A Philadelphia Orchestra assistant conductor’s duties include leading select concerts; participating in residency, touring, and educational activities; and serving as a cover conductor. The position also provides assistance to Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin in preparation for and during rehearsals, as well as assisting guest conductors. Kensho Watanabe has been assistant conductor since the 2016-17 season, and his tenure has just been extended through the 2018-19 season. He was born in Yokohama and moved to the US at age five, growing up in Greenwich, CT. He has one younger brother, Kisho, who is a lawyer. Kensho was the inaugural conducting fellow at the Curtis Institute of Music from 2013 to 2015, under Yannick’s mentorship, and in April 2017 he stepped in when Yannick was indisposed to make his debut with the Orchestra. An accomplished violinist, Kensho received his master’s degree from the Yale School of Music. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in conducting, he also holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Yale College, where he studied molecular, cellular, and developmental biology.
Kensho Watanabe leading the Orchestra in a Free Neighborhood Concert at Penn's Landing in June 2017. Photo by Jessica Griffin
What’s your favorite Philadelphia restaurant? It’s impossible to pick just one! I frequent Amis, Pub and Kitchen, and Zama.
What piece of music never fails to move you? Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7. I was lucky enough to play this piece as a substitute violinist in the Orchestra with Yannick conducting!
When was the first time you heard The Philadelphia Orchestra? I wore out a Muti/Philadelphia Orchestra CD (on my Walkman!) of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony growing up. The first time live was at Carnegie Hall: Mahler’s Fifth Symphony in 2004 with Eschenbach. The first time in Philly: Mahler’s Fifth with Yannick!
Is there a piece of music that isn’t in the standard orchestral repertoire that should be? I was blown away by Florent Schmitt’s La Tragèdie de Salomè when Yannick programmed it for the Paris Festival last season.
Do you play any instruments? Violin and viola.
If you could bring three things to a desert island, what would they be? My violin; the complete Haydn string quartets; and three friends to read them with.
What’s your favorite place in Philly? The stretch of Delancey Place between 19th and 21st streets.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be? Back to med school, I guess.
What’s the best performance you ever conducted? Not sure about best, but the most memorable so far has been making my subscription debut with this great Orchestra on a few hours’ notice in April 2017.
Read Kensho’s full biography at www.philorch.org/kensho-watanabe.