Recorder player and conductor Giovanni Antonini is one of the leaders of the Italian period instrument movement. He studied flute and recorder in his native Milan, attending the Civica Scuola di Musica in that city and the Centre de Musique Ancienne in Geneva. He became a leading recorder soloist, and has appeared with Gustav Leonhardt, Christoph Coin, and Katia and Marielle Labèque. He regularly appears at leading music festivals and has made several European tours, as well as trips to Malaysia, Japan, Canada, and the United States.
In 1985, he became a founding member of Il Giardino Armonico (The Harmonic Garden), an original instruments group founded in Milan by a select group of international-caliber period instrument players, all of whom graduated from various European universities and conservatories after specialized study in original instruments technique and interpretation and in musical research. Il Giardino Armonico was one of the earliest important original instruments ensembles in Italy, whose musical culture was not quick to embrace the "authenticity" movement. Antonini and Il Giardino Armonico have been credited with beginning to raise interest in period performance in Italy.
In 1989, Antonini became one of the directors of the organization and began to conduct the ensemble. He has directed their appearances on the Teldec and London (Decca) labels, winning leading recording awards, including the Diapason d'Or, Choc de la Musique, Grand Prix des Discophiles, the Gramophone Award, the Echo-Preis, the Cecila Award of Belgium, and the Fondazione Cini Award of Venice. Their very first recording, in 1992, won the Vivaldi Record Prize.
Antonini's conducting of Il Giardino Armonico has included performances of Baroque operas such as Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, Handel's Agrippina, and Pergolesi's La Serva padrona.
He is also a regular conductor of the Settimane Bach of Milan and has appeared as guest conductor with the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra in the Canary Islands, the Salzburg Camerata Academica, and the Galicia Symphony Orchestra. He conducted the oratorio Il martirio di San Lorenzo by Francesco Bartolomeo Conti at the Salzburg Festival, its first performance in modern times. In 2004, he conducted the Berlin Philharmonic and toured with the Münchner Kammerorchester in 2008. Later, he conducted on recordings of Verdi's I vespri siciliani and Vivaldi's Ottone in villa.