Paul Watkins, conductor and cellist

Music Director, English Chamber Orchestra
Artistic Director of the Great Lakes Chamber Music
Artistic Director of the Festival of Detroit

Acclaimed for his inspirational performances and eloquent musicianship, Paul Watkins enjoys a distinguished career as concerto soloist, chamber musician and conductor. Born in 1970, he studied with William Pleeth, Melissa Phelps and Johannes Goritzki, and at the age of 20 was appointed Principal Cellist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. During his solo career he has collaborated with world renowned conductors including Paavo Berglund, Leonard Slatkin, Sakari Oramo, Gianandrea Noseda, Sir Mark Elder, Richard Hickox, Andris Nelsons, Sir Andrew Davis, and Sir Charles Mackerras. He performs regularly with all the major British orchestras including the London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, Philharmonia and City of Birmingham Symphony. He has made seven concerto appearances at the BBC Proms, most recently in a performance of the Lutoslawski Cello Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Adès and recorded live by BBC Radio 3.

He made his concerto debut at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of chief conductor Yakov Kreizberg, and has performed with the Norwegian Radio, Royal Flemish Philharmonic, Melbourne Symphony and Queensland Orchestras, and with Konzerthausorchester Berlin and the RAI National Symphony Orchestra of Turin. He has toured to Italy and Prague with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, and to China and the Far East with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Highlights of recent seasons include concerto appearances with the Hong Kong Philharmonic and Bournemouth Symphony, and concerts in the Netherlands, Belgium and Japan with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, and his US concerto debut with the Colorado Symphony. He also premiered (and was the dedicatee of) Mark-Anthony Turnage’s new concerto with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic and Edo de Waart, the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and Hannu Lintu, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Vasily Petrenko; and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Andris Nelsons.

A dedicated chamber musician, Watkins was a member of the Nash Ensemble from 1997 to 2013, and joined the Emerson String Quartet in May 2013. He is a regular participant at festivals and chamber music series, including at the Lincoln Center New York, Music@Menlo, the Roros Festival in Norway, and in 2014 was appointed Artistic Director of the Great Lakes Music Festival of Detroit. He regularly performs with the world’s finest musicians, including Menahem Pressler, Jaime Laredo, Lars Vogt, Christian Tetzlaff and Vadim Repin, and has given solo recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, De Doelen in Rotterdam, the South Bank Centre, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester and Queens Hall, Edinburgh.

In 2009 Paul Watkins signed an exclusive contract with Chandos Records for a series of recital and concerto discs. Recent releases include Britten’s Cello Symphony, the Delius, Elgar and Lutoslawski cello concertos, and discs of Martinu’s and Mendelssohn’s music for cello and piano, and an ongoing series of Britsh sonatas with his brother Huw Watkins. His past recordings include the Britten solo cello suites and a recital programme of twentieth century British repertoire for Nimbus, Takemitsu’s Orion and Pleiades for BIS Records and the concertos of Richard Rodney Bennett, Tobias Picker and Cyril Scott for Chandos.

He also maintains a busy career as a conductor and in the 2009/10 season became the first ever Music Director of the English Chamber Orchestra, following two successful years as Associate Conductor. He also served as Principal Guest Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra from 2009 to 2012. Since winning the 2002 Leeds Conducting Competition he has conducted all the major British orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony and BBC Symphony Orchestras. Outside the UK he has conducted the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, Vienna Chamber Orchestra, Prague Symphony, Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, Tampere Philharmonic, Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic and the Melbourne Symphony, Queensland and Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestras. In 2006 he made his opera debut conducting a critically praised new production of Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine for Opera North. Recent highlights include his debuts with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Royal Northern Sinfonia and a tour of Norway with the English Chamber Orchestra.

Watkins plays on a cello made by Domenico Montagnana and Matteo Goffriller in Venice, c.1730.

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