Born in Tokyo on June 5th, 1919, Watanabe entered instrument course at Tokyo Music College in 1935. He conducted Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra from 1945 to 1946 and was the first Permanent Conductor of the Orchestra from 1948 through 1954. From 1950 to 1952, he studied at the Julliard School of Music in the United States.
On June 22nd, 1956, Watanabe participated in the founding of Japan Philharmonic Orchestra. He was Music Director, Permanent Conductor, and Executive Director until 1968. He created a great sensation by broadening the repertoire that had been focused only on music from Germany and Austria in Japanese music scene with unique and fresh performing style. He also started “Japan Phil Series” which is to commission Japanese composers and premiere their works. In 1964, Watanabe led JPO to a successful tour of 34 concerts in 31 cities in North America. He moved to Switzerland in 1969, conducted various orchestras in Europe.
In 1978, Watanabe returned to JPO and worked energetically, spending 6 years to record “All Sibelius Symphonies.” In April 1984, he was given the title of Founding Conductor by JPO. In 1985, he led JPO to a successful 51-day tour in Europe with KOBAYASHI Ken-ichiro, visiting 9 countries.
In November 1987, Watanabe returned to JPO’s Music Director by the request of all JPO members. JPO held his 70th birthday concert in June 1989. Watanabe passed away on June 22nd, 1990.
He was given Order of the White Rose of Finland and Order of the Lion of Finland from Finnish government, Order of Arts and Letters Knight from French government along with the Japan Art Academy Prize, Mainichi Art Prize, Record Academy Prize, Mobil Music Prize and many others. His titles include Founding Conductor and Music Director of JPO, Honorary Conductor of Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, Honorary Music Director of Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of Kyoto Symphony Orchestra, and Professor Emiritus of Tokyo University of the Arts. He was chosen as a member of the Japan Art Academy in 1978 and greatly contributed to Japanese music scene.
The WATANABE Akeo Music Foundation was founded on June 18, 1992, with the hopes of actively passing down the tremendous achievements left by the great Japanese maestro, the late WATANABE Akeo, to future generations to contribute to the music scene in this country.
Based on the objectives of benefit trust, this charitable trust gives away the WATANABE Akeo Music Foundation Music Award and Special Award to outstanding conductors who have been active in conducting orchestras and can lead the music scene of the next generation in the aim of contributing to the progress of music culture in Japan.