - Poland's highest decoration. In September 2007 the composer became the Honorary Professor of St. Petersburg Rimski- Korsakov State Conservatory. His name appeared among such eminent persobnalities of the world of music as Yuri Temirkanov, Rodion Shchedrin, Galina Vishnevskaya.
In April 2008 Professor Krzysztof Penderecki was honoured with the Golden Medal of the Minister of Culture of Armenia, received the Honorary Professor Diploma of the State Conservatory in Yerevan and received the "Eagles 2008" award for best music for the "Katyń" film by Andrzej Wajda. On 5 May 2008 in Bremen with Mr Penderecki as conductor and Radovan Vlatkovic as soloist the world premiere was performed of the Concerto for the horn and orchestra and on 22 November during the anniversary Krzysztof Penderecki Festival in Warsaw the first ever performance took place of his 3rd String Quartet.
Mr Penderecki's works span over 100 compositions, including 16 chamber and solo instrument compositions, 27 orchestra pieces, 7 symphonies, 17 concertos for various instruments, 19 songs and choir compositions, 4 operas and 18 cantatas and oratories. Krzysztof Penderecki is the author of music for over 100 feature and documentary films as well as plays for children and adult audiences. He composed his latest piece: Kardisz, on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the liquidation of the Łódź Ghetto.
In 2009 Krzysztof Penderecki received the Ordre de Merite du Grand-Duché de Luxemburg and the Honorary Order from the President of the Republic of Armenia. He was invited to the Honorary Board of the Committee for Celebration of Chopin Year 2010 by the Polish Embassy in Lisbon.