Pinnock was born in Canterbury and studied at the Royal College of Music. He made his London debut at the Royal Festival Hall with the Galliard Ensemble in 1966. In 1972 he founded the English Concert, an ensemble specialising in performances of Baroque music on period instruments. He made his New York debut in 1988 conducting Handel's opera Giulio Cesare. From 1991 to 1996 he was artistic director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Canada, becoming artistic advisor thereafter. He was made a CBE in 1992.