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 affiliated with some of the companies most 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. During his tenure the company rose to national and international prominence, praised for its innovative community engagement programs, experimentation, and groundbreaking commissioning projects.
His artistic leadership was visible in various 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 the establishment of 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’ largest 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 join the company in 2016 for their annual NutRemix featuring Charles ‘Lil Buck’ Riley, to which he returned in 2017.
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 in celebration of the Youth Symphony’s fiftieth anniversary season.
Prior to joining Opera Memphis he 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 China, Akhnaten, The Cunning Little Vixen, Der Kaiser von Atlantis, Die Kluge, Medea, and the U.S. premieres of Vivaldi’s Motezuma and Gabriela Ortiz’ ¡Únicamente la Verdad! He recently returned to the company, stepping in to conduct 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 provided the opportunity for 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, collaborated in recitals for Opera Memphis and Rhodes College, and worked as a staff pianist at the Viola Workout in Crested Butte, Colorado.
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. Following his university studies, 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 in Washington, D.C. for language studies in Naples. He was hand selected by General and Artistic Director Plácido Domingo to participate in the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at the Washington National Opera and was the only United States citizen selected to participate in the 50th Besançon International Competition for Young Conductors. In 2014 he was identified by Opera America as a future leader in the field of Opera in the United States. 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 currently lives in Porterville, California with his wife, jazz musician Sarah Rector, who heads the music program at Porterville College.