Christian Zacharias was born in Jamshedpur, India, on April 27, 1950. He began piano lessons at age seven, but his first serious studies were at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe (1960-1969), where his primary teacher was Irene Slavin. In 1969 he entered the Geneva International Piano Competition and won second prize. In 1970 he began a three-year period of study with Vlado Perlemuter in Paris. Zacharias competed in the Van Cliburn Competition in 1973, but again finished second.
In 1975, however, he finally captured first prize in a major international event, the Paris-based Ravel Competition. Zacharias began recording for EMI the following year, and would, by 1997, make over 40 albums for the label, covering a broad range of repertory, including Mozart (complete concertos and sonatas), Beethoven (complete concertos), Scarlatti, Schubert, Schumann, and many others.
Despite great success throughout the 1980s and early '90s in his keyboard career, Zacharias decided to take up conducting in 1992. His debut was in Geneva with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Further engagements in Europe followed, and in 2000 Zacharias made his American debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Later that year he led performances with the Seattle and National Symphony Orchestras. Since then, he has also branched out into conducting opera.
In 1997 Zacharias began recording for the German label MD&G, and through 2007 made about a dozen CDs, both as conductor and pianist. On some recordings he appeared in both roles: for the Chopin concertos and the Schumann A minor concerto recordings, he conducted the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne from the keyboard.
Zacharias' concert engagements included an appearance at the July 2006 International Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, where he performed the Schumann, but this time with conductor Christoph von Dohnányi. Among Zacharias' later recordings is the 2007 release of Schubert's A major Sonata (D. 959) and Six German Dances. Zacharias was appointed as artistic director for the inaugural, 2012 International Radio Orchestras’ Festival, held in Bucharest.