In addition to her position as Director of Orchestras at the University of Illinois, Carolyn Watson is Principal Guest Conductor of the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra and Music Director of the La Porte County Symphony Orchestra in Indiana. Originally from Australia, she has been based in the United States since 2013 during which time she has led performances with the Austin Symphony, Catskill Symphony, Detroit Symphony Civic Orchestra, Interlochen Philharmonic, Kansas City Ballet, Kansas City Chamber Orchestra, St. Joseph Symphony 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, Interlochen Online and Interlochen College of Creative Arts.
An experienced conductor of opera, recent engagements have seen Carolyn lead 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, her third engagement for the Lyric in as many years. This production was featured in the Emmy-Award winning PBS documentary, Higher Octaves: Leading Women in the Arts. In 2019 she was engaged to conduct the world premiere of Gordon Getty’s opera at Festival Napa Valley, and in 2017 Carolyn was one of six conductors selected for the Hart Institute for Women Conductors, where she led the Dallas Opera in two public performances. Carolyn’s 22-23 season sees debuts with the Cape Symphony, Monash Academy Orchestra (Australia), Traverse Symphony Orchestra and Columbus Indiana Philharmonic as a Music Director candidate, as well as return engagements with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Kansas City Ballet.
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, Sydney Symphony, Tasmania Discovery Orchestra and Willoughby Symphony.
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.
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.