Paul Watkins

Conductor, Cello

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. During his solo career he has collaborated with world renowned conductors including Bernard Haitink, 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 and has made eight concerto appearances at the BBC Proms, most recently with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in the world premiere of the cello concerto composed for him by his brother, Huw Watkins.

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. 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.

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“Paul Watkins, the cellist, was extraordinary. Technical challenges appear non-existent, he brings striking rhythmic impulse to his playing, and how he adapts to different composers amazes […] matching every impulse, fading into the background when called for, and soaring when asked to take the lead.”

Tom Delbanco

The Boston Musical Intelligencer

“Watkins is fully up to all of the composer’s challenges […] this is surely the finest account of this work that has ever been recorded, manifestly superior in sensitivity and virtuosic élan from any other […] of the highest musical grasp and understanding.”

Robert Matthew-Walker

International Record Review

More Reviews

“This was [Watkins’] second year at the helm of the Great Lakes festival, and the results put an exclamation point on the fact that his appointment has been a home run. A cellist of uncommon expressive range and flexibility (who is also a fine pianist and conductor), Watkins has taken the high standards he inherited from founding artistic director James Tocco and elevated them to a new plateau of excellence”

Mark Stryker, Detroit Free Press 

“The sheer quality of ensemble playing from the Emersons, with Watkins seamlessly integrated into the group, while retaining his characterful playing style and profile, was almost miraculous to hear.”

Michael Tumelty, Classical music writer 

“Paul Watkins has clearly become an integral member of the quartet, and his warm, burnished cello tone was a consistent pleasure.”

Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review 

“Since his debut with the Emerson String Quartet in 2013, when he replaced the cellist David Finckel, Paul Watkins has proved a valuable addition to that eminent ensemble. On Sunday at Alice Tully Hall, it was his gorgeous tone and elegant phrasing in Beethoven’s String Quartet in F (Op. 18, No.1) that provided some of the most alluring moments […] Mr. Watkins played his soaring operatic lines in the Adagio with burnished, glowing tone. ”

Vivien Schweitzer, New York Times 

“Watkins is fully up to all of the composer’s challenges […] this is surely the finest account of this work that has ever been recorded, manifestly superior in sensitivity and virtuosic élan from any other […] of the highest musical grasp and understanding.”

Robert Matthew-Walker, International Record Review 

“This is one of those rare discs that surprises as much as it delights. It has been a long time since I last listened to Brahms’ cello sonatas so intently and with so much enjoyment. Paul Watkins and Ian Brown commanded my attention, not with declamatory statements but by making me complicit in an act of discovery. This is familiar music, yet suddenly new. They kept me on the edge of my seat and they kept me smiling. There are many great performances of these sonatas, but I cannot recall a set of such flexibility and nuance or of such generous interplay between equals. ”

Tim Perry, MusicwebInternational 

“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, 

“Mr. Watkins’s charismatic, responsive, tonally resplendent playing was no surprise. He has brought new qualities to the Emerson String Quartet, which he joined last year. Here he was exceptionally fine, from the meaty downward line, amid trembling violas, in the Mendelssohn quintet’s third movement to the exuberant blossoming at the start of the Brahms.”

Zachary Woolfe, New York Times 

“Watkins is a great champion of British music and his playing throughout displays all the commitment and passion – together with a rock solid technique – that one could wish for. […] the ardent lyrical nature of the music really does suit Watkins’ style perfectly. […] Great praise to the Watkins brothers for producing such a convincing and enjoyable recital.”

Nick Barnard, Music Web International 

“[…] 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 


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Featured Discography

Berg: Lyric Suite; Wellesz: Sonnets By Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Op.52


American Cello/Piano Works


British Works for Cello & Piano, Vol. 4


Brahms: Clarinet Trio & Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2