Kensho Watanabe

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

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

©Andrew Bogard


Emerging onto the international stage over the past three years, Kensho Watanabe is fast becoming one of the most exciting and versatile young conductors to come out of the United States. Most recently, Kensho was recognized as a recipient of a Career Assistance Award by the Solti Foundation U.S. He held the position of Assistant Conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra from 2016 to 2019 and during this time made his critically acclaimed subscription debut with the Orchestra and pianist, Daniil Trifonov, taking over from his mentor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. He would continue on to conduct four subscription concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2019, in addition to debuts at the Bravo! Vail Festival and numerous concerts at the Mann and Saratoga Performing Arts Centres. Watanabe has previously been an inaugural conducting fellow of the Curtis Institute of Music from 2013 to 2015, under the mentorship of Nézet-Séguin.

Recent highlights include Kensho’s debuts with the London Philharmonic and Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestras, Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, San Antonio Symphony Orchestra as well as his Finnish debut with the Jyväskylä Sinfonia. Kensho has also enjoyed collaborations with the Houston Symphony, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Brussels Philharmonic and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival, and the Orchestre Metropolitain in Montreal.

Highlights of the 2020-21 season include Kensho’s debuts with the Luxembourg Philharmonic, Rhode Island Philharmonic, Szczen Philharmonic, and the Belgian National Orchestra. Kensho will also join Yannick Nézet-Séguin as assistant conductor for the MET’s production of Dead Man Walking.

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.

An accomplished violinist, Mr. Watanabe received his Master of Music degree from the Yale School of Music and served as a substitute violinist in The Philadelphia Orchestra from 2012 to 2016. Cognizant of the importance of the training and development of young musicians, he has served on the staff of the Greenwood Music Camp since 2007, currently serving as the Orchestra conductor.

Mr. Watanabe is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied with distinguished conducting pedagogue Otto-Werner Mueller. Additionally he holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Yale College, where he studied molecular, cellular, and developmental biology.

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    30 Jan 20 Mozart, Alma Mahler & Gustav Mahler
    Usher Hall, Edinurgh & City Halls, Glasgow

    with Karen Cargill and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.


    “[Kensho’s] Mahler Fourth sounded – unsurprisingly – gloriously nimble and buoyant under a chamber orchestra, and his characterisations were masterful, especially in the raw, devilish scherzo, high on grotesquerie.”

    **** David Kettle, The Scotsman, 31 January 2020


    “Kensho Watanabe impressed last March when he took charge of the RSNO’s Carmina Burana, and his facility with big music was on display again here with one of the largest SCO’s line-ups (including four flutes and four percussionists) playing Gustav Mahler’s 4th Symphony… Watanabe’s was a reading that contrived to be both stately and full of vim, culminating in Cargill singing The Heavenly Life from the choir stalls.”

    ***** Keith Bruce, The Herald Scotland, 3 February 2020

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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