Kazushi Ono is the definitive musical citizen of the world, having been born in Tokyo, studied in Munich and forged his early career in Zagreb, Karlsruhe and Tokyo. This variety of influences has shaped an inquiring and profound musical intellect and an ability to communicate meaning across languages and cultures, leading to longstanding relationships around the world. He currently serves as Music Director at Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra, and Artistic Director of New National Theatre, Tokyo.
A favourite of orchestral players, Ono has lasting friendships with orchestras around the world. Since his first appointment at Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra in 1992 he has held continuous positions, including at Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, Karlsruhe Opera, La Monnaie, Opéra National de Lyon and Barcelona Symphony Orchestra. He also regularly guest conducts groups such as London Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
Ono’s passion and curiosity for repertoire takes him in different directions – to the standard classics but also to new music. He often commissions works and has collaborated several times with Mark-Anthony Turnage, including on Silent Cities, Hibiki (which won a Royal Philharmonic Society award) and Time Flies, which was originally commissioned for the 2020 Tokyo Olympiad. Recent commissions at NNTT include Asters by Akira Nishimura and Dai Fujikura’s A Dream of Armageddon. His programming there also includes Baroque, 20th-century and bel canto masterpieces.
He is also pushing the boundaries of programming through his relationship with Brussels Philharmonic, exploring innovations in concert formats and experiences: a recent all-Strauss programme offered lighting and soundscapes alongside poems and haikus between the musical works.
In Europe he conducted the world premieres of Toshio Hosokawa’s Hanjyo in Aix-en-Provence, Arnulf Hermann’s Der Mieter at Oper Frankfurt and Kaija Saariaho’s Emilie at Opéra de Lyon, as well as new productions of Ravel’s L’heure espagnole and L’Enfant et les sortilèges at Glyndebourne and Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher at Opéra de Lyon. He has worked closely with boundary-breaking directors such as Dmitri Tcherniakov, Romeo Castellucci, Pierre Audi, William Kentridge and Mariusz Treliński.
Ono is a vocal advocate for the role of culture in all our lives. During his time in Lyon he took part in a programme bringing opera to prisons and at TMSO he leads the inclusive SaLaD Music Festival, as well as working with community organisations for people with disabilities. In his role in Brussels he takes part in an integration scheme for refugees. During the initial stages of the pandemic, he led ground-breaking research into the transmission of particles and the use of ventilation that meant that orchestras could get back to playing for audiences safely.
Ono trained in Europe under Wolfgang Sawallisch and came to public attention winning first prize in the 1987 Toscanini Competition. In 2017 he was awarded ‘Officier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres’ by French cultural minister Françoise Nyssen, adding to the prestigious Asahi Prize in January 2015, for his contribution to the development and progress of Japanese society.