Yoshinao Kihara is the principal conductor of The Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo (TOUKON), a position to which he was appointed in 2019. He has also taught at the Kunitachi College of Music in Tokyo as an adjunct lecturer since 2018. Hailed as a young rising star of classical music, Kihara brings to TOUKON his global experience that includes his extensive training in Europe, both as a conductor and pianist, and more than a decade of sharing the stage with many renowned orchestras and opera and choral companies, such as Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien and Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. Kihara has earned accolades for his knack for tapping into individual performers’ sensibilities to cocreate with them vibrant and electrifying sounds. Fellow musicians describe Kihara as a “sound craftsman” who, through his measured delivery of conducting techniques, can transport his audience members’ minds to a world where his imagination intersects with the composer’s vision. His experience in conducting various types of ensembles, as well as music from different eras and genres, also serves as his source of inspiration.
The Tokyo native’s music career began at age 16 when he won a competitive scholarship for Rohm Music Foundation’s Music Seminar and began studying conducting under a seminar advisor, Seiji Ozawa. At the time, Kihara was a piano student at Music High School Attached to the Faculty of Music, Tokyo University of the Arts. His seminar experience -- which eventually resulted in Kihara becoming Ozawa’s assistant -- opened his eyes to the world of orchestral conducting and the joy of creating music with others. In 2006, upon graduating from high school, he left Japan for Austria to study conducting and piano at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna (Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien). He continued his education at University of Music and Performing Arts Graz (Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Graz), where he earned his bachelor’s degree in conducting and then received a master’s in orchestral/choral conducting and korrepetition (coaching) with the highest academic honor, the Würdigungspreis award. Kihara also received his postgraduate diploma in orchestral conducting from the International Conducting Academy Berlin (ICAB) at Berlin University of Arts (Universität der Künste Berlin) in Germany and a master’s in piano from the Royal Academy of Music, London.
In 2014, Kihara won the the Opera Award of the Gotoh Memorial Cultural Foundation in the korrepetitior category. The following year, he ranked first in the 4th Tokyo Cantat Competition for Young Choral Conductor, cementing his reputation as an up-and-coming conductor. His professional success continued to build as he performed with a number of reputable symphonies and opera and choral companies, including Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester, Magdeburgische Philharmonie and Bochumer Symphoniker to name a few. In 2016, Vienna`s Musikverein-- a respected institution for which Herbert von Karajan long served as artistic director -- took the recommendation of the prestigious Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien to select Kihara for its Sumida Peace Prayer Concert 2016 in Japan. Kihara conducted the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR) in its concert hall in Katowice in 2017. During the same year, he had his first performance with The Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo as conductor for its 243rd subscription concert.
Through the years, he has continued to receive guidance from Ozawa. Based on the maestro’s recommendation, Kihara was selected to take the baton for Seiji Ozawa Music Academy’s orchestra concerts in Kyoto Concert Hall and Kamakura Performing Arts Center, as well as for the Academy’s opera recitals. Kihara has also conducted in Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto (now known as Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival).
The orchestras and opera and choral companies Kihara has performed with as conductor include:
- Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
- Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR)
- Bochumer Symphoniker
- Magdeburgische Philharmonie
- Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester
- Kammerakademie Potsdam
- Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
- Tokyo Symphony Orchestra
- The Kyushu Symphony Orchestra
- Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra
- Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra
- Kammerakademie Potsdam
- Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien
- Seiji Ozawa Music Academy Orchestra and Choir
Notable performers Kihara has shared the stage with as a chamber music player and accompanist include:
- Jörg Widmann, Carolin Widmann, Mizuho Yoshii, Rie Koyama and Nobuaki Fukukawa (Performed together at Suntory Hall Summer Festival 2018)
- Dmitry Korchak, Peixin Lee, Shinobu Sato and Tadao Yosie (As their accompanist)