Musicians of the CKSO


  • John Axelrod

    (Principal Guest Conductor)

    John Axelrod

    With an extraordinarily diverse repertoire, innovative programming and charismatic performance style, John Axelrod is widely recognized as one of today's leading conductors and is sought after by orchestras throughout the world.

    In 2019, Maestro Axelrod was announced as the Principal Guest Conductor of the City of Kyoto Symphony Orchestra, further establishing his global profile. In 2014, Maestro Axelrod became the Artistic and Musical Director of the Real Orquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla (ROSS). His contract was unanimously extended through the 2019-2020 season. From July 2017-2018, unique in the orchestra's history, he was also appointed the General Director (CEO). Other titled positions have included Principal Guest Conductor of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano “Giuseppe” Verdi (LaVerdi) in Italy, from the 2001-2017 season, Music Director of the l'Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire in France from 2009-2013, Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra and Theater in Switzerland from 2004-2009, Music Director of "Hollywood in Vienna" in Austria, from 2009-2011, with the ORF Vienna Radio Orchestra, and in 2001-2009, the as Principal Conductor of Sinfonietta Cracovia, in Krakow, Poland.

    Since 2001, Mr. Axelrod has conducted over 165 orchestras around the world, 33 operas and 60 world premieres. Among his long term relationships, invitations and recordings with European orchestras include Berlin’s RSB, NDR Symphony Hamburg (ElbePhilharmonie), Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchester, hr-Sinfonieorchester Frankfurt, Dortmund Symphoniker, Dusseldorf Symphoniker, Filarmonica della Scala, Orchestra Sinfonica della RAI Torino, Teatro La Fenice Orchestra in Venice, Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Orchestre de Paris, Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, RTVE Orquesta Madrid, Orchestra Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, the Shanghai and Suzhou Symphony Orchestras, Camerata Salzburg and the Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, and the Novaiya Rossia, National Philharmonic Orchestra and Mariinsky Orchestra in Russia. In Japan, Mr. Axelrod regularly conducts the NHK and City of Kyoto Symphony Orchestras. In the USA, Mr. Axelrod has performed with the Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Philadelphia Orchestra among others. Maestro Axelrod recently debuted to great acclaim with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.

    Important festival engagements include the Enescu Festival, The Salzburg Festival, the Beethoven Festival in Warsaw, the Schleswig Holstein Festival, and the Verbier Festival in Switzerland and the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan.

    John Axelrod’s opera activity includes Bernstein's Candide at Théâtre du Châtelet, Teatro alla Scala and Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Eugene Onegin at Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Kurt Weill’s Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny and the premiere of Vittorio Montalti’s Un Romano a Marte at the Rome Opera, Martinu’s Mirandolina at Teatro la Fenice in Venice and both la Traviata and the premiere of Fabio Vacchi’s Lo Specchio Magico at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. For the Lucerne Festival from 2004-2009, he conducted: Rigoletto, The Rake's Progress, Don Giovanni, the Three Penny Opera, Falstaff and Idomeneo.

    Mr. Axelrod is actively committed to working with young professional musicians, engaged as the Principal Conductor in 2016 and 2018 (Bernstein 200) of the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo and having toured with the Santander Orchestra in Poland, the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra to the Salzburg Festival, the Orchestra Giovanile Italiana in Italy, the Accademia della Scala to Muscat, the Nord Deutsche Junge Philharmonie in Germany, and the Vienna Jeunesse Orchester in Austria.

    Mr. Axelrod has regularly collaborated with such international artists as Lang Lang, Daniel Hope, Fazil Say, Thomas Hampson, Martin Grubinger, Patricia Kopatchinskaya, Gabriela Montero, Enrico Dindo, Vadim Guzman, David Garrett, Khatia Buniatishvili, Enrico Dindo, Nadja Michael, Jan Lisiecki, Albrecht Mayer, Rinat Shaham, Andreas Blau, José Maria Gallardo del Rey, and Wallis Giunta, among many others. He has recorded core and contemporary repertoire for Sony Classical, Warner Classics, Ondine, Universal, Naïve and Nimbus. Mr. Axelrod also released a cycle of Brahms Symphonies combined with Clara Schumann lieder entitled Brahms Beloved on Telarc, produced by Grammy winner Michael Fine, with Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi and accompanying Dame Felicity Lott, Wolfgang Holzmair, Indra Thomas and Nicole Cabell.

    Since 2013, Mr. Axelrod is also founder of CultureALL Association in Switzerland, which collaborates with UNESCO, commissions composers, develops young musicians and provides access to cultural events and patrimony for underserved and underprivileged members of the community at large. He has also authored two published books, Wie Großartige Music Ensteht for the Henschel Verlag and Lenny and Me: Conducting Bernstein’s Symphonies for Naxos, and he maintains a personal blog about wine and music:

    Mr. Axelrod graduated in 1988 from Harvard University. Trained personally by Leonard Bernstein in 1982, he also studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory with Ilya Musin in 1996 and was mentored by Christoph Eschenbach from 1997-until 2000 when we made his professional debut at assistant conductor for Parisfal at the Bayreuth Festival.

  • Naoto Otomo

    (Conductor Laureate)

    Naoto OTOMO

    Honorary Guest Conductor, Tokyo Symphony Orchestra (since April 2014)
    Conductor Laureate, City of Kyoto Symphony Orchestra (since 2008)
    Music Director, Ryukyu Symphony Orchestra (since 2016)

    For nearly forty years, Naoto Otomo has led the highly competitive music scene of Japan.
    Since his debut with the NHK Symphony Orchestra at the age of 22, Otomo has been invited regularly to conduct all the major orchestras both based in Tokyo and all over Japan. He currently serves as Music Director at the Ryukyu Symphony Orchestra on Okinawa Island, and previously held the posts of Principal Conductor or Music Director at the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, City of Kyoto Symphony Orchestra, Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra and Gunma Symphony Orchestra. Besides conducting, he had served as the first Music Director of the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan concert hall for eight years.

    Outside his country, Otomo led the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra and the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra on their overseas tours and has appeared repeatedly with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre national de Lorraine, Orchestre de Cannes, Orchestra della Toscana and National Symphony Orchestra of Romania. Also invited to conduct the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Colorado Symphony and Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, Otomo led the Philharmonia Orchestra on its tour to Japan.

    Otomo has performed with numerous world-renowned soloists including: pianists Radu Lupu, André Watts, Ivan Moravec, Paul Badura-Skoda, Pierre Réach, Mikhail Pletnev, Hélène Grimaud, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Peter Serkin, Rafał Blechacz and Alexei Volodin; violinists Joshua Bell, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Augustin Dumay, Régis Pasquier and Augustin Hadelich; violists Gérard Caussé, Bruno Pasquier, Yuri Bashmet and Nobuko Imai; cellists Mstislav Rostropovich, David Geringas, Pieter Wispelwey and Mario Brunello. He also collaborated successfully with flutists Emmanuel Pahud, Andrea Griminelli and Philippe Bernold, trumpetist Maurice André and tenor José Carreras.

    Also active as an opera conductor following his debut in 1988 with Weber’s Der Freischütz in Tokyo, he has been dedicated, in recent years, to premiering operas by Japanese contemporary composers. Otomo was invited twice to appear at the Puccini Festival, where he conducted the first performance in Italy of Shigeaki Saegusa’s Jr. Butterfly. Moved by Otomo’s conducting, the festival awarded him a letter of appreciation.

    In 2001, alongside fellow conductor Alan Gilbert, Otomo founded the annual international music seminar “Music Masters Course Japan (MMCJ)” to coach younger musicians as its Founding Music Director.

    Since his recording debut at the age of 20, Otomo has enlarged his abundant discography including, to name a few, Lou Harrison's Concerto for Piano with Keith Jarrett as soloist, Bartok’s Concerto for Piano with Hüseyin Sermet as well as Graham Fitkin’s Concerto for Two Pianos with Noriko Ogawa and Kathryn Stott. Well-known for his wide repertoire ranging from classical to contemporary works, Otomo has premiered numerous new works, conducting especially the first performances in Japan of several pieces by James MacMillan and the opera “A Flowering Tree” by John Adams.

    Born in 1958 in Tokyo, Otomo graduated from the Toho Gakuen School of Music having studied conducting under Seiji Ozawa, Kazuyoshi Akiyama, Tadaaki Otaka and Morihiro Okabe. Otomo was also trained at the Tanglewood Music Festival where he worked with André Previn, Leonard Bernstein and Igor Markevitch.

  • Junichi Hirokami

    Junichi HIROKAMI

    Born in Tokyo, Junichi Hirokami studied conducting, piano, musicology and viola at the prestigious Tokyo College of Music. He began his conducting career at the age of 26 after winning the first Kondrashin International Conducting Competition in Amsterdam.

    Since 1990, Junichi Hirokami has appeared as guest conductor with major orchestras throughout the world including the Orchestre National de France, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, and Wiener Symphoniker.

    Between 1988 and 1995, Hirokami was Chief Conductor of Sweden's Norrköping Symphony Orchestra. Since then he served as Chief Conductor of the Limburg Symphony Orchestra (1998-2000), Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (1997-2001), Principal Conductor of Japan Philharmonic (1991-2000), and Music Director of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (2006-2008).

    In recent years, he has been a guest conductor of orchestras which include the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, L'Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig.

    In Japan he has conducted all the major orchestras including NHK Symphony Orchestra and the Saito Kinen Orchestra. He also received great acclaim for his appearance with the Mito Chamber Orchestra.

    He is prolific in opera as well, having led celebrated performances of "Un ballo in maschera" and "Rigoletto" at the the Sydney Opera House, and his most recent triumphs include "La Traviata" at the Fujiwara Opera, "Le Nozze di Figaro" and "Ainadamar" at the Nissay Theatre, and "La Traviata" and "Aida" at the New National Theatre.

    From 2008 to 2022 Hirokami has achieved a golden era in Kyoto as Chief Conductor as well as Music and Artistic Advisor of the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra for 14 years. In 2015 he received 46th prestigious Suntory Music Award with Kyoto Symphony Orchestra together.
    Currently he serves as Friend of JPO / Artistic Advisor at Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and Friendship Conductor at Sapporo Symphony Orchestra. Furthermore he will starts his tenure as Artistic Leader at Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa from 2022/23 season.