Carolyn Watson

Q. When did you join SYO? R. I *think* it was 1993!Q. What instruments did you play in SYO?R. ViolinQ. What is your favourite memory of  SYOR. Catching the train to the city for Saturday afternoon rehearsals at St Lawrence Arts Center in Pitt Street.Q. What role does music play in your life?R. A very large one, lol! I am now a professional conductor living and working in the United States where I have been based since 2013. In this time I have worked with professional symphony orchestras, ballet and opera companies throughout the US as well as held positions in a number of educational institutions.Like many conductors, I hold a number of positions concurrently – Music Director of the La Porte County Symphony Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra and Director of Orchestras at the University of Illinois where I also teach and mentor aspiring conductors.I was recently recognized by the Australian government through the Advance Awards as a leading global gamechanger: to moving into professional conducting I enjoyed a career as a music educator and professional violinist.Q. What is your favourite musical repertoire from the SYO performances? R. A performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in the Sydney Opera House with Natalie Chee as soloist stands out.Q. What advice would you give young musicians  today?  R. Work hard, work very hard. Be open to new repertoire, ideas, possibilities, thoughts and teachings. Listen to others of course, but also listen to your own inner voice and pursue your own path. The road to becoming a professional musician is indeed a long and winding one, and no two roads are identical. There is not necessarily a right or wrong way, we all just find our own way.Try not to view growth and development as being binary, black and white or success/fail. Rather, lean into those harder moments and embrace the challenge when you are feeling defeated, for these instances are often when we grow the most as both artists and people.

Carolyn Watson is Music Director of the La Porte County Symphony Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra. Originally from Australia, Carolyn has been based in the United States since 2013 during which time she has led performances with the Austin Symphony, Cape Symphony, Catskill Symphony, Columbus Indiana Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony Civic Orchestra, Interlochen Philharmonic, Kansas City Ballet, St. Joseph Symphony, Traverse Symphony Orchestra and World Youth Symphony Orchestra. Recruited internationally as Music Director of the Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra, she won the 2015 American Prize for Orchestral Performance with this ensemble, also collaborating with soloists including Mark O’Connor and Alexandre Tharaud during her tenure. Carolyn continues to enjoy an ongoing association with Interlochen as conducting faculty at Interlochen Arts Camp.

An experienced conductor of opera, recent engagements have seen Carolyn lead Listen, Wilhemina! for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Hansel and Gretel for Amarillo Opera and Fellow Travelers at Des Moines Metro Opera, along with a production of As One. In 2020 she conducted ‘And Still we Dream’ for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, a production which was featured in the Emmy-Award winning PBS documentary, Higher Octaves: Leading Women in the Arts. In 2019 Carolyn was engaged to conduct the world premiere of Gordon Getty’s opera at Festival Napa Valley, and in 2017 she was one of six conductors selected for the Hart Institute for Women Conductors, where she led the Dallas Opera in two public performances.


A major prizewinner at the 2012 Emmerich Kálmán International Operetta Conducting Competition in Budapest, notable European credits include Infektion!, a festival of modern theatre celebrating the works of John Cage at the Staatsoper Berlin, conducting musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic in Interaktion, a residency at the Israeli National Opera, and assisting Sir Charles Mackerras on his final two productions at The Royal Opera, Covent Garden and Glyndebourne. Additional international conducting credits include the Brandenburger Symphoniker, BBC Concert Orchestra, Budapest Operetta Theatre, Bulgarian State Opera Bourgas, Duna Szimfonikus Budapest, North Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Kammerphilharmonie Graz, Kodály Philharmonia Debrecen, Mihail Jora Philharmonic Romania, Savaria Symphony Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and in Russia, the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic. In Australia she has worked with the Darwin Symphony, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Melbourne Youth Orchestra, Monash Academy Orchestra, Sydney Symphony, Tasmania Discovery Orchestra and Willoughby Symphony.


A committed music educator, Carolyn currently serves as Director of Orchestras at the University of Illinois whilst continuing to enjoy an active freelance career throughout the US, Europe and Australia. Carolyn was a Fellow of the American Academy of Conducting at the Aspen Music Festival where she studied with David Zinman, and has participated in master classes with Marin Alsop, Peter Eötvös, Yoel Levi, Martyn Brabbins and Alex Polishchuk.


Carolyn is the recipient of a number of prestigious national and international awards for young conductors including the Brian Stacey Award for emerging Australian conductors, Sir Charles Mackerras Conducting Prize awarded via the Australian Music Foundation in London, Opera Foundation Australia’s Bayreuth Opera Award and Berlin New Music Opera Award and the Nelly Apt Conducting Scholarship. She is the beneficiary of support from the American Australian Association’s Dame Joan Sutherland Fund and a Sheila Pryor Study Grant from the Australian Opera Auditions Committee. She is also a Churchill Fellow, and was the recipient of a Creative Fellowship from the State Library of Victoria. In 2021 Carolyn was named a finalist in the Arts category of the Australian government Advance Awards, an international award which recognizes leading global Australians of excellence.

Carolyn holds a PhD in Performance (Conducting) from the University of Sydney where she studied under Imre Palló. The subject of her doctoral thesis was Gesture as Communication: The Art of Carlos Kleiber. 

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