Bio

From complex contemporary and twentieth-century scores to core traditional repertoire, conductor Benjamin Makino has been recognized for his nuanced and thoughtful interpretations of broad and varied repertoire.

Throughout his career, his work has been tied to companies recognized for innovation. Following the success of the first 30 Days of Opera festival, Makino was named Music Director of Opera Memphis, a position he held for four seasons. The company rose to national and international prominence during his tenure and was praised for its community engagement programs, experimentation, and groundbreaking commissioning projects.

His artistic leadership was visible in collaborations between Opera Memphis and other Memphis arts organizations. His proposal to pair Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias with Milhaud’s Le bœuf sur le toit resulted in a fruitful collaboration with the New Ballet Ensemble and School. The following season, the company premiered its commission, conceived by Makino, of Mark Robson’s arrangement for two pianos of Ravel’s L’heure espagnole. Following this, he worked with the leadership of the PRIZM Ensemble on establishing the PRIZM Chamber Orchestra, leading their debut performances from the continuo keyboard in Le Nozze di Figaro. In his final season, Makino initiated a broad multi-organization collaboration exploring religious themes in twentieth-century music titled Fractured: Music and Spirituality in a Time of Upheaval, organized by the Memphis Theological Seminary and including the participation of Opera Memphis, the Rhodes College Master Singers, Luna Nova New Music and St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, culminating in Opera Memphis’ multimedia presentation of Arnold Schoenberg’s seminal Pierrot lunaire.

Beyond working with Memphis’ most prominent performing arts organizations, Makino was also deeply involved with the Memphis Slim Collaboratory, a membership-based community recording studio in the historic Soulsville Neighborhood, home of Stax Records and the Stax Music Academy. With Leni Stoeva of Community Lift, he managed a collaboration between Opera Memphis and the Slim House on a grant project that allowed the Memphis Slim House to expand its footprint, building a community stage on which Opera Memphis was one of the first arts partners to perform, offering an art song recital featuring Langston Hughes settings by Margaret Bonds and Memphis composer Robert Patterson.

During his tenure, Makino also became a regular collaborator with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, leading numerous concerts. From 2014-2017, he appeared with Ballet Memphis, conducting their annual production of The Nutcracker. In 2015, he conducted the Memphis Symphony before an audience of over four thousand at the Levitt Shell in Memphis Renaissance, a program produced by the New Ballet Ensemble and School, including Duke Ellington’s Harlem and Margaret Bonds’ Three Dream Portraits. Following the incredible success of that performance, he was asked to join the company for their annual NutRemix featuring Charles ‘Lil Buck’ Riley, to which he returned the following season.

Committed to exposing young people to the great works of the twentieth century, Makino programmed and conducted Young Person’s Concerts with the Memphis Symphony featuring works of Toru Takemitsu and Witold Lutosławski for audiences of Memphis fifth graders. He also led the Memphis Youth Symphony Orchestra in a side-by-side performance with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra of Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony, celebrating the Youth Symphony’s fiftieth anniversary season.

Before joining Opera Memphis, Makino was the Assistant Conductor and Chorus Master at Long Beach Opera, where he conducted productions of David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, Michael Nyman’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Ernest Bloch’s Macbeth, Michael Gordon’s Van Gogh and the U.S. premieres of Gavin Bryars’ The Paper Nautilus and Stewart Copeland’s Tell-Tale Heart. He also assisted productions of Nixon in ChinaAkhnatenThe Cunning Little VixenDer Kaiser von AtlantisDie KlugeMedea, and the U.S. premieres of Vivaldi’s Motezuma and Gabriela Ortiz’ ¡Únicamente la Verdad! He recently returned to the company in Frank Martin’s The Love Potion (Le vin herbé) for which he was praised in the Los Angeles Times for being “consistently sensitive to the work’s exquisite timing and placement of dynamics and color,” making “the most of the composer’s subtle chamber orchestra textures.

Makino served as the Music Director of the New Opera Workshop at the Writing the Rockies Conference in Gunnison, Colorado, from 2016-18. This unique program complemented and expanded upon the Creative Writing graduate program in Poetry with an Emphasis on Versecraft at Western Colorado State University. The workshop produced performances of new operas set to student libretti and allowed composers and librettists to learn about the collaborative process, from creation through production.

An active pianist, he has performed with members of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra under the auspices of the Memphis Chamber Music Society, as part of the ANA Honolulu  Music Week and in recital at Opera Memphis, Hawai’i Opera Theatre, and Rhodes College.

In the field of higher education, Makino has been an active proponent of open educational resources and zero textbook-cost courses in the California Community College system. His work at Porterville College in this area was instrumental in that campus being awarded a $200,000 ZTC Acceleration Grant for its music degree program. Two courses he teaches on music appreciation are currently available to students throughout the state of California through the California Virtual Campus. In addition to his recent work at Porterville College, Makino has also served on the faculties of Cal State Los Angeles and UC Irvine and has been a guest lecturer or instructor in programs at the New England Conservatory of Music, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and Stanford University’s Stanford in Washington program.

Makino holds a bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, from Chapman University, where he was the recipient of a Presidential Scholarship and a master’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. He was a scholarship student in the orchestral conducting program at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana and a recipient of a scholarship from the Italian Cultural Institute of Washington, D.C., for Italian language studies. He was hand-selected by General and Artistic Director Plácido Domingo as one of only three conductors in the history of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at the Washington National Opera. Opera America has identified him as a future leader in the field of Opera in the United States. He has served on grant review panels for New Music USA and the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 2015, in recognition of his contributions to the City of Memphis, he was named one of the Memphis Business Bureau’s 40 Under 40.

He lives in Porterville, California, with his wife, jazz musician and college professor Sarah Rector, who heads the music program at Porterville College, and their daughter.