Born 1952, in Zurich, mathias rüegg completed his studies to be a primary school teacher and taught for a while invarious special needs schools.
From 1973-75, he studied classical composition and jazz piano in Graz. In 1976, he moved to Vienna, where he worked as a free-lance pianist.
Tired of solo work, he created the Vienna Art Orchestra in 1977. Since then, he has written almost all of the VAO’s programs, adding up to nearly 500 compositions and arrangements, and has handled the management and organization of the orchestra himself. From 1983-87, he also led the Vienna Art Choir.
In the years 1984-86, he was voted No.1 Arranger by Down Beat, the American jazz magazine. He has written commissioned pieces for other jazz orchestras, such as the NDR Big-Band, SDR Big-Band, Umo Big-Band Helsinki, Swedish Radio Jazz Group and the RTV Big Band Slovenia, as well as for classical orchestras, such as the Wiener Symphoniker, Basler Sinfonietta, OpusNovum, Ensemble Kontrapunkte, Die Reihe, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Orchestrede Normandie Basse and l’Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana.
As part of his collaboration with George Tabori and the Serapionstheater, he composed film and theater music. From 1983 – 90, he engaged in special projects combining music and literature with the Viennese poet/lyricist Ernst Jandl.
Rüegg has also worked as artistic director for numerous festivals, including the U & E Third Dream Festival, Jandl Total, Vienna meets Paris, Vienna meets London, and the Alpentöne festival in Altdorf (CH). In addition, he has headed numerous multimedia projects, including Der achte Tag (Wiener Festwochen 1980), Jonny tritt ab (Donaueschingen 1981), SENS (Wiener Festwochen 1987), Fe & Males (1989) and La belle at la bête (1992). For the 1991 Mozart Year, he produced the music film Mozart’s Balls, on commission by the BBC. Founder of the Viennese jazz and music club Porgy & Bess (and also its head until he assigned it to Christoph Huber), he also established the Austrian jazz award, the Hans Koller Preis.
Since 1994, he has devoted himself increasingly to chamber music and has written compositions for soloist and chamber orchestra for Corin Curschellas, Michel Portal, Wolfgang Puschnig, Matthieu Michel and Wolfgang Muthspiel, in addition to a variety of works for other classical ensembles. During 2003 he was together with Bill Frisell the musical director of the Ruhr Triennale Festival Century of Song dedicated to the European Song of the 2oth century.
In 2008, he discontinued the big band and changed the VAO into a chamber group with jazzsoloists. The new line up staged its premiere in May 2009 with the program Third Dream. In the same year, his Piano Concerto No.1 was premiered in the Wiener Konzerthaus. On 9 July 2010, due to financial difficulties, he disbanded the VAO, after their last concert in Viktring/Klagenfurt, at which he presented six of his own arrangements of Mahler Lieder.
His new area of activity is the composition of chamber music, which will be published by the Viennese music publishers Doblinger. In 2010 til 2011 he taught one day a week in Vienna at the IPOP (Universität für Musik & darstellende Kunst). In 2011 he composed the music for the New York based „Big Apple Circus“ and their show „Dream big“. He was also the band leader for the whole rehearsals on the spot in the circus. Furthermore he was invited by various Big Bands to conduct Workshops, such as the Conservatory of Vienna (2010), „Generations“ in Frauenfeld, which also led to a Reunion of the 80s-Line-up of the Vienna Art Orchestra, or the HGM Jazzorckestar Zagreb(2013). Since the fall of 2011 he is working closely with the singer Lia Pale (in this connection he started practicing the piano at the age of 58 for the first time) and with whom he had his comeback on February 14th 2013 at the Porgy & Bess with Gone Too Far, a new adaption of the Winterreise arranged by mathias rüegg.