As a child, Graf learned the violin and the piano. He studied at the Musikhochschule in Graz, Austria, and graduated with diplomas in piano and conducting. He also participated in conducting master classes with Franco Ferrara, Sergiu Celibidache and Arvīds Jansons. He received a state scholarship at the Leningrad Conservatory with Arvid Jansons. For the season 1975/1976 Graf was music director of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra in Baghdad. After winning the Karl Böhm conductor's competition in 1979, he made his debut at the Vienna State Opera in 1981 with Stravinsky's Petrouchka.
Graf was music director of the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg from 1984 to 1994, where he recorded the complete symphonies and other works by Mozart. From 1995 to 2003, Graf was music director of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. He was also music director of the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine, France, from 1998 to 2004.
Graf first conducted the Houston Symphony in 2000, and became its music director in 2001. In September 2004, Graf made his first contract extension with the Houston Symphony, through the 2008/2009 season. He made his Carnegie Hall conducting debut with the Houston Symphony in January 2006. In July 2007, Graf further extended his contract with the Houston Symphony through the 2011/2012 season. In September 2009, the orchestra announced the extension of Graf's contract as music director through the 2012/2013 season, and the conclusion of his Houston tenure at that time, upon which Graf is to take the title of Conductor Laureate. He has been an artist-in-residence at the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University.
In private life, Graf is known as a wine connoisseur. He and his wife Margarita have a daughter, Anna.
- 1989: W. A. Mozart: Marches. Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg (Capriccio 10 253)
- 1990: W. A. Mozart: Complete Symphonies. Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg (Capriccio 49 288)
- 1990: W. A. Mozart: Violin Concerto 1 & 2 / Adagio / 2 Rondos. Benjamin Schmid, Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg (Capriccio 10 370)
- 1990: Beethoven: Piano Concerto 1 & 4. Maria Tipo, London Symphony Orchestra (EMI 7 54058 2)
- 1990: Zemlinsky: Es war einmal (Once Upon a Time). Complete recording (2 CDs). Eva Johansson, Kurt Westi, Aage Haugland, Per-Arne Wahlgren, The Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (Capriccio 60 019-2)
- 1991: W. A. Mozart: Dances and Minuets. Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg (Capriccio 10 360)
- 1994: Bruckner: Symphony No. 8. Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg
- 1995/96: W. A. Mozart: Piano Concertos (6 CDs). Éric Heidsieck, Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg (VICC-101 etc.)
- 1999: Spanish Piano Concertos (Albeniz, Turina, de Falla, Montsalvatge). Angela Cheng, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CBC/SMCD 5195)
- 1999: Mahler: Symphony No. 1. Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra
- 2000: Liszt: Piano Concertos. Janina Fialkowska, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CBC/SMCD 5202)
- 2001: Schubert: Complete Symphonies (5 CDs). Aarhus Symphony Orchestra (Kontrapunkt 32318/22)
- 2001: Orff: Carmina Burana. Christine Brandes, Noel Espíritu Velasco, Stephen Powell, Houston Symphony and Chorus
- 2002: Scaramouche (Milhaud/Villa-Lobos). Jeremy Brown, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CBC/SMCD 5217)
- 2004: Lehár: Der Rastelbinder (2 CDs). Fritz Muliar, Elfie Hobarth, Helga Papouschek, Heinz Zednik, Adolf Dallapozza, ORF Chorus, Wiener Mozart Sängerknaben, ORF Symphony Orchestra (cpo 777 038-2)
- 2004: Bruckner: Symphony No. 4. Houston Symphony
- 2001–05: Henri Dutilleux: Orchestral Works (3 CDs). Olivier Charlier, Jean-Guihen Queyras, François le Roux, Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine (Arte Nova 74321 80786 2 etc.)
- 2005: Bartók: The Wooden Prince / Igor Stravinsky: Le baiser de la fée (Divertimento). Houston Symphony (Koch International 3-7594-2)
- 2006: W. A. Mozart: Requiem / Sinfonia concertante in A major (Fragment). Heidi Grant Murphy, Jane Gilbert, Stanford Olsen, Nathan Berg, Eric Halen, Wayne Brooks, Brinton Averil Smith, Houston Symphony and Chorus
- 2007: G. Gershwin: An American in Paris / Concerto in F / Porgy and Bess (A Symphonic Picture). Jon Kimura Parker, Houston Symphony
- 2008: J. Strauss Jr. Houston Symphony and Chorus
- Ben Mattison (13 September 2004). "Houston Symphony Music Director Hans Graf Signs Contract Extension". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
- Allan Kozinn (26 January 2006). "An Icy Shostakovich and a Trim Mozart, by Way of Texas". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 August 2007.
- Kevin Shihoten (9 July 2007). "Hans Graf Signs with Houston Symphony Through 2012". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 14 August 2007.
- Tara Dooley (23 September 2009). "Hans Graf takes steps to leave symphony". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2 October 2009.
- Shelby Hodge (1 June 2006). "Houston Symphony League toasts the maestro". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 14 August 2007.
- Calland, Deborah, "Record Review: Zemlinsky in Brief" (June 1992). Tempo (New Ser.), 181: pp. 46–47.
|Music Director, Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg
|Music Director, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra
|Music Director, Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine