Artistic Director, Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival of Detroit


Acclaimed for his inspirational performances and eloquent musicianship, Paul Watkins enjoys a distinguished career as concerto soloist, chamber musician and conductor. He is the Artistic Director of the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival in Detroit (since 2014), the cellist of the Emerson String Quartet (since 2013) and Visiting Professor of Cello at Yale School of Music (since 2018). He took first prize in the 2002 Leeds Conducting Competition, and has held the positions of Music Director of the English Chamber Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra.

Watkins has given regular concerto performances with the major British orchestras, including at the BBC Proms, where he most recently performed with the BBC Symphony and Thomas Ades in Lutoslawski’s cello concerto, and with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in the world premiere of the cello concerto composed for him by his brother, Huw Watkins. He has performed with prestigious orchestras across the globe including the Netherlands Philharmonic, Melbourne Symphony and Queensland Orchestras, the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Colorado Symphony, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Antwerp Symphony, and the Orchestra Nazionale Sinfonica della RAI Torino, under the baton of renowned conductors including Paavo Berglund, Leonard Slatkin, Sakari Oramo, Gianandrea Noseda, Sir Mark Elder, Richard Hickox, Sir Andrew Davis, and Sir Charles Mackerras. He premiered (and was the dedicatee of) Mark-Anthony Turnage’s new concerto with the Antwerp Symphony 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. Highlights of the 23/24 season include Tippett’s Triple Concerto with the Halle orchestra and Shostakovich’s first concerto with the Aalborg Symphony.

A dedicated chamber musician, Watkins was a member of the Nash Ensemble from 1997 until 2013, and the Emerson String Quartet from 2013 until 2023. With the Quartet he travelled extensively, performing at major international festivals including Tanglewood, Aspen, Ravinia, Edinburgh, Berlin and Evian and collaborated with distinguished artists such as Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman, Renee Fleming and Evgeny Kissin. After 44 successful seasons, the Quartet decided to retire, and undertook an extensive series farewell tours, culminating in their final performances in New York Lincoln Center in October 2023, with the concerts is filmed for a documentary by acclaimed filmmaker Tristan Cook, and the release of their final recording of Berg, Chausson, Schoenberg and Hindemith with prestigious guests soprano Barbara Hannigan and pianist Bertrand Chamayou.

He has conducted all the major British orchestras, and a wide range of international orchestras including the Kristiansand Symphony, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, 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.

Highlights of recent seasons include his conducting debuts with the Minnesota Orchestra and Detroit Symphony, as well as concerto appearances with the BBC Symphony under Semyon Bychkov and Sir Andrew Davis, the City of Birmingham Symphony under Alexander Vedernikov, and the European Union Youth Orchestra under the baton of Bernard Haitink, in a tour featuring performances at the Grafenegg Festival and Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw. He also made regular appearances with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and performed Brahms’ Double Concerto on a tour of Sweden and the UK with the Västeras Sinfonietta, Simon Crawford-Philips and Lawrence Power.

His extensive discography as a cellist includes a wide range of repertoire for Chandos Records, including Britten’s Cello Symphony, the concertos of Delius, Elgar, Finzi, Lutoslawski, Walton, Tobias Picker and Cyril Scott, and recitals of Mendelssohn, Martinu, and 20th century British and American music for cello and piano with Huw Watkins. He has recorded the Britten solo cello suites and twentieth century British repertoire for Nimbus, Takemitsu’s Orion and Pleiades for BIS Records, and as a conductor, music by Mozart, Gliere, Röntgen, and a Grammy® nominated pairing of the Berg and Britten violin concertos with Daniel Hope.

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

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