Born in the Caucasus, Yuri Temirkanov began his violin and viola studies at the School for Young Talents of Leningrad, completing them at the Conservatory of the same city along with those of composition. In 1966, after winning the Soviet National Competition for conductors, he was invited by Kirill Kondrašin for a tour in Europe and the United States with David Oistrakh and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1988 he was appointed artistic director and principal conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra: his productions of Evgenij Onegin and La Dama di Picche became legendary in the history of the theatre. He had previously been artistic director and principal conductor of the Kirov Opera House Orchestra in Leningrad (now again Mariinskij Theatre). From 2000 to 2006 he was the main guest director of the Bol' šoj Theatre and, from 2009 to 2012, musical director of the Teatro Regio in Parma. He was also principal guest conductor and principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Dresdner Philharmonie and the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. A permanent guest in the United States, he directs the major orchestras of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. From 2000 to 2006 he was musical director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Yuri Temirkanov is frequently invited by the largest orchestras in Europe, Asia and the United States and had the privilege of being the first Russian artist allowed to perform in the United States after the resumption of cultural relations with the Soviet Union, at the end of the war in Afghanistan in 1988. He has conducted the main European orchestras, including the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Wiener Philharmoniker, the Staatskapelle of Dresden, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and the Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala. His numerous recordings include collaborations with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he recorded all Stravinsky's ballets and the Čajkovskij's symphonies. In 2014, with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, in addition to tours in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Japan, Mexico and the United States, he performed in Moscow and for the first time in Baku at the 8th International Rostropovič Festival. For ten days during the Christmas season Temirkanov organizes the annual Winter Festival in St. Petersburg, inviting some of the world's largest and most famous soloists. For 15 years he directed the Art in the Square Festival. He also follows intensively the projects of the Temirkanov International Foundation for Cultural Initiatives for St Petersburg students.
In Russia he received many important prizes; in 2003 Vladimir Putin awarded him the President's Medal. Honorary Academic of Santa Cecilia, he was awarded the Abbiati Prize in Italy as best director in 2002 and 2007; he was appointed Director of the Year in 2003. In 2012 he was awarded the Order of the Star of Italy in the rank of Commendatore by the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano.