Huw Watkins was born in Wales in 1976. He studied piano with Peter Lawson at Chetham’s School of Music and composition with Robin Holloway, Alexander Goehr and Julian Anderson at Cambridge and the Royal College of Music. In 2001 he was awarded the Constant and Kit Lambert Junior Fellowship at the Royal College of Music, where he later taught composition.
In 1999 the Nash Ensemble gave the first performance of Watkins’ Sonata for Cello and Eight Instruments, a Faber Music Millennium commission. The piece has been performed by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in London, Paris, Copenhagen and Aldeburgh under the direction of Sakari Oramo and Peter Rundel.
In 2000 the BBC National Orchestra of Wales gave the first performance of Watkins’ Sinfonietta under Grant Llewellyn. As a result of this collaboration, his Piano Concerto was commissioned for the same orchestra, which received its premiere in May 2002 under Martyn Brabbins with the composer at the piano. The work was performed again in BBC NOW’s 2007/8 season.
The 2001/02 season saw Watkins’ first US commission - Nocturne for solo horn and chamber orchestra - which was first performed and recorded by David Jolley and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra under Mischa Santora. 2005 saw two major orchestral works: London Concerto, commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra to mark its centenary and his Double Concerto performed by Philip Dukes (viola), Josephine Knight (cello) and BBC NOW conducted by Jac van Steen at the Proms. In 2010, Alina Ibragimova gave the first performance of Watkins’ Violin Concerto at the Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Academy alumnus Edward Gardner.
Chamber music has always been central to Watkins’ output: in 2001 his String Quartet No. 2 was premiered at the Cheltenham Festival by the Petersen Quartet, and the Brahms Ensemble Hamburg gave the first performance of his Variations on a Schubert Song at the Gstaad Festival. He recorded his Cello Sonata with Paul Watkins for Nimbus Records and premiered Fantasy for viola and piano with Lawrence Power in 2006. In 2010 he was composer in residence at Lars Vogt’s Spannungen Festival in Heimbach, where his trio Speak Seven Seas was premiered.
His String Quartet No. 3 was written for the Belcea Quartet, who gave its premiere at Wigmore Hall in February 2004. The Wigmore Hall has been the venue for many of Watkins’ recent premieres: the Nash Ensemble premiered their commission Gig in 2005, Alina Ibragimova gave the world premiere of Partita for solo violin during BBC Radio 3’s lunchtime concert series in 2006, and more recently, In My Craft or Sullen Art (Goodison Quartet No. 4) for tenor and string quartet was premiered in the hall by Mark Padmore and the Petersen Quartet in May 2007.
Huw Watkins is also in great demand as a pianist. He is regularly heard on BBC Radio 3, both as a soloist and with artists such as Alina Ibragimova, Daniel Hope, Nicholas Daniel, and Alexandra Wood. He has a strong commitment to the performance of new music, and has given premieres of works by Alexander Goehr, Peter Maxwell Davies and Mark-Anthony Turnage. He has performed concertos with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Sinfonietta and Orchestra of the Swan. He has recorded Thomas Adès’ song cycle The Lover in Winter with the countertenor Robin Blaze for EMI Classics and his recording of contemporary British music for violin and piano with Alexandra Wood was released on Usk in 2005. His latest disc is a recording of Mendelssohn’s music for cello and piano with Paul Watkins for Chandos.