Zimmermann was a member of the Dresdner Kreuzchor from 1954 to 1962. He then continued his music education at the Dresden Music School. He studied composition with Johannes Paul Thilman, as well as conducting and singing. He worked two years as assistant of music theater director, Walter Felsenstein.
In 1970 he became the dramatic adviser of Dresden's State Opera. In 1978 he was appointed as professor of composition at his alma mater, Dresdner Musikhochschule. In 1986, he founded the Dresden Center for Contemporary Music, which is a research center and organizer for concerts and festivals. From 1990 to 2001, Zimmermann was the artistic director of the Leipzig Opera.
- Die Weiße Rose (White Rose) – June 17, 1967
- Die zweite Entscheidung – 1970
- Levins Mühle – March 27, 1973
- Der Schuhu und die fliegende Prinzessin – December 30, 1976
- Die wundersame Schusterfrau – April 25, 1982
- Weiße Rose (revised version) – February 27, 1986
- Die Sündflut – 1988
- Man sieht, was man hört (One sees what one hears), Udo Zimmermann on music and theatre, edited by Frank Geißler, Leipzig 2003.
- Zimmermann: Die Weisse Rose (1988) Munich Instrumental Ensemble, conducted by Udo Zimmermann with Lutz-Michael Harder, Gabriele Fontana, Orfeo, 162871
- Musik in Deutschland 1950–2000 – Geistliche Oratorien (2005) music by Udo Zimmermann and others, Pfalz Evangelical Youth Choir, Pfalz Landeskirche Chamber Orchestra, Motettenchor Pforzheim, conducted by Heinz Markus Göttsche, Rolf Schweizer, Wolf-Dieter Hauschild, Hans Zender with Gerd Türk, Christiana Baumann, Wolfgang Dallmann, Albrecht Ostertag, RCA 73570 (1 disc)
- Zimmermann, U: Pax Questuosa (2005) Udo Zimmermann (conductor) with Edith Wiens, Roland Hermann, Siegmund Nimsgern, William Cochran, Col Legno 20085
- Musik in der D.D.R. Vol I – Orchestral Music (2005), music by Udo Zimmermann and others, Kurt Sanderling, Herbert Kegel, Günther Herbig, and Siegfried Kurz conducting Berlin Symphony Orchestra, MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden, Berlin Classics 9069 (3 discs)
- New Music in the DDR Vol 1 – Zimmerman: Der Schuhu Highlights (2006) Helga Termer, Günter Neef, Hajo Müller, Armin Ude, Peter Gülke (conductor), Berlin Classics 1301
- Musica Viva 18 – Carter, Zimmermann: Cello Concertos (2010) Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kristjan Järvi, Jan Vogler (cello), Neos 11014
- US premiere of Sinfonia come un grande lamento, in memory of F. Garcia Lorca (1977) by the American Symphony Orchestra on January 25, 2009