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 came to worldwide attention by stepping in last minute for an indisposed Nézet-Séguin to make his critically acclaimed subscription debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra and pianist, Daniil Trifonov.

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.

Symphonic highlights include conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra with the violinist, Hilary Hahn, plus re-engagements with the Orchestre Métropolitain, the San Diego Symphony – where he is a conducting fellow – and the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

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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    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