Welsh sensation Paul Watkins is one of Britain’s premier living cellists. He has built up an impressive career as both a soloist and orchestral player since his late teens and in 2013 became the first new addition to the Emerson String Quartet in its 34-year history, cementing his place among the upper echelon of chamber musicians.
Watkins began his musical studies in the United Kingdom with William Pleeth, Melissa Phelps and Johannes Goritzki and showed significant promise early on. In 1988 Watkins, then only 18 years old, won the string section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition. Two years later he became principal cellist of theBBC Symphony Orchestra, where he would stay for the next seven years. During his stint with the BBC Symphony Orchestra Watkins also travelled all over the UK, playing as Guest Principal Cellist with many of the country’s leading ensembles including theLondon Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic and English Chamber Orchestras.
Also a formidable soloist, Watkins made his concerto debut at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw with theNetherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. He has since played as a soloist with all the major UK orchestras and many around the world including the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, Colorado Symphony and the Hong Kong and Royal Flemish Philharmonic Orchestras. TheElgar Cello Concerto is a personal favourite of Watkins and he has performed it on many notable occasions including in the BBC Masterworks documentary series in a program celebrating the composer and with theBBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. Watkins would later team up again with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davis to play the Cello Concerto along with several of Elgar’s other most famous works in a highly acclaimed recording, released in 2012. That same year he released the first of his multi-album seriesBritish Works for Cello and Piano, featuring many of the great works of his countrymen including composers such as Arnold Bax, York Bowen, Hubert Parry and Frederick Delius.
Watkins has also been extremely active as a conductor since winning the Leeds Conducting Competition in 2002, leading orchestras in Europe, Asia and Australia, and all of the major orchestras in the UK. Watkins made his BBC Proms conducting debut with the Ulster Orchestra and served as their Principal Guest Conductor from 2009 to 2012. His legacy however will almost surely lie with his skills as a chamber musician, which has been a vital part of his career since joining the Nash Ensemble in 1997.
In 2013 Watkins left the Nash Ensemble after being invited to join the internationally renowned Emerson String Quartet, replacing departing cellist David Finckel as the first new member to the quartet in its over three-decade history. Watkins’ addition is credited with bringing a new level of passion and vigor to the nine-time Grammy-Award winning ensemble, and he is particularly praised for how his warm, rich tone blends seamlessly with existing members.
Joining the Emerson Quartet required Watkins to leave his native Britain and move for the first time to New York City, a change in pace which he relishes. He currently lives there with his wife, two children, and plays on a cello made in Venice around 1730 by Domenico Montagnana and Matteo Goffriller.
Photo credit: Paul Marc Mitchell