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Acclaimed for his inspirational performances and eloquent musicianship, Paul Watkins enjoys a distinguished career both as concerto soloist and chamber musician. 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, David Robertson, Sakari Oramo, Andrew Litton, Gianandrea Noseda, Sir Mark Elder, Vernon Handley, Richard Hickox, 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 six concerto appearances at the BBC Proms, most recently in a televised performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto at the First Night of the Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek and recorded live by Deutsche Grammophon. 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 Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony, Queensland Orchestra, 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 have included his debut at Carnegie Hall performing Brahms’ Double Concerto with Daniel Hope, as well as concerto appearances with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic, and in 2012/13 he will make his debut with the Bournemouth Symphony, return to the BBC Scottish Symphony and BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and premiere a new concerto written for him by Mark-Anthony Turnage with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Tampere Philharmonic, Royal Flemish Philharmonic and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig.

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Acclaimed for his inspirational performances and eloquent musicianship, Paul Watkins enjoys a distinguished career both as concerto soloist and chamber musician. 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.

Highights 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. 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 Orchesra and Vasily Petrenko; and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Andris Nelsons. In 2013/14, he will make his concerto debut with the Colorado Symphony, as well as return to the City of Birmingham Symphony and Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestras.

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. The 2012/13 saw his debut with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, and future highlights include a tour of Norway with the English Chamber Orchestra, and his debut with the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

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

Season 2013/2014

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Reviews

"The minute Mr. Watkins began to play I was absolutely stunned. […] Watkins gave this magnificent concerto a searing and introspective atmosphere which at once was passionate and searchingly intimate. His technique is absolutely ferocious, but he never loses sight of the intensity inherent in Elgar’s writing. […] The third movement is without a doubt one of the most passionate pieces of music that Elgar ever wrote, and Watkins was absolutely relentless in its exposure…."

Robin McNeil, OpusColorado.com

"[…] unquestionably, in my opinion, one of today’s foremost cellists. This new album further bolsters his reputation with gorgeous tonal bloom, ample technique to surmount the thorniest technical passages, and perhaps most inspiring of all, performances that are musically sensitive and deeply committed emotionally to these works."

Jerry Dubins, Fanfare

"The new member, cellist Paul Watkins, fit into the quartet's repertoire and unified sound as if he'd been a member for years. […] with Watkins, the foursome has taken on a new edginess. It permeated throughout the Mendelssohn quartet, sparked not only by Watkins but by the spirited response from the other three. Even the sweet lyricism in the finale had a unique glimmer to it. […] If it has not already done so, the addition of Watkins could raise the bar for quartet playing"

Michael Huebner, Alabama Media Group

"Watkins crafted a magnificent account of [Schubert’s] Great, maintaining a keen momentum. The strings were ravishing, the brass rich and the woodwinds finely-honed, while the cellos added a warm resonance. Watkins developed the allegro vivace to a brilliant intensity."

Gavin Engelbrecht, The Northern Echo

"The new Emerson String Quartet introduced itself to Southern California with a performance of Beethoven's three middle-period Opus 59 ("Razumovsky") quartet. A robust cello melody, a song of inspiring affirmation, begins the first of these grand, epic string quartets. Watkins played it with a hearty tone and exuberant expression, like an adventurer on a new journey. The ensemble couldn't have found a more suitable cellist for its lush, silky and, when the foursome digs down, full-throttled symphonic sound."

Mark Swed, LA Times

"Watkins seemed palpably comfortable and charmingly eager. His playing was elegant, crisp and colorful. You were drawn in by the character and imagination of his work."

Anthony Tommasini, New York Times

"Britain's finest cellist, Watkins' account [of the Elgar concerto] seems the best to have appeared on disc for years. It has intensity, presence and warmth, which never topples over into sentimentality."

Andrew Clements, The Guardian

"[Watkins] brings a wealth of profound musicality, ardour and insight to bear, making his an interpretation to cherish. […] No self-respecting Delian can afford to be without this indispensable issue."

Andrew Achenbach, Gramophone

"I was poised to remark on the seraphic cello-playing of Paul Watkins, who turns even an off-beat pizzicato into a thing of joy. Then days later it emerged that Watkins will join the Emerson Quartet, replacing David Finckel when he departs after 34 impressive years. Watkins, one of the UK's finest musicians, will change the character of this august, gleaming American group. I'm agog to see how. In the rarefied but exhilarating world of chamber music this news is as big as it gets."

Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian

"The concert’s high point was Paul Watkins’ performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Here was a subtle balance of passion and compassion, revealing the deep sense of anguish underlying the superficially idyllic pastoral and achieving some strikingly beautiful sounds."

The Guardian

"Britten specifically did not title the work a ‘concerto’, and the great achievement of this recording is its powerful sense of ensemble. Watkins is an interpreter of compelling seriousness, whose musical understanding operates at a profound level. As the cadenza unfolds, and the cello’s broadening arpeggios emerge into the sunlight of the finale, accompanied by a glorious, glistening trumpet, one realises he and Gardner have created not just a great climax, but a truly symphonic collaboration. "

Helen Wallace, BBC Music Magazine

"The Cello Symphony is a work that Britten recorded with its dedicatee Rostropovich [and] I can pay this new release no higher compliment than to say that Paul Watkins and Gardner produce results that are similarly persuasive. Watkins has a superb technique, but more importantly he seems to understand this music so well: there’s a gritty integrity in his approach that is just right, and there’s plenty of subtle shading in his sound (the cadenzas are intense and searching, full of expressive colours too). Watkins is matched by immensely responsive orchestral playing: Gardner again shows himself to have a natural flair for Britten’s idiom and he produces moving results in the noble resolution at the close. "

Nigel Simeone, International Record Review

"Watkins’ attention to detail was rewarding, as was his willingness to risk the softest possible touch; the slow second movement had moments of magic as he drew his sound back as far as it would go."

The Guardian

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Discography