Kensho Watanabe

Assistant Conductor, Philadelphia Orchestra

“Led with a combination of authority, charisma, and technical aplomb rarely found in a young conductor..”
Bernard Jacobson, Seen and Heard International

©Andrew Bogard


“Watanabe’s strongest suit is the elegant lyricism with which he infuses long musical lines.”
Robert Markow, Bachtrack

Kensho Watanabe is currently Assistant Conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra and was the inaugural conducting fellow of the Curtis Institute of Music from 2013 to 2015, under the mentorship of Yannick Nézet-Séguin. In April 2017, he made his critically acclaimed subscription debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra with pianist, Daniil Trifonov, and recently conducted the Orchestra for his debut at the Bravo! Vail Festival and concerts at the Mann and Saratoga Performing Arts Centres.

Recent highlights have included his debuts with the Houston Symphony, Rotterdam Philharmonic and his Japanese debut at the Matsumoto Festival. Highlights of the 2018-19 season include his debuts with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Detroit Symphony and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, plus a return visit to the Orchestre Metropoltain in Montreal. He will also return to the podium in Philadelphia to conduct three subscription concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra in January 2019.

Equally at home in both symphonic and operatic repertoire, Mr. Watanabe has led numerous operas with the Curtis Opera Theatre, most recently Puccini’s La Rondine in 2017 and La bohème in 2015. Additionally, he served as assistant conductor to Mr. Nézet-Séguin on a new production of Strauss’s Elektra at Montreal Opera.

Performance Schedule

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    19:30 21 Sep 2019 Brighton Dome, BRIGHTON

    LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3
    LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D major Op. 61
    LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92

    Violin: Emmanuel Tjeknavorian
    Ensemble: London Philharmonic Orchestra

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    26 Apr 19 Works by Beethoven & Schumann
    Verizon Hall, Philadelphia

    with Jonathan Biss and the Philadelphia Orchestra.


    “The bill was seemingly devised to highlight this band’s greatest strengths – chiefly, its legendary strings and incomparable brass – and Watanabe delivered on that mandate…
    … Watanabe embedded a great deal of personality into Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony, diving into the work with confidence and a forceful hand. It sounded like youth personified – a balance of received wisdom and contemporary thought about how this music should be played…
    The death-besotted Marcia funebre: Adagio assai felt appropriately unsettling, but not so preoccupied with maudlin over-expression that the players neglected the sprightly, dancelike music that underpins the more serious mood. The third and fourth movements, played without pause, remained in line with tradition – everything got bigger and grander as the piece moved toward its coda – but managed to still come across as a discovery. Maybe it was Watanabe’s winning exuberance rubbing off.”

    **** Cameron Kelsall,, 26 April 2019

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    27 Oct 17 Burhans, Strauss, Mozart & Schumann
    Alys Stephens Center, Alabama

    with Andrew Bains, Alabama Symphony Chorus and Alabama Symphony Orchestra.


    “A staunch new music advocate, the 30-year-old native of Yokohama, Japan, deftly guided the orchestra and ASO Chorus through the premiere of “Psalm 23,” by New York composer Caleb Burhans … Watanabe’s rendering of Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 struck an elegant mix of lightness, lucidity and lyricism. He allowed the orchestra to breathe freely in the opening movement, each string, wind and brass entry clearly in focus. Spirited exchanges among sections, both understated and refined, marked the Scherzo. The finale gathered urgent momentum while allowing the strength of the brass section to form a counterweight rather than dominating. It further cemented Watanabe’s ability to foster energy while allowing orchestral color to emerge.”

    Michael Huebner,, 28 October 2017

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    30 Apr 17 Puccini's 'La Rondine'
    Curtis Opera Theatre, Philadelphia

    “If the production boggled the mind, at least there were musical virtues to savor. These primarily came from the pit, where conductor Kensho Watanabe—an alumni of Curtis’s conducting fellowship, who recently made a splash subbing for Yannick Nezet-Seguin at the Philadelphia Orchestra—perfectly accentuated the lush lyricism of Puccini’s score. The players of the pit were small in number, but under Watanabe’s precise yet passionate directorship, they produced enveloping waves of sound that rivaled orchestras twice their size.”

    Cameron Kelsall,, 30 April 2017

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    08 Apr 17 Beethoven, Bates, Mozart & Liszt
    Verizon Hall, Philadelphia

    with the Philadelphia Orchestra & Daniil Trifonov.

    “Kensho Watanabe ended up as practically the star of the show … The Philadelphia Orchestra must count itself fortunate in the possession of this young Japanese-American Curtis graduate as its assistant conductor. Now serving his first season in that post, Watanabe covered himself with glory, and as it turned out, the Beethoven and Liszt segments of the program made the strongest impression. Led with a combination of authority, charisma, and technical aplomb rarely found in a young conductor, the main Allegro of Beethoven’s Prometheus overture zipped along with crisply zestful clarity of articulation, and Liszt’s treatment of the same subject—no less powerful in expression—was revealed as one of that composer’s most firmly and economically constructed symphonic poems.”

    Bernard Jacobson, Seen and Heard International, 12 April 2017

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    04 Nov 16 Mendelssohn
    Maison Symphonique de Montreal

    with the Orchestre Métropolitain.

    “Watanabe’s strongest suit is the elegant lyricism with which he infuses long musical lines. Particularly memorable were the second theme of the first movement and the entire slow movement of the “Scottish” Symphony. He also knows how to shape a movement’s architecture so that the key climactic moment truly stands out, then how to disperse the accumulated tension with careful pacing. This quality was in evidence on several occasions, including the Overture to The Fair Melusina, the first movement of the symphony, and the transition to the symphony’s finale.”

    Robert Markow, Bachtrack, 7 November 2016